As temperatures are heating up and travel is back to an all-time high, restaurants are going to be busier than ever. While having lines outside the door or a fully booked restaurant isn’t a bad thing, it can be difficult to manage with supply and staff shortages around the country.
Read on below to learn how three restaurateurs manage the summer rush, along with insights on how to deliver the best customer experience.
Hire right (and early)
Michael Tan is the co-owner of Eggloo, an ice shop serving the creamy treat in flavors like ube, matcha, and Thai tea enveloped in Hong Kong-style egg waffles. When the shop closed during the pandemic, they added a new e-commerce model to their business, selling egg waffle makers and packaged mixes. A few months after their reopening in November 2021, Eggloo is prepared to welcome customers for their first summer in business since 2020.
Michael starts with hiring staff through New York City's Summer Youth Employment Program. “We work with the city to hire summer interns, who are usually between the ages of 16 to 22,” he says. “It’s a good way of engaging who would be a good fit for us during the winter, spring, or for part-time opportunities.”
When twin sisters RaeShawn and LaShone Middleton lost their jobs during the pandemic, they decided to launch R&L Crab Co., a delivery service and seafood restaurant delivering live and steamed crabs around Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Taking the leap to become restaurateurs proved to be a profitable one, as they’ve expanded to a second location since opening in August 2020. While R&L Crab Co. is open year-round (one of their busiest times is New Year’s Eve), business starts to increase around Memorial Day weekend, with demand surging throughout the summer.
Now that R&L Crab Co. has two locations, their staffing needs have increased and they need to ensure each restaurant is properly staffed.
Get ahead of everything early. Don’t wait until summer gets here to hire, because hiring is really tough. Start hiring around March and get your purveyors together to try and save time when the summer comes.
Overprepare when possible
While Playa Bowls sells their colorful, Instagrammable acai and pitaya bowls, smoothies, and juices year-round, summer is their most profitable season. “Since our product is very tropical and cold, it’s perfect for those warm summer months,” Alyssa Guzman, Playa Bowls’ Operations Manager, says. “We have lines out the door every single day, and we usually hit record-breaking sales in the summer.”
Over the eight years Playa Bowls has been in business, they’ve learned how to handle the influx of customers. “Our summer operations now are more smooth than they were eight years ago when we started,” she says. “It definitely takes time and learning from experience.” A big part of ensuring a near-seamless summer operation is getting all their equipment and staffing needs secured beforehand, including working with their farmers in Brazil for acai, which Playa Bowls sources and processes themselves.
“We rent more freezers for our restaurants to make sure we’re able to properly store our online and third-party delivery orders so that they’re served to our customers the same way it would be in-store,” Alyssa says. “We make sure that we have enough produce and do a big hiring push for the summer.”
Make sure you have enough staff; it’s so much easier to send someone home early and give them back a little time during their summer, rather than understaffing and trying to save on labor. You don’t want to have a line out the door, calling your staff and asking “Can anyone come in right now, please?”
She ensures that each store has a surplus of bowls, utensils, and other items, in addition to staff, especially for times when things may seem slow. ‘We like to always anticipate a really busy day. It's so much easier to operate when you're planning to be really busy,” she says. “When the weather’s not nice and you underestimate business that day, it’s so hard to catch up when you get slammed and you’re not prepared.”
Build relationships with suppliers throughout the year
At R&L Crab Co., each restaurant normally uses around 750 pounds of crabs weekly during off-peak season, but the summertime sees that amount more than double to 2000 pounds per week at each location. Considering that the sisters have to navigate low supply and crabbing regulations in different states, getting the number of crabs they need is no small feat. “The crab population in Maryland is getting extremely low, so there are restrictions on how many crabs you can catch from the water,” LaShone explains. “We have to get our crabs from Louisiana — and the crabbers now have to spread their catch from Louisiana to businesses in the DMV area.”
Due to volatile supply and demand, they start finding new purveyors in the winter and work to strengthen their existing relationships. “We try to go down South now and find more people to work with so that we can get more product,” RaeShawn says. “We’ve noticed that this year has been worse than last year with the number of crabs we can get, especially now that we have two locations.”
For R&L Crab Co, building relationships is important — not just with customers, but with suppliers, too. For RaeShawn and LaShone, this means cultivating relationships in a close-knit industry of crabbers and seafood purveyors to ensure that their business continues to thrive.
We’re talking to people year-round, but especially during the winter when it’s slow. You have to find crabbers when there’s a slow period when they need more business because when it’s busy they’re not going to want to do business with you.
Engage with customers beyond your restaurant
For Michael, managing the summer rush means more than having enough staff and ingredients. It’s also an opportunity to provide a great customer experience even — and especially — during busy times.
If you’re really busy, you just think “Oh, I gotta get through this grind.” But you could look at it as an opportunity to have your customers relate to your message and your company and to provide a great experience — how can you go above and beyond? Most people think about that during slower times, but I think it’s even more important during busier times.
Part of that engagement goes beyond the in-store experience; he wants to educate customers beyond Eggloo’s mouthwatering social media posts. “If you have your mind set on your TikTok or Instagram being just about your food, then how do you relate to your customers? How do you educate people on where your food comes from?” he says. “For us, it's important to have a relationship to Chinatown, talking about different restaurants in our neighborhood, different Asian flavors, and growing up Asian-American.”
Keep staff morale high
As temperatures rise (and customers’ patience sometimes plummets), it’s important to keep staff morale high. For Playa Bowls, this means staff bonding, on and off the job.
“Even though the summer is our busiest season and it's sometimes really stressful and customers aren’t always the nicest, we’re really big on having a positive vibe in the store,” Alyssa says. “We still make sure to bond with our staff, like taking them out to dinner or making sure that we're having fun and playing music and dancing in the store—just having a great time while we're working.”
While the summertime can be a busy (and stressful) one for restaurateurs, with the right preparation, it can be an opportunity to solidify and expand your customer base.