restaurant_strengths_weaknessesAt the annual Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) Global Best Practices Conference, attendees had the opportunity to attend the HR Summit, a special session of panelists dedicated to addressing the most pressing issues facing human resources professionals. Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley with Align Public Strategies kicked off the panel with an analysis of the weaknesses and opportunities in the restaurant industry. As we reflect on the lessons learned during the conference, here’s a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis for your consideration.


  • Restaurants are still relevant. One of life’s greatest pleasures is to sit at the table with friends and family, perhaps sharing a bottle of wine and enjoying good food. They are still a place to go to celebrate events and life’s milestones.
  • If you’re an independent, you’re winning over chains, especially with Millennials. You’re probably also employing better general managers, who may be veterans of larger chains. But chain operators, don’t be dismayed. You’re leveraging technology and are killing it in some areas, especially with simple online ordering that increases same-store sales.
  • We can expect relief on regulations and taxes.
  • Some of our leaders are doing an excellent job of listening to their employees. For example, John Kelly is the Vice President and Chief People Officer at White Castle, a five-time Best Practices Award winner as well as the 2015 Diamond Catalyst Award winner. Kelley is taking employee engagement and feedback to a new level. Last summer, he drove to over 400 locations and met with White Castle employees. He did this within 100 days and this is a story that’s now part of the White Castle culture and strategy. It will forever change the company.


  • With the exception of independents, same-store sales are declining.
  • We’re losing ground to grocery stores, convenience stores, food trucks, and delivery concepts such as Blue Apron.
  • Many of our members have locations that are tied to malls and shopping centers. 2500 retail stores closed last year and 1100 malls will go out of business over the next three to five years.
  • We have growing pockets where unemployment is under 3 percent. We have more job openings than we had pre-recession and fewer jobless claims than we’ve experienced in the last 43 years.
  • Although we have plenty of job openings, we have a huge mismatch with experience and geography. The labor market will do nothing but tighten.
  • Many of our potential employees may be siphoned off into the healthcare and eldercare industries as the population ages.
  • Millennials won’t work for companies where they’re only making a buck. They need purpose.


  • We’re losing the debate on the quality of our jobs as well as our value to the community and economy. We may have “one of our own” at the Department of Labor with Andrew Puzder’s nomination. The downside is that we’re already seeing his nomination become a national platform for our adversaries to demonize our industry.
  • Trade and immigration changes may make us vulnerable to a lack of skilled workers.
  • New methods of worker advocacy are available on social media and through local regulations.
  • All brands are vulnerable in President Trump’s twitter feed. Imagine what would have happened at Chipotle if Trump was president and tweeting about food borne illnesses. What will happen if you have one undocumented worker? The president will tweet, and then you’ll experience the full force of the agencies.

HR Summit at Global Best Practices Conference. Photo from Steph Grant Photography.


  • Service is the biggest competitive advantage we have. The top performers in sales and traffic also have the lowest turnover. People management and all that it entails – from recruiting, training and culture to your company’s purpose — is still the key to winning and keeping customers.
  • Traditional collective bargaining is transforming into interest groups. Instead of unions, we’ll see member services organizations.
  • Our industry has an urgent need for relevance in light of grocery store offerings and delivery concepts such as Blue Apron.
  • We need to adapt to the modern workforce and workers. This includes legislative action that is occurring at the local level and impacts wages, schedules and paid leave.
  • Unions are leveraging technology in ways we’ve never seen. They’ve gone beyond electronic signatures and are leveraging apps to answer questions about benefits and seek opportunities to file unfair labor practice charges.
  • One of our own may run the Department of Labor.
  • We can control the national narrative. We can explain why entry level employment is so important. We can embed this narrative in every press release.
  • We have time to get our reputational house in order. Your local city council will be more important than Congress. We can get involved in trade associations at a local level. We must get better locally about traditional federal and state issues.
  • A class of workers is about to be automated out of existence. We have a chance to make a difference in the local economy.
  • We have time to get organized locally. It’s impossible to be relevant nationally if we’re not relevant locally. We can’t lobby mayors, but we can help them solve problems locally. We do this every day by hiring, training and feeding people, so we can ask mayors to “put us in the game, coach.”

Since the inauguration, we’ve seen how anyone – at any time – can be in the hot seat with President Trump. So, do your own SWOT analysis and keep checking back with us for more insights on best practices in our industry.

1f8e46dLiz D’Aloia is the founder of HR Virtuoso, a mobile recruiting company based in Dallas, TX. She is an HR professional, employment attorney, speaker and blogger. Prior to launching HR Virtuoso, Liz worked at national transportation companies and at a global retailer. Connect with Liz on LinkedIn and follow her at @hrvirtuoso.