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The PeopleMatter Institute (PMI) put together the 'Top 11 of 2011,' a compilation of the hottest trends from the past year that the service industry should continue focusing on in 2012. From this list I predict the following to be the most prominent trends in the restaurant business in 2012: increases in voluntary turnover, a vital requisite to emphasize service and the introduction of gamification. Before you assume your restaurant is already working on these trends, or that you don't need them, read how they will be changing the industry in 2012.

Increases in Voluntary Turnover

In 2010, the struggling economy caused the typically high turnover in foodservice to take a drastic a dip. People Report cited that in 2007 the foodservice industry saw an average voluntary turnover rate of 117 percent; by 2010 it dropped to 80 percent. Hourly employees, who generally take foodservice positions for granted, found the unsteady market as a catalyst to hold onto their jobs.

However, the economy is slowly improving and the job market is picking up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this November food services and drinking places added 33,000 jobs, and the overall unemployment rate was the lowest it has been in two years. Foodservice employees are seeing more job flexibility than they experienced at the height of the downturn.

What does this mean for restaurant owners and managers? In 2012, HR efforts need to be focused on attracting and retraining top quality hires. There is a growing emphasis on schedule flexibility and professional growth opportunities in foodservice HR. Keeping your turnover numbers down could get more complicated in the coming year; for some retention tips read "Turnover's Top Five 'Most Wanted.'" The return of job flexibility in the foodservice market could necessitate anything from more benefits to better hours.

Competitive Customer Service

The next change coming is a little more subtle. Foodservice has always been about delivering the best customer experience; providing the best food, most convenience and best service. During the economic recession, people tightened their belts, counted their pennies and made more calculated purchases – even when it came to dining out. However, with their tighter budget, they expanded their expectations. We've seen the changes hit in every service vertical — from the doctor's office giving a breakdown of the cost of a physical to restaurants being asked to explain each increase on menu prices. Consumers are learning to be more demanding for their business. To meet customer's expectations and maintain their loyalty, restaurants service efforts will need to set them apart from competitors.

Aside from having a service-minded team, stay ahead of the game by utilizing the latest technological advances. Provide online ordering, reservation capabilities and delivery tracking. For example, McDonald's and KFC have already adopted digital menu boards. Stacked Restaurants and Scotty's Brewhouse use iPads for menus and POS. Subway and Sonic use OLO for online ordering. Keep your customers coming back by making their lives just a little better, or a little easier.

Using Social Media and Gamification

One of the biggest trends to hit foodservice in 2011 was the use of social media. The movement toward using this outlet to reach consumers and employees will continue expanding in the coming year. The next big thing to hit foodservice is a hard sell for some restaurant owners. With 'jargon-esque' name like 'gamification,' who can blame them? But gamification is taking over — and restaurants are next on the list.

As younger generations enter the workforce they bring with them the instantaneous and interactive culture they've grown up in — and while innovative leaders will use the concept in HR, most restaurants will start in marketing. According to Bunchball, the self-proclaimed leader in gamification, their clients experience 100 percent increase in webpage views, time spent on the site and repeat visits.

Game methods are being redefined for non-gaming products and services by programs such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Checkpoints. Foursquare lets foodservice businesses simply claim their venue and post specials, then rewards over 10 million users who repeat business with special discounts and prizes. Gowalla and Checkpoints are similar with check-ins that reward users with actual products, gift certificates or airline tickets. Developing relationships via interactive programs like these drives consumer engagement through gamification of the foodservice experience.

For more trends read the 'Top 11 of 2011.'

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Nate DaPore
Nate DaPore, PeopleMatter President and Chief Executive Officer As the spirited leader of PeopleMatter, Nate is passionate about providing team members, including his own, with a rewarding workplace experience that values creativity and innovation.
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