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[New Research] Restaurant Operators Plan on Growth—How Will They Get There?

To better understand the top operational challenges and opportunities in multi-unit restaurants, we commissioned EnsembleIQ to anonymously survey hundreds of restaurant operators. The findings reveal important industry benchmarks, plans for investment, and strategic priorities to drive growth, and we’ve packaged them all up in our newly released 2023 Restaurant Operations Report

As a restaurant operator, you’ve probably heard more about the "state of" this industry in the last few years than ever before. It’s been described as chaotic, disruptive, turned upside down, spun on its head, the new normal, etc., but to really pinpoint the true "state of" the industry, we wanted to hear from operators themselves. 

Earlier this year, 200+ restaurant leaders participated in the research study. Respondents consisted of owners, senior managers, and directors with decision-making authority/influence across full-service, fast casual, or quick-service restaurants, each operating a minimum of at least 10 different store locations. 

When asked about their future plans, 96% of respondents said they are planning unit expansion over the next 12-18 months. But, scaling a multi-unit restaurant involves way more than just opening new locations. There’s always room for improvement when it comes to maximizing profitability and exceeding quality expectations for customers–it just becomes more complicated trying to grow to your next 10-50-100+ locations. 

2023-Restaurant-Ops-Report-Ebook“To be positioned for future growth, restaurant brands need to focus on two key operational levers–getting a tight handle on profitability and creating a great guest experience–across every location,” said John Raguin, Chief Executive Officer of Crunchtime. “The research findings show there are still tremendous opportunities to improve operations in terms of food cost, staffing, task execution, and training.”

As we share throughout the report, operators see plenty of room for improvement in four key areas, all of which influence operational excellence: 

  • Reducing food costs — 74% of operators say they’re aiming to reduce food costs in the next 12-18 months, and shared that food costs are 35% on average—providing a clear benchmark.
  • Improving employee scheduling — Nearly 40% of shifts are insufficiently staffed, underscoring the growing complexity of labor scheduling. Four out of ten respondents are looking to improve sales forecast data to optimize staff scheduling.
  • Executing tasks and procedures in stores — Operators estimate that improving operations execution could increase sales by an average of 22%.
  • Accelerating employee proficiency — Operators want employees trained one week faster. It currently takes new employees an average of 19 days to become shift-ready, and operators want this reduced to 12 days.


“It's clear that multi-unit restaurants are poised for growth, but they are still juggling a variety of challenges that need to be addressed," said Beth Brickel, Vice President of Research, EnsembleIQ. "Leveraging technology continues to be a key strategy for overcoming obstacles to growth.”

The findings also revealed that fewer than 1/4 of operators self-identify as “advanced” in their use of tech across key tasks/functions. On average, respondents use an average of six different back-of-house operations-related software solutions/tools/apps regularly. Half or more plan to add or upgrade back-of-house restaurant technologies, including business intelligence (63%), inventory management (60%), and labor scheduling (56%). 

Download your free copy of the 2023 Restaurant Operations Report to dig into the full survey results and see how your stores stack up. Like other operators, as your organization sets its sights on aggressive expansion plans, think about how you can use the insight shared in the report to help you get from where you are right now, to where you want to be in the next 12-18 months. Consider this report to be your window into how your peers are operating–or changing up how they’re operating–in the pursuit of operational excellence, and use it to guide you in taking action across your organization today. 

A deeper dive into the findings will also be shared in a live webinar with EnsembleIQ on Wednesday, October 25th at 11 AM ET. Register now to secure your spot, and join us live to ask questions, gain additional insight, and explore additional findings during this interactive session. By downloading the report and attending the webinar, you'll have access to a wealth of information that can help better position your operation for success in 2024 and beyond.