Despite Challenges, Operators Remain Focused on Quality, Innovation

Comfort food, flavors, formats / Jan 25, 2022 / MIN READ

Survey finds labor and cost issues are biggest obstacles when it comes to menu development

Staffing difficulties, supply chain issues and operating costs rank as top concerns among restaurant operators in the current environment. But operators are still focused on quality and innovation, according to a survey by Nation’s Restaurant News and Clemens Food Group.

The survey was conducted among 113 respondents in November across multiple restaurant segments, and included both chain and independent operators of various sizes.

Current challenges

Workforce/staffing woes are the most common challenge faced by operators when it comes to menu development, cited by 82% of respondents, according to the report titled “Impact of Supply Chain Challenges on Menu Development.” That may be why labor-saving innovations such as robotics and order pickup technologies—including temperature-controlled cubbies and digital pickup boards—were listed as top trends for 2022 by NRN.

Consulting firm Baum + Whiteman believes that with labor challenges plaguing the industry, bots such as Flippy the Robot from Miso Robotics could be a go-to solution, according to the NRN trend outlook.

Cost concerns were not far behind staffing challenges in the Clemens Food Group/NRN research, cited as a challenge to menu development by 76% of respondents. The availability of quality products came in third, with 58% of respondents listing that as a challenge.

Product availability has been a key concern of restaurant operators when it comes to sourcing animal proteins, the survey found. Operators reported buying in larger quantities and looking for alternate suppliers for some items, for example.

Pork has been one of the easiest products to source, the survey found, with only 12% of respondents citing pork as being difficult to procure. That compares with 36% who said poultry was difficult to source, 34% who cited beef and 24% pointed to produce. The most difficult supplies to source were paper goods and takeout packaging, with more than two-thirds of respondents (67%) finding those products were difficult to find.

Quality also remains a top priority for restaurant operators. For example, nearly three-fourths (73%) of respondents said quality was an important attribute of pork. Nearly half (44%) said cost effectiveness/high margin was an important attribute of pork products.

Menu strategies

Menu sizes will remain relatively stable in the near term, operators predicted. More than half of the survey respondents (58%) said they plan to keep the same number of items on their menus during the next six months. Meanwhile, 20% said they plan to increase the number of menu items they offer, and 22% said they plan to trim items from their menus, continuing a trend that took hold during the pandemic as operators sought to simplify operations.

Respondents overwhelmingly said comfort foods were luring customers back into their restaurants, with 85% saying this was the case. A third of respondents (33%) said customers were returning to their restaurants in search of items that were difficult to prepare at home. Limited-time offers (LTOs) were also considered a factor, cited by 25% of respondents.

Continued innovation

When it comes to menu innovation, global flavor exploration will likely remain important in 2022, says the NRN trends outlook. Among the international cuisines expected to be popular in the year ahead are Singaporean dishes, which reflect the Chinese, Malay and Indian heritage of its population; Caribbean cuisine, which also encompasses several culinary influences; and West African cuisine, which has been popularized by chefs creating recipes from Mauritania to Cameroon. At the same time, Korean cuisine, which has already gained considerable traction, still has more to offer, says Michael Whiteman of Baum + Whiteman.

“There’s been a flowering of Korean food in this country that transcends Korean neighborhoods,” he says.

Respondents to the Clemens Food Group/NRN survey said they were ready to innovate in 2022, despite the challenges they face. In fact, 24% said they already have begun to get creative again after a slowdown during the pandemic, and 28% said they were “definitely” ready to get creative again. Only 5% said they were not quite ready yet.

Clemens Food Group is a sixth generation, family-owned company dedicated to providing service and brand solutions to help its customers grow their businesses. Visit to learn more about how Clemens Food Group can help you innovate your menu in 2022 and beyond.