Nobody ever said the restaurant industry is easy. Beaten up by COVID closures, record-high inflation, and persistent staffing shortages, some operators are just an invoice or two away from hanging up the “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign for good. Even in the best of times, many owners scrape by month to month with very little or no cushion to survive unexpected events. As such, when things don’t go as planned, many operators are faced with some hard decisions to make in connection with the viability of their business.
To move more restaurants from survival mode to thriving mode and better prepare them for unforeseen events, owners and managers would be wise to take a proactive approach to addressing some core issues within their operations. Our restaurant team understands this and offers the following guidance on some key areas to assist restaurant owners with achieving and maintaining success in a volatile business environment.
Keep the Passion! One of the hardest-hit industries as a result of the pandemic was the restaurant and hospitality industry which has left Covid-weary operators emotionally drained. However, the restaurants that have hung in there, through the use of critical thinking to adapt and overcome these challenges, should be proud of their accomplishments and should celebrate them. Owners should build upon this momentum and use it to increase their level of confidence in the future as they look back on the events that have transpired over the last two years. Restaurant operators are some of the most passionate people that I’ve ever worked with and now is the time for owners to be proud of what they’ve accomplished, rediscover that passion, and focus on the things that made them successful in the first place.
Develop a Strong Culture In a tight labor market, it is critical that owners take care of their workforce and create a culture that empowers, rewards, cares, and invests in employees. Operators should promote a culture that gives employees a voice and values their feedback since they are the ones on the front line and represent a key source of information. As such, consider soliciting their feedback, ideas, and recommendations on operations frequently, and recognize and reward them for their efforts as an empowered employee can help grow your brand and your business. Operators should also promote a culture that is caring, compassionate, and empathizes with its employees. For instance, be willing to look beyond past failures and use them as opportunities to better educate employees, rather than giving up on them. Employees have always been critical to the success of an organization however, factors in the current labor environment have only intensified this point. In short, operators should put as much effort into the employee experience as they do the customer experience.
Educate! Operators would be wise to take advantage of as many opportunities as they can to upskill and cross train employees. The return on investment of a well-designed and well-executed training program can bring significant value to your organization in the form of increased revenues, profitability, productivity, and positive guest reviews. Ordinary “order takers” will bring ordinary experiences to your guests. However, service staff who are trained on how to educate, inform, and entertain guests can increase the overall consumer appeal of your brand and restaurant. Staff who are thoroughly trained on product and restaurant knowledge and know which items on the menu drive the most profit (along with those that don’t) can help maximize the profitability of each guest visit. Don’t forget to incentivize this behavior as well since staff who are having fun and making money generally equates to guests enjoying their visit and spending more money at your restaurant.
Scope the Competition No matter what business you’re in, it’s generally a good practice to know and understand who you’re up against in the market, especially in the restaurant industry as competition can come in many varieties, shapes, and sizes. No matter if it’s a local, one-store operator or a national chain, routinely scoping out what the competition is offering in terms of signature items, service standards, hooks, pricing, etc. can provide your restaurant with ideas that may translate to additional profits or resonate well with your guests. As such, restaurants that operate in a highly saturated market should continuously seek opportunities to create, re-invent, add new hooks, and give their guests new reasons to return. To facilitate this process, data collection from your guests can help define what customers are seeking or needing in the market. From there, you can use this data to channel the requisite resources into the creation or development of the new item or program, and then effectively communicate it among various platforms such as e-mail, social media, and various other forms of advertisement.
Know Your Numbers There are numerous Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) available to operators that can be used to measure areas such as profitability and efficiency. We suggest our restaurant clients create a dashboard with 5-7 key metrics that are monitored to gauge performance. Continuously monitoring these core KPIs allows operators to identify issues and trends early and be in a good position to make adjustments or take corrective measures in a timely manner. Metrics in connection with sales, guest traffic, cost of goods, inventory, overhead, and labor should be included in the dashboard with calculations showing the daily break-even number or goal for each. From there, this information can be used to plan operations related to areas such as promotions, purchasing, and scheduling.
Dig Into Operations KPIs are great but it’s also important to know how to impact them. Operators must understand that while they are running a restaurant, they are also running a business. As such, it’s important for them to know the difference and while making great food is key, being able to understand how operations impact profitability is something that many overlook. For example, we recommend our restaurant clients assess their operations by answering questions such as:
- Do you take regular inventory and know your true costs of food and beverage?
- Do you know your daily break-even?
- Do you monitor your weekly labor costs against sales?
- Have you costed out your menu recently due to rising prices?
- Is your menu maximizing profits and do you know which items are driving/dragging it?
- Do you have strict portion controls in place?
- Does your staff know which items drive the most profit and are they trained to recommend them?
While this is a mere sample of important questions, knowing the answers to these is a great starting point that may uncover opportunities for improvement in terms of profitability and, in some cases, survival.
There is no doubt the restaurant industry will continue to be challenged in the coming years as high inflation and high interest rates persist. Add in the forecast of a looming recession and you have a recipe that will not be very palatable for the average consumer, which could translate into some tough times for the overall economy. However, owners that fully understand and embrace the aforementioned concepts, know their operations, and know how to impact them should be in a solid position to weather the storm. For more information or to discuss how these concepts can impact your restaurant operations, please contact Tim Reynolds at 822-322-2070 or firstname.lastname@example.org.