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Labor Solutions for the New Foodservice

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Michael Foods Online CE Course (1 hour CE)

Michael Foods, Inc. will maintain verification of your attendance. Please fill out the following information. Upon completion of this course, a certificate of completion will be available for download.


The high cost of labor, along with major shifts in service models since the pandemic, has foodservice operators everywhere looking for new solutions to reduce labor requirements. “The pandemic fundamentally changed what, how, and where consumers eat,” claims Food Management (2022).

Changes were fast-paced and fundamental to foodservice operations, comments Mondelez (2021). “Some of these quick-adapts have forever changed foodservice,” they remark.

There’s been a drop in high-end dining and a trend towards fast-casual, grab’n’go, convenience, automated service points, and delivery, Food Management points out. With these service model shifts, they say, “Labor usage will evolve.”

Reinventing use of labor is also driven by constrictions in the labor market, as well as the cost-pressure imposed by rising food prices. Lower costs help operators maintain profitability, and operators are seeking ways to do more with less.

This course examines the labor issues and service changes in the industry. It presents solutions built around menu tweaks and inventory choices, with a focus on how to evaluate convenience products and apply speed-scratch production techniques to minimize labor and maximize profits.


Upon completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Name three shifts in service models that have recently occurred.
  • Explain the concept of menu streamlining and give an example.
  • Describe at least three benefits of incorporating pre-made foods into production methods.

Foodservice Labor Shortage

A shortage of foodservice workers has been a defining force for the industry as of late. “The rebuilding of the restaurant and foodservice workforce is being hampered by the most severe labor shortage on record,” remarks the National Restaurant Association (May 6, 2022),

Following pandemic-related shutdowns, many industries are “working their way back to normal staffing levels,” The National Restaurant Association said in Aug. 2022, but foodservice is lagging far behind, with employment still 635,000 workers below pre-pandemic levels.

Labor shortages are not new to the industry, comment Clark and Danieli (2022). High turnover and open positions have been a perennial challenge. Feeling undervalued and “lacking incentives for hard work,” they say, have been employee pain points for a long time.

Today, though, operators “have a chance to reinvent themselves as progressive employers who cultivate quality of life for their employees,” suggest Clark and Danieli. They can focus on a positive work culture and flexibility to increase the appeal. Higher wages for top-performers, bonuses for employment referrals, and phased-in rewards that keep employees feeling invested are all tactics they recommend. They also suggest surveying employees to keep a pulse on ongoing job satisfaction. These are not temporary solutions, in their view: “The current labor landscape isn’t a blip but the beginning of a long-term shift to an employees’ (rather than employers’) market.”

Off-Premise Foodservice

Devotion to off-premise service models, such as take-out, delivery, and even take-home meals, grew throughout the pandemic (Food Management, 2022), as offices, schools, and restaurants closed and many foodservice operations ground to a near-halt. While off-premise models were originally intended to prop up sagging revenues, now they are often considered as a way to supplement revenues from on-site sales, notes Food Management.

“The shift to grab’n’go is here to stay,” according to Mondelez (2021)—and in the non-commercial foodservice arena, it’s important for operators to compete with retail venues by leveraging the trend. For healthcare, they recommend promoting prepackaged grab’n’go, still favoring this over the traditional salad bar model. In B&I, they recommend highlighting convenience, affordability, and flexibility in menu fare. For school foodservice, they also point to (kid-friendly) grab’n’go as the best strategy.

Counter Service,

Salad bars, buffets, and other self-service venues went by the wayside during the pandemic. Now, however, they are slowly returning, reports Food Management (2022). Full dining rooms are nearly back in swing as well.

Meanwhile table-service models are being replaced with counter service and some tech-powered hybrids, explains Food Management. “The shift allows for more kitchen and less front-of-the-house space, along with fewer wait staff, thereby allowing for fewer workers per shift and more room in the back to prep to-go and virtual orders.”

Touchless & Automated Service Points

Dining and foodservice areas were regarded as potentially contagious gathering places in the early stages of COVID, which fueled growth of service models that reduce or eliminate personal contact.

“Digital tools and applications proved to be huge assets in the early days of the pandemic as they facilitated delivery, aided no- and low-contact interactions, and promoted overall safety,” says Mondelez (2021). Today, they note, “As operators continue to face labor challenges, digital tools that allow greater automation are proving to be even more valuable to operational ease.”

Analysts for Food Management (2022) agree. They point out that automated service points grew in popularity during the pandemic, and now they’re poised to continue for new reasons. In the beginning the focus was on “touchless” foodservice. Now, the driver is scarcity of labor. In addition, automated service points allow operators to provide service over extended hours, such as vending services when a traditional foodservice venue is not open.

Some examples of automation that reduces labor requirements, according to Food Management, are smart fridges, automated retail outlets, high-tech vending, robotic food stations, and pay-at-the-table technology. Robots and drones are emerging technologies for food delivery, they note. Kelso (2022) points to robot servers, such as Rita, the robot server used at Chili’s.

During the pandemic, touchless service took off as many consumers were wary of touching surfaces. Today, they’ve adjusted and continue to prefer touchless options. An example is a beverage dispenser that a consumer operates through a smartphone, says Food Management.

Both operator and consumer acceptance of automated technologies is evident. Mondelez (2021) reports that more than half of foodservice operators “believe automation attracts patrons,” and many also feel that automation “boosts employee morale.” More than two-thirds indicate they intend to increase technology budgets over the next two years.

Foodservice Robots

Discussing robots as a labor solution, Food Management (2022) predicts that mainstream adoption of foodservice robotics is almost here.  Among the intriguing concepts are robotic bartenders for festivals and sporting events and robotic food prep in which a robot 3D prints and cooks plant-based burgers, they explain.

For food delivery: Vijay (2022), says delivery robots are bridging a gap. He reports that hotels like Hilton and Marriott are using artificial intelligence (AI) and robots to deliver meals, while meal delivery services like Grub Hub and Uber Eats are also partnering with robotics companies.

“With labor shortages throughout manufacturing, logistics, and virtually every other industry, companies of all sizes are increasingly turning to robotics and automation to stay productive and competitive,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association of Advancing Automation, as quoted in Vijay’s article.

Surveys show that almost 3 out of 4 consumers are willing to place a food order when they know it will be delivered by a robot, Vijay adds.

For meal production: Sally the Salad Robot has become a growing replacement for self-service salad bars. For example, Gingerella (2021) points to its implementation at Washington University in St. Louis to replace salad bars and address staffing shortages. She also points to self-ordering through mobile platforms as a major area of growth.

FoodService Director (Jun 15, 2022) reports on the success of automated pizza stations in college and university foodservice. Using a just-in-time production model, they can make 100 pizzas per hour after an employee loads the dough. The solution has reduced required staffing of three people down to one, they report.

The Growth of Convenience

Convenience store sales grew by more than 7% in 2020 and almost 7% again in 2021, reports Nielsen (2022). “The COVID-19 pandemic presented convenience retailers with a perfect opportunity as many shoppers began opting for quick in-and-out trips to the store to limit exposure while also staying closer to their homes,” they explain.

The residual effects today? Convenience is still a powerful driver among consumers, says Nielsen, and the total experience matters. “Innovations in packaging, food and beverage preparation, product portability, easy ordering and payment capabilities, and digital rewards programs are some factors to consider in providing an overall convenient and seamless experience,” they note.

Factors for success: Consumers are also focusing increasing attention on healthy options as they look to convenience foods. The NPD Group (2022) observes, “Wellness now directly impacts 21% of all eating occasions.” Says Nielsen, “To capitalize on this demand, retailers need to expand their snack and beverage offerings to include convenient products with better-for-you on-package claims (keto-friendly, low-fat, low-sodium) for the growing segment of proactive health consumers. For on-the-go shoppers, prepared and ready-to-eat/drink products that provide added convenience (i.e., resealable, single serve), in addition to nutritional benefits will become especially attractive.”

When customers shop convenience, they prioritize price above all, according to Convenience Store News (2022). It’s also important to them that the food they came to purchase is stocked, that there is good variety of choices, and that the experience is designed to be convenient.

Another concept that emerged during the pandemic is micromarts, which are “unattended stores that offer consumers automated cashless payment from self-checkout kiosks,” according to FoodService Director (Jul 21, 2022). As touchless systems, they do not require labor for ongoing service functions, and they keep customers in control of the experience.

Menu Tweaks

“Streamlining” has been the buzzword when it comes to menu planning. “Supply and labor shortages, rising food costs, and new dining preferences prompt operators to streamline menus,” remarks the National Restaurant Association (Feb. 17, 2022). This means “reducing the number of food items on menus, losing the slow sellers, lightening the kitchen labor lift, and monitoring food waste,” among other things, in their assessment. They describe streamlining as a win-win, with menu decisions becoming easier for customers and kitchens becoming more cost-effective.

A smaller menu can reduce the workload on current staff, says Smith (2022). The way to do it: “analyze your menu items to identify the most popular dishes and purge out the slow-moving ones, particularly those that entail multiple cooking steps.”

Ginerella (2021) explains that C&U foodservice operators are reducing menu offerings, choosing to retain only the items for which they can achieve speed of service and high quality standards.

As grab’n’go menu popularity soars, Mondelez (2021) recommends these factors for success:

  • Narrow the menu to “a smaller group of menu items that ‘work harder’ and travel well.”
  • “Infuse retail-level speed, convenience, and ‘craveability.’”
  • “Bring application versatility, but stay focused on back-of-the-house efficiency…”

In school foodservice, Gingerella (2022) points to the success of all-day breakfast, breakfast pizza, overnight oats, breakfast bowls, and smoothies.


The foodservice industry is undergoing a transformation away from scratch-cooking, according to Kelso (2022); it’s too labor-intensive. “Scratch-cooking is something we admire and many operators aspire to, but that takes a lot of people,” she comments.

The goal among operators is to create “the same experience for customers that they had before the pandemic” in the most labor-creative manner possible, she says.

Ease of prep: Ease of preparation is a crucial factor in menu planning and related recipe development. Making shifts in “tactical-level prep” can save labor time and costs, says Kelso (2022). Fresh produce that requires chopping or cutting, for example, can be purchased already washed, cut, and ready-to-use.

Cobe (2021) points to staff reductions gained by paring back the role of a cook who butchers meats on-site and a pastry chef who prepares desserts. Using pre-cut meats and other conveniences can be strategies for reducing the food prep load while sustaining an enticing menu.

In addition, any menu item that requires multiple preparation steps could be a candidate for change, according to Cobe’s findings from interviews with a variety of operators.

Kelso points to a “significant uptick” in use of pre-made foods, too. She says, “Less labor-intensive food items are gaining in popularity,” according to recent foodservice purchasing data. The trend pervades all segments of the foodservice industry, she notes.

Pre-made food products: Pre-made food options from manufacturers are a strong match to foodservice operational needs today, Kelso points out. In the past, they may have been optional for operators who could fill the need with prep workers, but today, that choice is largely disappearing. Kelso points to the likelihood that this shift will remain, even if the labor market eases.

An analyst Kelso quotes from Buyers Edge Platform, which analyzes foodservice data, says that operators are starting to look at these choices more realistically. She also tackles the operator perception that choosing pre-made food products is a compromise in terms of menu quality. She points to the high quality of pre-made products available today, which are “well thought-out” and creative.

Speed-Scratch Preparation

Speed-scratch preparation has been a growing trend in foodservice for several years and continues to hold appeal now for its labor-friendly features. The idea is to use “pre-prepped ingredients and smart techniques to create kitchen shortcuts,” explains Cobe (2020). One example she gives uses a mashed potato convenience product as the core of a quick-prep shepherd’s pie. This example eliminates the labor of peeling, washing, cutting, cooking, and mashing potatoes.

“Combining high-quality prepared or semi-prepared convenience food products with fresh and homemade ingredients is a smart strategy to save both time and labor,” according to Operator’s Edge (2021). They point to benefits such as menu variety, consistency, and customizability. In addition, they note, the approach not only saves labor but can also reduce skill and training levels required of foodservice personnel.

Examples of ingredients that can support speed-scratch are:

  • Pre-washed and cut produce, which can be incorporated into salads, sandwiches, tacos, and wraps
  • Ready-made mashed potatoes, which can be incorporated into casseroles, made-to-order bowls, or side dishes
  • Pre-cooked and sliced or diced meats, which can be incorporated into sandwiches, salads, and all types of entrees
  • Egg patties, meat patties, and plant-based meat patties, which adapt to an endless variety of quick-prep sandwich features
  • Ready-to-use hard cooked eggs, which can reduce prep time for salads, sandwiches, and deviled eggs
  • Ready-made frozen convenience products like macaroni and cheese, which can be complemented with a variety of trend-driven additions
  • Ready-made soups or sauces.

Inventory Choices & Simplification

A smaller inventory is one of the benefits of menu streamlining, according to the National Restaurant Association (Feb. 17, 2022). It creates less overhead in managing food procurement and stocking. A smaller inventory can help prevent potential food waste, too. Operator’s Edge (2022) advocates for adopting “fully prepared ingredients” to reduce steps in preparation and pare back-of-the-house labor demands.

Key to success is selecting inventory items that support a streamlined menu designed to include the most popular and top-selling menu options. Also important is selecting versatile ingredients that can adapt to a variety of flavors and styles.

FSR (2021) calls this “simplification” and uses the example of a pre-made meatball. A highly popular food, the meatball can conform to culinary trends via the simple modification of sauces or applications—with Asian style sauce, or in a classic meatball sub, or in soup, for example. They call out simplification as an opportunity to innovate, finding ways to “use common ingredients across a menu,” in the words of a Unilever chef.

Streamlining operations is one of the pillars of low-labor survival, according to Hamstra (2021). This requires a careful look at foodservice processes to boost productivity. Operators are doing that not only with applications of technology, but with food production systems as well, he notes. Re-configuring production to require fewer cooks can have a major impact. He points to a technology-driven, delivery-only restaurant company showcasing a pan of ready-made tater tots as an example of efficiency-oriented streamlining.


In the face of major labor shortages, operators are striving to address compensation, working conditions, and workplace culture to attract and retain capable workers. At the same time, there is a major trend to reinvent menus, production, and service systems to require less labor. What began as “short-term labor fixes” during the pandemic are now becoming a “long-term strategy,” says Food Management (2022).

Pre-made food products can reduce the labor hours and skillsets required in preparation, and the right inventory choices can deliver expansive culinary versatility. Speed-scratch production, starting with pre-prepped ingredients, can also reduce labor demands. Overall, operators are looking to streamlined convenience strategies in their menus and their inventories to enhance operational success, maintaining service and satisfaction with less labor.


Clark, KE and J Danieli (Jan 11, 2022). What Restaurants Can Learn From—and Do About—the Worker Shortage. QSR.

Cobe, P (Aug 3, 2021). Labor Pains are Hitting Menus Where it Hurts. Restaurant Business.

Cobe, P (Sep 3, 2020). Recipe Report: Speed-Scratch Dishes. FoodService Director.

Convenience Store News (2022). Building a Better Experience.

FSR (Jan 15, 2021). Combat Labor shortages by Streamlining Kitchen Operations.

Food Management (Feb. 1, 2022). Trends & Predictions for 2022.

FoodService Director (Jun 15, 2022). More Colleges Primed to Get Automated Pizza Assembly.

FoodService Director (Jul 21, 2022). Trim Labor and Appeal to On-the-Go Consumers with Micro Markets.

Gingerella, B (2021). The State of C&U Foodservice: Mixing Up the Menu. FoodService Director.

Gingerella, B (2022). What’s Trending on K-12 Breakfast Menus. FoodService Director.

Hamstra, M (Aug 25, 2021). Restaurants Rely on Tech Efficiencies and Company Culture to Solve Labor Challenges. US Chamber of Commerce.

Kelso, A (May 25, 2022). How Inflation and Labor Shortages are Changing Restaurant Menus, Forbes.

Mondelez International (Dec. 21, 2021). 6 Trends Changing and Challenging the Foodservice Status Quo in 2022.

NPD Group (Apr 5, 2022). With More Meals Prepared In-Home, US Consumers Put Their Focus on Health and Wellness.

National Restaurant Association (Feb. 17, 2022). Pandemic Influences Restaurant Menu Trends.

National Restaurant Association (Aug 5, 2022). Restaurant Job Growth Picked Up Speed in July.

National Restaurant Association (May 6, 2022). Restaurants Continue to Struggle to Fill Job Openings.

Nielsen (Feb. 22, 2022). On-the-go convenience store shoppers shifting towards healthier, fresh categories.

Operator’s Edge (Aug 31, 2021). Speed-Scratch, Our Favorite Hack. www.operators-edge.com.

Operator’s Edge (July 31, 2022). 3 Tips to Optimize Your Menu for Today’s Challenges. www.operators-edge.com.

Smith, K (Jun 14, 2022). Still struggling with a Labor Shortage? Here are some Solutions. QSR.

Vijay, R (Jun 23, 2022). Delivery Robots Are Bridging the Gap Arising from The Labor Shortage. Forbes.

Course Review Questions

Select the correct answer for each question.

1. Smart fridges, high-tech vending, robotic food stations and pay-at-the table technology are part of this service strategy.

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    correct icon checkmark Correct

Course Review Questions

Select the correct answer for each question.

2. Supply and labor shortages, rising food costs, and new dining preferences have caused operators to ________.

    correct icon checkmark Correct
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Course Review Questions

Select the correct answer for each question.

3. Micromarts are defined as

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    correct icon checkmark Correct
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Course Review Questions

Select the correct answer for each question.

4. The use of a mashed potato convenience product as the core of a quick-prep shepherd’s pie is an example of:

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    correct icon checkmark Correct
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Course complete!
Your Score: out of 4 correct.