Hospitality Industry Challenges: Our Top 5 Tips to Help What's Hurting Your Business in 2024

Jan 15, 2024
Alison Arth and Kristin Kish speaking at Dialogue in Minneapolis


2023 was a hard year. Hospitality industry challenges were abundant.

To compile this post, we read through hundreds of client agendas and call notes, reviewed text exchanges with our friends, reflected on our own personal experiences, and collected end of year reflections from our community. 

If any of these thoughts resonate with you…

  • “I’m sure I could figure it all out if I just wasn’t so fucking tired.”
  • “It feels like everything that used to work to drive top line sales, reduce costs, and improve team culture and performance just isn’t working anymore.” 
  • “2023 felt like a pile of nails, and the only thing in my toolkit was a wrench.”
  • “There are always hard things happening in the world, but this year felt especially awful. I felt really disconnected from my business and my life for months at a time.”
  • “3 years post-pandemic, this was the year that I finally had to accept that I’m not a machine. I need rest, and I want more time to smell the roses.”
  • “I believe in the viability of the restaurant I’m opening with every part of me. I’m qualified, I’m capable, I’m so well-positioned to nail this, and it just feels like everytime I reach the peak, another mountain appears.”
  • I’ll never be done learning how to communicate with my team, but I did a lot of necessary failing forward in 2023.”

…you’re in good company.


Our clients, colleagues, and friends who are gearing up to bring new hospitality businesses into the world faced:

  • Ballooning construction costs due to inflation and continued supply chain issues. 
  • An especially hard year to raise money for new projects because of interest rates and the lingering threat of recession.
  • Labor shortages across many industries meant that project timelines kept getting longer…and existing hospitality businesses felt even more pinched to find and keep the right people. 

The headline: for folks in pre-opening mode, it was a year of the finish line that wouldn’t stop moving back. 

Our clients, colleagues, and friends who own one or more hospitality businesses faced the need to pause and reevaluate in big ways: 

  • 3 years after the beginning of the pandemic, their businesses felt like a pair of pants that doesn’t really fit anymore. 
  • They’d changed, their teams and communities changed, the world has changed, and so the vision of their businesses had to change too. 
  • For some, this change meant letting go. For others, it meant growth. For others still, it meant transformation. 

The headline: for existing hospitality business owners, it was a year of reckoning and recalibrating. 

For our clients, colleagues, and friends who lead culinary and hospitality teams (many of whom joined Salt & Roe’s Hospitality Leadership Development Program), 2023 was a year of taking responsibility. 

  • In so many ways, the past few years have felt like bouncing around a drama triangle: one day you’re the victim of your team’s bad behavior, the next day you’re the bad guy imposing unfair changes and rules, and the day after that, you’re being called to save the ship and everyone on it. 
  • Heck, most days you’d bounce around all of those roles before family meal! 

The headline: for leaders of all stripes, it was a year taking ownership of stepping out of the drama cycle and into empowered action. 

For everyone we interact with, it seems that underlying issues in the hospitality industry continue to include the shortage of qualified candidates at every level of hiring, dealing with rising product and labor costs that aren't being meaningfully offset by how much guests are spending, lack of clarity around how to manage pay equity, and straight-up exhaustion.

The challenges in our industry aren't going to change. But, your perspective and how you approach them can. 


What does the future of the hospitality industry look like? 

We can’t claim to have the only answer, but we do have some good data about what strategies delivered tangible results for our clients, colleagues, and friends last year. 

What follows are the top 5 strategies for healing your hurting hospitality business that emerged from our work in 2023, and we have no doubt they’ll continue to pay dividends in 2024. 



When you feel like everyday is a fire drill in your restaurant, it can feel pointless to invest time crafting an intentional vision for how you want to grow in the year to come. 

If you can’t get to the bottom of your daily to-do list and are already struggling to get in even one manager meeting per week, how could you possibly take on more projects? 

I empathize with that thinking and have found myself in it many times. But, it’s not the truth. In fact, believing that thought is one of the biggest root causes of stuckness.

Truth is, when you invest the time it takes to zoom out and take inventory of:

  • What’s present and contributing to the overall success and health of your organization
  • What’s missing that would contribute to your success if it were present, and
  • What possibilities exist for making those missing things present,

Your to-do list doesn’t get longer. It gets more focused, and by doing the thoughtful work of ensuring that what’s on it really matters to you, you’re much more likely to move the needle on getting shi*t done. 

Two of the biggest reasons you fail to achieve your goals are 1) you never set them, and 2) you don’t make them measurable, which means you never get the dopamine hit and sense of achievement that comes with making progress.


You’re never going to feel a sense of accomplishment if your goal is to “have a better team culture” or “be a better leader.”


These are vague, unclear destinations, which makes them impossible to reach. Achieving our goals starts with specificity. What does “better” actually mean to you? 

If you’re ready to craft a clear, measurable vision for your business and your life with a strategic plan to get you there, here are two ways we can help:

  1. Learn more about our Hospitality Leadership Development Program here. This private coaching program supports hospitality leaders like you develop a crystal clear vision and an achievable action plan to move towards it, along with all the skills you need to be the leader you most want to be. 
  2. Download this free Guide & Worksheet for Writing Statements of Intent for hospitality leaders and their businesses to facilitate team brainstorming and implementing sessions to create and then operationalize the statements of Values, Purpose, Vision and Mission you articulate.


This is an unpopular opinion, but I do believe that an important part of the future of restaurants is…fewer, better restaurants. 

I don’t say that to be discouraging. 

Restaurants are hard businesses and they will continue to be. 

I’ve known too many people over the years with boatloads of experience, resumes so star-covered and deep they’ll knock your socks off, who have the most genuine and heartfelt passion for their vision, and ultimately fail to launch their business, or get it off the ground only to close up shop within 5 years. 

Why? Because:

  1. No one can lead every part of a restaurant business on their own. Many entrepreneurs falsely assume that being exceptional in one area, like the kitchen, will naturally attract people who are exceptional at all the other things (like FOH management, business management, marketing, and HR) or that they can skate by on their culinary merit alone. Choosing the right partners is essential, and it doesn’t “just happen.”
  2. They don’t think about how owning and leading a restaurant business will fit into their lives 3, 5 or 8 years down the line. As the years wear on, they feel intertwined in the business in a way that feels like a cage. 
  3. They underestimate how long fundraising and development will take and get discouraged and quit, or make significant sacrifices to their vision (often pertaining to location and lease deals) that ultimately lead to business failure. 
  4. They choose a bad lease or a bad location (or both) because they haven’t done the thorough business planning that’s required to understand what locations and lease structures will work for their concept and budget, and which ones won’t. 

If you are planning to open a hospitality business, please write a business plan for your restaurant

We designed this template specifically for hospitality operators like you; it will force you to do your homework with the thoroughness that is required for being a successful hospitalitarian and entrepreneur. 

Don’t think it through til you get it right. Think it through til you can’t get it wrong. 


One of the things our people struggle with the most is stepping off the field of daily operations and into the role of coach. 


If you own a business or lead a team, it is your responsibility to spend a significant amount of time getting distance from day-to-day operations to think deeply about the broader vision for your organization.


Answering questions that sound like:

  • What are our goals for the next year? 
  • How can we intentionally adapt to the ways the labor market has changed in the past few years? 
  • How do we want to move towards more equitable compensation and higher quality of life across our team? 

requires that you have the spaciousness to think deeply and collaborate intentionally with the people around you. 

It’s impossible to do this when you’re also covering service if someone calls out, working 6+ days a week, and starting each day feeling exhausted. 

For most of the folks we work with, the thing that stops them from stepping off the field and onto the sidelines is a sneaky thought that sounds like, “My team won’t respect me if I’m not killing myself in the trenches with them, while also trying to do all the aspects of my leadership role.”

Intentional leadership starts with trusting that your role has indispensable value. If you don’t believe that zooming out, seeing the field from the sidelines, developing a strategy, and directing your players accordingly isn’t valuable work, you’ll never hold the boundaries you need to do it (and no one else will believe in the value of your work either).

If you see yourself in this description, we have two suggestions:

  1. Create or clean-up your job description. 90% of our clients don’t have job descriptions for themselves when they start working with us, which is just one way of saying that it’s super common for high-level leaders to neglect articulating what their job actually is. Defining what success looks like for your role within the organization is an essential first step to building your confidence in your position, and helping your team to see and appreciate your contributions. 
  2. Communicate your role and your priorities to your team regularly. Once you’ve gotten clarity about your own position and articulated it in writing, you’re ready to start sharing it with your team. You might do this through a combination of:
    • Sharing your job description 
    • Dedicating a portion of your 1:1 or group leadership meetings to speak to what you’re focused on, the progress you’re making, and what feedback you need from them
    • Being explicit about why you won’t be on the floor as much if someone on your team asks you or if you feel insecure about spending less time in operations
    • Getting in front of any anxiety you might have around doing more vision work and less daily operations by reminding yourself and your team that this is new for you, it’s bound to be uncomfortable at times, and you’d welcome an open dialogue about how this pivot is impacting the business and all the leaders in it  

Every leader we know (myself included!) wants to feel confident in their contributions, and to trust that the work they’re doing is the right work for the success of the organization. 

The first step towards that result is naming your contributions. 

The second step is practicing regular communication around them. 


Once you’ve gotten clear about your role, boundaries are the leadership skill that will make accomplishing your goals in your position inevitable. 

In my very visual brain, I think about the vision of an organization or an individual life like the pins at the end of a bowling lane, and I see your job description as the lane that leads to those pins. 

The vision names WHAT you’re trying to accomplish, and your job description names HOW you’re going to contribute to those end results. 

Just like in bowling, you can keep hurling the ball down the lane trying to hit as many pins as possible each time knowing that you’re probably going to toss a lot of balls in the gutter or….

you can invest in bumpers. 

When you put bumpers into the gutters in a bowling alley, hitting the pins at the end becomes inevitable. You literally can’t miss!

The same is true of setting healthy boundaries at work (check-out our very detailed, actionable blog on this topic). 

And, because we’re all whole humans with one integrated life, it’s equally important to practice setting boundaries in your personal life, especially if you’re hoping to throw more strikes across every avenue of your leadership life in the year to come.


When it comes to the pains of the restaurant business, there are infinite culprits to blame: labor shortages, unqualified workers, high turnover, lack of leadership training, a doomed financial model, pay inequity, rising costs, the economy, hospitality burnout, and the list goes on. 

Just like you, I can make a very compelling case for how all of those circumstances are contributing to the negative results you’re experiencing personally and in your business. 

While pointing fingers at whodunnit can be super satisfying in the moment, the truth is, blame is an energy vampire and it changes nothing. 

The only person you can control is you; your thoughts, your emotions, your actions, your results. 

Bottom line: If you aren’t happy with your team or the results you’re seeing in your business, it’s on you to shift it. 

It’s not your fault that the culture of your team isn’t what you want it to be or that your business isn’t growing at the pace you hoped it would, but it is your responsibility to change it. 

If you’re interested in taking ownership of your influence and changing your results by focusing on what you can control, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Hire a Salt & Roe leadership coach to teach you the skills you don’t even know you need, support you when practicing new skills gets uncomfortable, and cheer you on through every win…big or small. This is a private, 1:1 coaching environment that will transform your life if you commit to it. 
  2. Apply for Salt & Roe’s Hospitality Business Development Program to name what you’d like to shift in your business, and get professional support as you build a strategy to create that shift and execute it. Clients who join this program are ready to work smarter, not harder, and get bigger, better results by doing so. We only accept 4 businesses to guide through this work each year, so get on our list now if you’d like to be considered to let us help you lead. 

Continue reading Salt & Roe’s totally free blog. There are a number of articles linked throughout this post, and there are even more to absorb on Pre-Shift: a Blog for Hospitality People. You’ll find tons of actionable insights to make your business, your leadership life, and your whole life more meaningful.


Our profession has been in a world of hurt since 2020, and hospitality industry challenges aren’t going anywhere. 

The power of pain is that it forces us to either quit or create a new vision. 

From where we sit, the future of hospitality has fewer, stronger businesses than exist today because surviving and thriving in this industry will demand ever-more intentionality, creativity, and commitment to sustainable growth. Not everyone is up to that kind of work, but if you’re reading this right now, we bet you are. 

We’re so grateful to be walking with you into the year to come, and we hope you’ll join us in making it one we’re proud of. 

Behind you, 

We've been called wise big sisters and restaurant whisperers. 
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