Confidence in the restaurant sector has grown with Australian restaurant owners shifting from a tempered +9 net balance score in August 2020 to +42 just six months later, according to the latest Deliveroo HospoVitality Index Report. 

Overall, more than half (55%) of all restaurant owners surveyed said they felt positive about their own business prospects with only 13% feeling negative (+42 net balance). Businesses are more confident for the longer term with a higher score for 12 months’ time (+55 net balance) compared to three months from now (+37 net balance).

Despite the optimism, concerns remain for the state of the national economy (57%), produce prices (53%) and lower consumer spending (47%) topping the list of concerns. 

The survey, conducted by YouGov, revealed workforce structure will be critical to success in 2021 with more than eight in ten (81%) restaurant owners saying they plan to hire more staff in the year ahead, indicating early signs of a comeback for the sector. This shows significant progress from six months earlier when it was revealed more than three quarters (77%) of restaurant owners were forced to employ fewer staff due to the pandemic.

Government support remains important, with two thirds (66%) planning to employ at least one additional staff member using the new JobMaker scheme and 38% of restaurants will look to build out their team with more staff on skilled or migrant visas. 

Other signs of recovery are also expected to take shape, with 43% of restaurants planning to expand their business in the next 12 months. Half of all large restaurants (50%) expect to expand, but the other half (50%) are not so sure. Smaller restaurants are more cautious, however, with only a third (33%) confident of expansion in 2021 and just over half (51%) are not. 

Of those restaurants planning to invest in their business in 2021, the priority is for new equipment for the back of house area (64%), followed by equipment for front of house (60%) and sustainability initiatives (58%), while 55% are planning to renovate.

As restaurants focus on a stronger 2021, the majority (59%) said they believe delivery would play a larger role than ever before, while 41% said it would remain the same. This is an eight-point increase from the August 2020 survey, where 51% agreed food delivery would be important as they moved out of lockdowns.

“Last year, Australia’s restaurants demonstrated immense strength in the face of unprecedented upheaval. Last year’s survey saw a nervous sector but just six months later we are all pleased to see a more positive outlook emerge for the year ahead. This not only demonstrates the resilience and adaptability of owners across the industry, but also brings hope for a year of recovery for both the sector and the economy,” Deliveroo CEO, Ed McManus said.