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7 Key Strategies for Managing Restaurant Wage Increases in the USA

Sahana Ananth
April 22, 2024
1 mins

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Governor Gavin Newsom's legislation has initiated the wage increase in 2024, targeting fast-food establishments with over 60 locations nationwide. This adjustment in hospitality wages signals a transformative period for the industry. 

Workers in the sector were traditionally seen at the lower pay scale. The minimum wage increase influences decisions and redraws the restaurant industry's profitability boundaries. 

Restaurants everywhere are wondering whether their restaurant will be able to adapt and thrive. The key lies in embracing change with open arms and a strategic mindset. 

This article covers seven practical strategies restaurants should follow to navigate the rising tides of minimum wage adjustments. 

What are The New Restaurant Minimum Wages?

Governor Gavin Newsom's legislation targets fast-food establishments with over 60 nationwide locations for a wage increase. Los Angeles has set a new benchmark for the restaurant industry by implementing a $20 per hour minimum wage for fast-food workers, effective April 1, 2024. This landmark decision surpasses the existing state minimum. It is the highest minimum wage in the U.S. restaurant sector. 

California sets $16.00 per hour for all employers, while Washington, D.C., announces $17.00 per hour. Like some from an Inland Empire Wendy, fast-food employees express relief and joy. 

The move aims to enhance the financial condition of over half a million workers. While workers celebrate the potential for improved living standards, restaurants worry about the consequent rise in operational costs and product prices.

The Impact of Minimum Wage Increases on Restaurants and Their Employees

The new minimum wage rule significantly impacts restaurant operations. It affects labor costs, employee morale, pricing strategies, service quality, and staff retention. Higher wages elevate labor expenses and demand strategic adjustments to maintain profitability. 

While these raises boost employee satisfaction and potentially enhance service quality, they also challenge balancing financial sustainability. 

The effect on staff retention is twofold: higher wages can reduce turnover by increasing job satisfaction, yet financial pressures may necessitate staffing adjustments. Optimizing operations and innovating service delivery to absorb added costs is the only way to thrive. 

7 Strategies for Managing Minimum Wage Increases

Adapting to the new minimum wage laws requires creativity and strategy from restaurant owners. This change calls for innovative solutions that go beyond traditional cost-cutting measures. 

Instead of resorting to price hikes or staff reductions, consider approaches that preserve customer loyalty and employee satisfaction. These include:

1. Adapt Smart Pricing Strategy

Adopting a smart pricing strategy means carefully adjusting menu prices to reflect increased labor costs without affecting customers. Here's how you do it;

  • Utilize your POS to analyze sales data to identify high-margin items that can bear slight price increases without reducing demand. 
  • Consider introducing tiered pricing for different service levels or times of day. This will maximize revenue during peak hours. 
  • Thoughtfully recalibrate prices based on customer preferences and item profitability. 

With these strategies, you can opt for a subtle transition that customers are more likely to accept. This ensures your restaurant remains competitive and financially healthy amidst rising minimum wages. 

2. Make Seasonal Staffing Adjustments

Making seasonal staffing adjustments involves re-evaluating your hiring for peak times and maximizing your current team's hours. 

  • Start by analyzing past sales data to identify your busiest periods. 
  • Then, rather than hiring new seasonal workers, increase shifts for existing staff during these peak times. 
  • Offer overtime or incentivize extra hours to ensure coverage without adding to your permanent payroll. This approach reduces the need for additional hires and the associated training costs and boosts the earnings of your current team.
  • Regularly review your staffing model to ensure it meets your operational needs. This method ensures you're always staffed optimally. You can enhance your service without unnecessarily inflating your wage bill. 

Adjusting how and when you staff your restaurant can make a significant difference in managing increased labor costs. Such strategic staffing keeps your finances in check and ensures that service quality remains high.

3. Leverage Technology for Efficiency

Leveraging technology, especially your POS system, is a smart way to tackle increased wages. You can streamline operations from order-taking to inventory management with the right system. With such efficiency, you can cut down on unnecessary labor costs. 

Moreover, a POS tracks every sale, what's popular, and how fast dishes move. Having access to this data helps you schedule staff when they're needed. This keeps wages in line with actual demand. A modern POS also comes with employee management abilities. Such a system lets you track employee performance and manage schedules more efficiently.  

OneHubPOS offers comprehensive reporting that's a step ahead. You can view detailed employee reports from all your locations in one place. The software comes with a unified dashboard that gives you insights into sales, products, inventory, and how your team is performing. 

With multiple pre-built templates and custom reporting options, you can tailor it to fit your needs. Integrating third-party apps for employee scheduling or delivery services is a breeze. 

4. Optimize Operating Hours 

Optimizing your operating hours means assessing when your restaurant buzzes with customers versus times quieter than a library. You cut costs by reducing hours during slow periods without sacrificing customer service or sales.

To understand this, use your sales data. Identify low and peak periods. Maybe you find that Tuesdays are consistently slow. Could closing early or opening later that day save costs without losing much business? 

Understanding these things will align your staffing and operating costs more closely with actual revenue. It's an innovative, strategic way to stay in control.

5. Menu Design and Psychology

How you lay out your menu, where items appear, and how you price them can steer customer choices. Research shows that the right menu design significantly affects customer reactions, even more than the items offered. For instance, placing high-margin dishes in prime spots can increase their sales.

For this, focus on the 'Golden Triangle'—the midsection, top right, and then top left of your menu. That's where eyes naturally go first. Highlight your most profitable items here. Use descriptions and visual elements to make these choices even more appealing.

By focusing on the broader aspects of your menu's design, you can increase interest in selected items. This will lead to better sales of high-profit dishes. 

6. Adapt Employee Retention Techniques

Adapting employee retention strategies means keeping your team happy so they stay longer. This approach is crucial, especially with rising wages. Happy employees are less likely to leave. This will reduce your costs for hiring and training new staff. But how can you make them stick around?

Focus on four key areas: compensation, work-life balance, the working environment, and the relationship between supervisors and their team members. Apart from getting paid enough, your team needs a healthy balance between work and personal life, a positive and safe work atmosphere, and supportive management.

Implementing these strategies together can lead to better employee retention. For example, they offer competitive wages, flexible schedules, a clean and welcoming workspace, and open communication channels. 

This holistic approach ensures that your team feels valued on all fronts. In the long run, a loyal and stable team translates to consistent customer quality and lower operational costs.

7. Explore Alternative Revenue Streams

Diversifying income can include launching catering services, expanding into online ordering, and selling branded merchandise. These avenues provide additional cash flow without leaning on price hikes or cutting staff.

Catering services enter a different market and offer your kitchen's capabilities for events and business meetings. This increases revenue and broadens your customer base. 

Online ordering caters to the convenience customers crave. Merchandise sales, such as branded apparel or specialty food products, create a new profit stream while enhancing your brand's visibility.

These strategies collectively buffer your restaurant against financial strain from wage increases. They enable you to maintain a healthy bottom line while investing in your team and service quality. 

Conclusion

As wages rise across the U.S., the hospitality industry stands at a crossroads. The upward trend, while a win for workers seeking fair compensation, presents a complex challenge for restaurant owners. How do you balance higher wages with maintaining profitability and keeping prices competitive?

This blog explores seven practical strategies to navigate these changes. Restaurants must find innovative ways to adapt. From optimizing menu design to improving employee retention strategies, the focus is maintaining a delicate balance between operational efficiency and quality service. 

Integrating technology like OneHubPOS to streamline operations and manage costs. Our platform gives you comprehensive insights into sales, inventory, and employee performance across multiple locations. Book a call with us today to learn how to optimize your business efficiency and profitability.

AUTHOR
Sahana Ananth
Director, GTM - OneHubPOS

Sahana is a seasoned GTM leader with a passion for building startups. She excels in crafting GTM strategies for tech products, driving revenue growth.

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