Five challenges to restaurants in 2021

by John Jones | Jun 24, 2021

Owning or running a restaurant is a very rewarding vocation during the good times. There's the opportunity for foodies to do what they love: delighting customers with great food and drink, to be part of the local community; to love being hospitable for a living. There's never a dull day in the restaurant sector - it is fast paced, exciting and if it all goes well, lucrative.

That backdrop has created hundreds of thousands of fantastic establishments up and down the UK, run by passionate entrepreneurs delivering a huge spectrum of dining experiences. But times are now difficult, leaving many business owners pondering their futures.

In this short blog, we'll look at some of the key challenges restaurant, pub and café bar owners face in bringing the dining experience to the masses.

Geo-political uncertainty

On the surface, things are looking up for the restaurant sector. Since indoor dining was permitted on June 13th, customers are reported to have spent 98 per cent more in pubs than in the previous month. That's great news, but seen in context spending is still 58% per cent below that of February last year.

The government's adjustment of re-opening schedules makes grappling with the day to day planning of a restaurant's operations very difficult. Constantly shifting sands create an inability to accurately predict the infrastructure needed to operate, from buying inventory items through to scheduling staff. Limits on covers in pubs and restaurants create a very solid ceiling when it comes to earning potential.

There's also a second layer of unknowns: even assuming restaurateurs can get a handle on what they might be able to do and when, there is no guarantee that trade levels will be stimulated by a return to high demand from customers.

Labour shortages

There's an old saying which goes something like this: “restaurants are only as good as the people who work in them”. Not a truer word has been said - think back to your last wonderful restaurant experience and you'll appreciate the people who contributed to it, from the manager who made you so welcome to the chefs who produced your dish; the smiling service staff through to the kitchen porters who kept the restaurant's engine running smoothly.

However, the dual impacts of the pandemic and Brexit have left many restaurant owners struggling to find staff, with UK Hospitality citing a huge shortfall of available workers from waiters to kitchen personnel, causing UK job vacancies to hit their highest level since March 2020.

Placing nearly 80% of the UK's hospitality workforce on Furlough has had unintended consequences. Many skilled hospitality staff have moved back to their home countries permanently, or are unable to return because of a combination of Covid restrictions or post-Brexit eligibility criteria, leaving a void in the labour pool.

The result, according to UK Hospitality, is around 188,000 unfilled vacancies in the sector meaning that business owners are having to pay higher wages and offer “golden hellos” in order to attract staff. The government's line is that restaurants will be able to recruit from a growing pool of UK talent, investing in training to create the next generation of catering staff. While that may turn out to be the case in the future, it doesn't help restaurateurs right now who, in many cases, are choosing to increase prices to cover escalating staff costs or simply opening less, or not at all.

Supplies shortages

If newspaper reports are to be believed, the UK as a whole has begun to feel a shortage of food ingredients this summer, including within the restaurant sector. For some it would be easy to blame Brexit and its much publicised additional red tape for the phenomena, but it would appear that the alleged increase in form-filling isn't the main reason. Yet.

Returning to the labour issues highlighted above, a major factor fuelling any shortages is a chronic deficit of drivers within the transport sector. Again, European workers returning home due to Brexit and Covid, new visas needed for unskilled workers, and the winding down of furlough is placing a renewed strain on the supply chain which is impacting restaurants' menus.

But that's not the end of the story, because many insiders are predicting further disruption when the “real” impact of Brexit hits home, something they say it has not yet done because of the masking effect of the pandemic. Those insiders theorise that the reduced customer demand created by the pandemic, coupled with operating restrictions and therefore a much diluted supply chain mean that its true effect will be felt when restrictions are eased and the demand for the flow of goods increases. We will see.

Customer expectations - Cuisine

With the accessibility of overseas travel having become more prevalent in recent decades, customers have long demanded more adventurous dining experiences. An abundance of TV travel and cooking shows has created a heightened demand for global cuisine featuring healthy choices, local ingredients and a focus on green credentials. Further, restaurants must provide more information to customers than ever before, including that of allergens, ingredients, food provenance and so on.

During changing times, restaurants have had to adopt new service methods to retain their customers and livelihoods, including the introduction of “click & collect”, take-away, delivery and meal kits. 

Customer expectations - Technology

Keeping up with technology has always been a challenge, but doing so these days places extra strain on restaurants. As users adopt new technology-based behaviours, restaurateurs must reflect those needs in their own technology infrastructure in order to compete effectively. Having a decent and free customer Wi-Fi network as the one concession to technology is no longer enough.

Customers are increasingly not just tech savvy, but technology native. With this comes an expectation, particularly among the millennial and “Z” generations, for restaurants to provide a range of ways to interact including technologies for reservations, pre-orders and collections, interactive menus, payments, and loyalty programs by way of online resources and smartphone apps. The shift from these key demographics in customer expectations also forces restaurateurs to rethink their overall operations to include high-tech service, louder music and moving visuals for a heightened experience.

The drive towards technology-driven restaurants is more than skin deep, so owners are also juggling their day to day demands with their social media obligations, which these days includes posting blog articles, updates on Twitter, Instagram and maintaining an active Facebook presence in order to promote their brands. 21st century diners are avid consumers (and creators) of online content, with many of their decisions influenced by trusted food blogs.

If that were not enough, business owners must procure and invest in an effective dining management system to manage the business's trade, bookings and communications, particularly in the pandemic era.

Wrapping Up

Spare a thought for restaurants, pubs and cafe bars right now. They're facing more challenges than ever before. Competing demands from geo-political, consumer and technical sources place unprecedented pressure on business owners already operating in an a very challenged sector.

Restaurateurs, however, are extremely resourceful, innovative, resilient and adept at balancing multiple threats. The very characteristics which brought them into the sector in the first place will enable them to win through.

favouritetable is the leading technology provider for food an drink businesses in the UK. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class and easy-to-use systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue.

Call us today on 033 0124 4785 or email us at and we will be delighted to demonstrate what you will achieve with the right technology.