What to do when it’s just too busy

The business and tourism prognosticators from across the country are saying it loud and clear: This summer will be very busy and most businesses won’t be able staff-up or expand to handle the increased demand.

So what’s a small business (or big business, for that matter) to do?

The first morsel of advice dispensed freely and without a hint of irony by leading business consultants is to hire more staff. That’s right. No irony there at all.

Well, most of us in Grand County and much of the U.S. can dismiss that since hiring extra staff for the busy upcoming summer will be nearly impossible since many are already having a hard time hiring just for the “normal” work load. But, if a manager can, then, by all means, hire more staff.

And work really hard at retaining existing work force.

But even with more staff, which I feel is increasingly unlikely for many Grand County employers, our local economy is still likely to be on overload. So here are some other ideas.

But first an owner might want to ask him or herself the following question: Is it better to take on all the demand, knowing that service in general, speed of service and perhaps the quality of product may be suffering? Or is it better to cut one’s losses by simply limiting hours and offerings so that what is offered can be of good quality of with fast, friendly service?

The answer to that question that I think many of us are already seeing in Grand County is that it’s better to cut back on what’s being offered, either by limiting hours or limiting and diminishing the product. We are already seeing it take place . . . by necessity.

Some restaurants are cutting back their hours so that they are only open at peak times. Some are changing their food offerings to that the labor and stress that goes into preparing for a large, complex menu are diminished.

This strategy has some added value in that it also lowers and loosens the expectations of the customers. Just don’t make that Chateaubriand for two with a  classic French red as an offering. Lower their expectations and lower your stress. And avoid alienating a customer by implicitly promising more than can possibly be delivered in these unique times.

Retailers too might want to consider cutting back on product lines and avoiding products that require particularly large amounts of staff and customer time and energy.

So a merchant has cut back on hours and adjusted the inventory. But now there’s still going to be long lines and impatient, hasty tourists. What to do?

In a nice or humorous way, let the visitors and guests know that staffing is tight and the business’s usually fast and friendly service might not be as great as it was 20 years ago. A polite sign or notice can go a long way in this regard: “Please be patient with us, we are going as fast as we can!” Or, “hold your place in line, it’s just as busy next door!” Let them know you know and that will help.

Automate. This is an emerging trend in the drinking and eating businesses around the country. Experiment with ways that customers can serve themselves. I have seen an entire wall decked out with self-serve spigots for alcohol where in customers pay by the ounce as they pour or pull their drinks.

This goes for ways to pay, too. Automate. Perhaps there’s a way to pay on line for in-person service. I know there’s a way to get an automated tab upon entering an establishment and a way to experiment through self-service without only a one-point pay at the end. It’s happening more and more in big cities.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes offering less in shorter windows of time can allow staff-strapped businesses to make the most of these strange, post-pandemic (at least here) times.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.

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