Well, from prominent restaurant chains running out of chicken, to every person I’ve recently spoken to in the UK catering equipment supply chain saying they are rushed off their feet, I would like to christen this period ‘headless chicken time’.
In some ways, dealers and manufacturers have never had it so good, with orders flooding in from operators keen to serve pent-up consumer demand from lockdown, or wanting to transform their offerings to keep pace with the changes prompted by the pandemic.
But conversely, the supply chain is cracking under the pressure. Shortages of HGV drivers mean that deliveries are scarce, staffing shortfalls are present in most sectors, and insufficient availability of components has hamstrung suppliers including Rational, which shocked dealers when it recently informed them no new combi oven orders could be fulfilled for the rest of the year. And as the German-headquartered company cited Q1 of 2022 as the next available guaranteed delivery, this could mean anything up to the end of March.
It is by no means the only company trying to battle its way through supply chain issues though, and accordingly, commercial kitchen project lead times have skyrocketed. You have to feel sorry for the operators trying to get a foodservice scheme nailed down at the moment – some dealers are so overburdened they are not accepting new orders for months, others are trying to source alternative suppliers, and yet more are trying to bolster their workforce to enable them to complete projects in a reasonable timeframe.
If we think back to this time last year when redundancies were abound, revenue and profits had taken a good kicking, and many were wondering if their businesses would survive at all, then today’s problems would seem like paradise. But the stress that many people in the industry are under, just trying to get back to something approaching normal, cannot be underestimated.
Consistently long working hours with an ‘all hands to the pumps’ mentality is not sustainable, and it will inevitably result in burnout. ‘Headless chicken time’ is relatively manageable if it is for a short period, but it can’t last indefinitely.
As it is so difficult to disentangle whether these issues are caused by Brexit or Covid, it is impossible to tell whether they will fade or lessen with time, or whether this is the new baseline level. Think about what that would mean for your business – do you need to stockpile more? Should you be specifying only local British brands to minimise disruption? And how entirely British are these brands’ own supply chains anyway?
These are the questions that UK catering equipment executives are having to ponder at the moment, and I do not envy them. I would only urge that making time for downtime is vital, and if a complete restructuring is the only way to enable a business’ entire workforce to have that, then it might be time to consider some big issues.