Chefs Look to More Progressive Industry, Return to "Normal" for 2023
JBF Fall Industry Survey takes the pulse of restaurantsAnne E. McBride
November 15, 2022
Rising food costs are the number one issue of concern for chefs heading into 2023, according to the 2022 James Beard Foundation Fall Industry Survey, with 44 percent of respondents ranking it as their top worry. Rising labor costs, the inability to find staff to hire, and rising non-food costs (utilities, containers, furniture, etc.) clustered as the next three issues of concern, followed by supply chain issues around food items. Staff retention and supply chain issues around non-food items fell lower on the list.
The survey ran between October 26 and November 8, receiving 436 responses from chefs throughout the country. California, New York, and Texas were the states most represented. Key results included:
Higher Prices, Smaller Menus
As a result of higher food and/or labor costs, 67 percent of respondents have increased their prices on their entire menu and 25 percent on select menu items. Only 8 percent have not raised prices. More than half of the respondents have reduced the number of dishes on their menus, with 31 percent of them both cutting down and simplifying their offerings. Most restaurants have not reduced their business hours.
Wages and Profits
Fifty-seven percent of respondents increased staff wages between 10 and 25 percent to attract or retain employees. Twenty-seven percent increased by less than 10 percent or not at all. More than half of respondents anticipated profits in 2022 to be the same or higher than in 2021, and 73 percent had more or the same number of customers as in 2021. Check average was higher compared to 2021 for 55 percent of respondents and the same for 27 percent.
Supply Chain Stability
Despite skyrocketing costs and availability constraints for food ingredients, chefs have not drastically changed their sourcing practices. Thirty-five percent of respondents continue to buy from a mix of local and national purveyors, while 25 percent have switched to buying more from local sources—a number nearly matched by 24 percent who continue to buy predominantly from local sources.
Challenges and Reasons for Optimism in 2023
The survey also asked chefs to look ahead to 2023. When asked what they anticipated being the biggest challenge for next year, respondents resoundingly spoke of staffing issues (“staff” or “labor” mentioned 198 times in open-ended answers), rising food costs and food shortages (127 mentions), inflation (39 mentions), and a looming recession (27 mentions). Some feared burnout, while others expressed concerns over being able to grow their customer base from 2022. Answers around staffing spoke of a lack of a talent pool, people “not wanting to work,” increased labor costs, or a need to offer growing benefits to remain competitive with other local restaurants.
Benefits and better working conditions, including better schedules, also appeared as reasons to be optimistic, with respondents being excited by changes to make restaurants more equitable and diverse workplaces. “People are seeing the value in work-life balance,” said one of the respondents. “People are seeing that we need to pay livable wages in this industry and understand why we charge more. People are paying more attention to discrimination and predatory practices.”
The absence of COVID-19–related restrictions and a return to pre-2020 dining habits were more reasons to rejoice, with many respondents speaking to a return to normal. And for all the labor-related woes, many respondents expressed hope in the “next generation” for motivating innovation and progress for the industry.
Chefs see customer habits as both a challenge and an opportunity for 2023. Many cited fears of people dining out less because their costs at home are increasing and they are looking to save money. On the flip side, respondents also repeatedly said that “everyone has to eat” and many people prefer that someone elsedo the cooking.
One final reason to be optimistic for 2023? The fortitude of the restaurant industry. “We are a resilient group of people who have fostered a strong network of community,” wrote in one of the respondents. Others wrote that they know the industry will make it through tough times the way it has so many times before.
Having the right strategies in place will make a difference: “We have seen a lot of successes, too, which gives me hope. I still feel optimistic that we can get this back on track. Diversification is key here, we cannot rely on the old marketing tactics at this point,” wrote a respondent. “Good food and service are incredibly important, but, we also have to start thinking more about what else we can offer or sell. We are purveyors and the old model of out-sale your neighbor with a 10 for 10 deal is just undercutting all of us due to inflation, we need to start to think bigger and more broadly.”
Anne E. McBride, PhD is vice president of Programs at the James Beard Foundation.