10 common problems in foodservice and how to overcome them

Thursday, 7 October, 2021

Every food service business is different, but there are several common problems that every café or restaurant manager can relate to. Keep reading for ten of the most common issues faced in the food and beverage industry and how to overcome them.

Barista pouring coffee behind café counter

Problem #1: Your menu

Creating a great menu is a real balancing act - you want to offer a lot of choices, but you also don’t want to confuse or overwhelm your customers.

You might think that having a large menu is more beneficial, but it can actually mean:

  • It takes longer for customers to order.
  • It creates longer ticket times in the kitchen.
  • You’ll need to buy more ingredients.
  • Slower overall table turnaround since each table takes longer to serve.
cafe customer looking at menu board

Here are some ways you can improve your menu:

  • Make sure it is easily readable.
  • Avoid using dollar signs.
  • Take your customers on a culinary journey. A great copywriter can produce a compelling and mouth-watering menu.
  • Make sure your menus are always clean – no food or grease marks. Replace damaged menus and don’t white-out or mark mistakes or changes – it’s unprofessional.
  • Make sure staff really know the menu and can answer questions and make recommendations.
  • Include the menu on your website and make sure it’s easy to navigate using a mobile phone.

You might also consider:

  • Adopting a QR code digital menu to make ordering more efficient.
  • Embracing a simple menu design to make it easier for customers to pick what they want.
  • Include exciting and novel drink options to help you increase your beverage sales.


Problem #2: Customer service

First impressions are crucial when it comes to making your business a memorable one. Poor service can make great food and its surroundings unattractive. In contrast, a satisfied customer will return to your establishment and recommend you to others.

Make sure that your team has training in how to handle common customer complaints in the food industry. For example, does your team understand how to handle a customer who complains about something wrong with their order? Do your staff members understand how to be courteous towards disabled customers?

Investing in additional customer service training for your front of house staff will pay off when you start to get excellent online reviews written by grateful customers. Prioritising your diners’ customer service experience is just as crucial as ensuring the quality of the food and drinks you serve them.


Problem #3: Your unique selling point (USP)

Why should your customers dine at your restaurant and not the one next door? Think about the answer to this question - this is your unique selling point (USP).

A great menu and excellent customer service are essential to the success of your business. However, they are not USPs since any foodservice business could claim these things. You need an innovative idea and compelling reason for why customers should keep returning to your restaurant over others.

Go beyond what you’ve promised and give customers something new - a reason for them to return again and again! Perhaps you could offer new and exciting drinks, desserts or buffets, maybe you have a renowned chef working in your kitchen, or you might be using plant-based meat in new and exciting ways.

Whatever your USP is, make sure you lean into it and ensure your customers know what it is.

Plant-based burger sitting on top of sweet potato fries


Problem #4: Operations

Managing the day-to-day operation of your café or restaurant is essential, but you also need to consider the bigger picture. By stepping back and looking at your processes holistically, you can identify rising concerns, respond to consumer trends, and eliminate inefficiencies that cost you money.

  • How many customers are you serving each day?
  • Do you know what your most profitable menu items are? Are these selling more than the least profitable ones?
  • What is your profit and loss for each week that you are open?
  • How efficient is your supply chain? Could you reduce food waste by tightening up your ordering and inventory management operations?

Knowing the answers to these questions is key to reducing your overhead expenses and retaining more profit. The more profit you generate, the more you can reinvest to grow your business.


Problem #5: Retaining staff

Supporting and keeping good employees can save your business time and money while retaining valuable skills that could be hard to replace.

Top five tips for retaining hospitality staff:

  1. Be firm, fair and flexible. Staff need to know what your minimum expectations of them are from day one. Be flexible. This industry has odd hours, so staff need some regular weekends as well.
  2. Lead by example. Show leadership, integrity and maturity at all times.
  3. Review and reward. Carry out regular staff reviews and make sure you have staff bonus and reward schemes in place.
  4. Don’t forget to communicate. Good communication is vital for any relationship, and staff are no exception.
  5. Give feedback. Constructive, meaningful and honest feedback will do amazing things for staff and ultimately improve work performance.
busy restaurant kitchen

When you support your staff, you’ll reduce costs over time and enhance your customers’ dining experience. Having motivated and highly-trained staff is one of the biggest assets you can have in the foodservice industry.


Problem #6: Marketing

Marketing is all about attracting new customers to your business and keeping existing ones. A great marketing plan can be one of the most powerful ways of growing your business and bringing in more revenue.

Here are some simple steps that can help:

  • Create a marketing plan. Set yourself a goal for what you want to achieve and make it specific SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely. Your plan needs to be flexible and short term - 6 to 12 months.
  • Formalise your brand standards. This includes developing a mission statement, logo, graphics, guidelines, etc. This helps to ensure all your messaging remains consistent.
  • Think about digital marketing for your business. Social media and websites are essential if you want to thrive. Consider investing in social media or search engine marketing.
  • Respond to comments on review sites - even the negative ones (be professional).
  • Network within your community and businesses in the area – they can help spread the word.

Be creative with your marketing. Whatever your budget, there are inexpensive ways to promote your business.

Some cheap ways to market your café or restaurant include:

  • Creating a customer loyalty program so that customers are more likely to recommend your business to others.
  • Purchasing inexpensive marketing materials to use in your café or restaurant, such as flyers and magnets.
  • Creating a hashtag for your business so customers can tag you in their social media posts relating to your food and drinks.
  • Building relationships with local media will help you attract customers by publicising your new seasonal menu items or events taking place at your café or restaurant.


Problem #7: Cash flow

Having good cash flow is key to business success. If your business is experiencing poor cash flow, here are a few things you can do:

  • Make sure you’re getting the most from your menu. If you think prices are too low or you can get more from some dishes, increase the price.
  • Manage stock and make sure you have a suitable rotation method in place to reduce wastage.
  • Effective budgeting and management reporting is important. Do a short course if you need to upskill in this area.
  • Consider applying for a business line of credit so you can draw on funds to cover gaps in your cash flow.
  • Brush up on your knowledge of supply chain management and see if there are ways you could be doing things better.
Hospitality workers checking tablet

Owners should plan to have at least enough money to continue operating for one year. Additionally, restaurant owners need to have enough financial resources to cope with unexpected costs and price increases.

It’s important that you know how to identify and solve common cash flow problems.


Problem #8: Work-life balance

Maintaining a good work-life balance can be hard when you’re running a business. Finding time to deal with ordering, finances, rosters, menu changes, marketing, and general day-to-day tasks isn’t easy.

Here’s how to achieve a happy medium:

  • Planning. Get into a weekly routine so that people know when you will be available and onsite. Make sure they know that they can call you if something is urgent.
  • Prioritise. Set yourself lists of key tasks and get the important ones done first.
  • Delegate responsibilities. Make sure your staff are well trained and are delegated responsibilities appropriately. Not only does this ease your workload, but it also gives people working with you something to learn and a greater sense of involvement.

Being well-organised helps you to maintain total focus while working and easily switch off when you get home. If needed, take some time off to work out how you can maintain healthy boundaries with your business.


Problem #9: Finding new employees

As we wrote about in our article on hospitality staffing challenges, some foodservice operators have faced issues recruiting talented staff to join their team, particularly experienced wait staff.

The solution to this is to focus on your recruitment and retention strategies. Make sure you have the right KPIs, structure, and culture to motivate people to work for you while respecting the value of your staff members. Pay attention to what your staff are telling you so you can make your workplace more appealing to new hires.

You can also try upskilling your existing staff or leveraging restaurant technology trends like cloud-based point-of-sale systems so that you don’t need as many workers on your payroll.

Investing in training and technology can help you get more from your current team without overworking them.

Text: Smiling waiter wearing apron in café


Problem #10: Food safety

Protecting food safety is one of the major challenges many restaurants, cafes, and food and beverage manufacturers face. Since food safety has become a key concern for consumers, it’s worth doing everything in your power to ensure the food you serve is high-quality and hasn’t been contaminated in any way.

Here are a few common food safety mistakes made by many businesses and some tips on how to avoid them:

  • Leaving cooked or ready-to-eat foods at room temperature for more than four hours. To prevent this from happening, you need to ensure that your cold and hot holding equipment is working correctly.
  • Having high levels of bacteria in your food. Your equipment, water supply, storage facilities and even staff training need to be up to par.
  • Spoiling raw ingredients by using dirty utensils or surfaces. Make sure you have your work surfaces cleaned daily with hot soapy water, then sanitise them just before use.

Learn more about following food safety in the kitchen.