The first quarter of 2023 is coming to an end and many restaurants are reporting a significant dip in sales for the quarter. Seemingly starting to gain momentum in the last two quarters of 2022, what has changed? Isn’t a dip in sales during Q1 somewhat normal? Is it time to panic, or should focus remain on the basics of successful restaurant management?
Surviving as a restaurant during times of economic uncertainty can be a challenging task, but there are several basic strategies that restaurants can use to improve their chances of success. Here are tips to consider:
- Focus on improving the customer experience: In today’s competitive market, it’s important to offer more than just delicious food. Restaurants need to focus on providing excellent customer service and creating a welcoming environment. This can include elements such as attentive staff, personalized service, a spotless clean restaurant, and inviting decor.
- Develop the right culture: Creating a positive work culture is essential for retaining staff and maintaining high levels of performance. It is imperative restaurant owners strive to foster a culture of teamwork, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to excellence.
- Empower staff: Empowering staff members to take ownership of their work and contribute to decision-making can lead to increased job satisfaction and better overall performance. This can be achieved through training, ongoing support, and providing opportunities for growth and advancement.
- Engage in community outreach: Establishing strong ties with the local community can help restaurants build a loyal customer base and generate positive word-of-mouth advertising. This can be accomplished through sponsorships, charitable events, or participation in local festivals and celebrations.
- Offer high-quality food: At the end of the day, the quality of the food is what will keep customers coming back. Restaurants should prioritize the use of fresh, high-quality ingredients and invest in the training and development of their chefs and kitchen staff.
By following these strategies, restaurants can position themselves for success during times of economic uncertainty. However, it is important to remain adaptable and willing to pivot as circumstances change. By staying focused on the customer experience, developing a positive culture, empowering staff, engaging in community outreach, and providing high-quality food, restaurants can navigate challenging economic times and thrive in the long run.
But is it enough? Well, assuming it may not be enough, what else could or should be done to help ensure success?
Revisiting ‘The New Normal’ for Restaurants
Three years ago, mandated lockdowns pushed restaurants (and other businesses) to shift, pivot or whatever you prefer to call it – just to survive. Sales plummeted almost overnight as dining rooms shut down, forcing restaurant operators to either think outside the box or close temporarily, if not permanently.
At that time, based upon consulting with a number of restaurants facing very desperate situations, I wrote an article, The New Normal that I’m proud to say was picked up by several restaurant and franchise industry publications. The New Normal was the foundation of an aggressive strategic plan we had developed to help restaurants quickly and cost-effectively.
Today, as restaurants (and other businesses) are again facing challenging times, I’ve been revisiting the strategy. We’ve reintroduced it to several of our clients who are quickly seeing positive results. The question that I’m being asked by these operators is, why didn’t we continue with these good practices all along – why did we stop?
The answer points to the fact that as business started to return to normal, operators quickly returned to what they knew as standard operating procedures and pushed the new normal items to the backburner.
However, one of our clients stayed the course and I’m proud to say their revenues are higher than pre-pandemic numbers. Interestingly, this restaurant is experiencing significantly less issues recruiting and retaining personnel than many other establishments. The culture within the restaurant is phenomenal.
Mind you, this restaurant was facing a severe challenge as prior to the pandemic, takeout sales were less than 2% of total revenue with delivery essentially non-existent. Today, takeout and delivery accounts for 16% of its business.
The owner recently told me he’s seeing new customers coming to the restaurant for dinner that had mostly been delivery customers, and ones that hadn’t known about the restaurant pre-pandemic. He further indicated he felt like this was the first new profit center he has realized in many years.
Reverting to the old without integration of new ideas and methods, is essentially putting square pegs into round holes. To think that business should run as it did 2-3 years ago without adjusting to the times is ridiculous. There is no going back, just adapting to the here and now.
Think about it from the standpoint of starting the business today. What would it cost to start the business today? What would your labor costs be if you were starting today? What would your menu prices be if you didn’t know about what they were yesterday or last year? What would your menu look like if you started today? Would you have as many selections as 2-3 years ago? How about the addition of more profitable items and removal of less profitable ones?
The list of questions is long, but the bottom line is they must be asked… AND answered honestly and without prejudice. Operators must be flexible, willing to shift, pivot and adapt quickly, and yes, often – as often as necessary.
To that end, I’ve revisited The New Normal article and strongly believe that the recommendations made back then work well today. Below are those 25 recommendations for restaurants to implement to successfully shift to the here and now.
As they did almost three years ago, these recommendations focus on take-out and delivery. As I’m a firm believer that driving business beyond the walls of the restaurant is key to future success, so some of the items also apply to catering, and yes, even when delivering free meals to businesses, schools, and organizations within the community.
One more word of advice: Don’t pick and choose. Implement as many of them as possible… ASAP!
- Reevaluate your menu. Look to highlight items that travel and heat up well and those that look and taste as good upon delivery as they do when served in-store.
- Include reheating instructions with all orders.
- Create value-added specials for families, like a dinner for four specials with an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert.
- Add bottled soda to your drink offerings for delivery and take-out.
- Stock your restaurant with proper take-out and delivery packaging, including utensils, napkins, and condiments. Do not skimp on bags and boxes.
- Create a Thank You item (or items) for customers who support you during the slowest weeks, such as a low-amount gift card for a future take-out/delivery order, a higher-amount gift card for to be used for dining in the restaurant, a hand-written note expressing thanks for their business, or small freebies. Be creative, but remember, a little goes a long way!
- Include a business card from the owner or general manager with a note outlining steps customers can take if they are not satisfied. If, and when contacted, act promptly and courteously.
- Pay special attention to order taking and checking to ensure accuracy.
- Ask about special food preparation requirements.
- Add a personal touch by letting customers know the name of the person taking their order.
- Phone calls must be answered as promptly as possible and in a professional manner.
- Pay attention to how menu items are placed in containers to ensure they look attractive when customers receive them.
- Include extra containers of sauces and dressings. When reheated, certain menu items tend to dry out, and customers appreciate the extra items.
- Be sure to track all orders and hold delivery drivers accountable.
- Follow up with customers after they receive their order — later that day or at the latest, the next morning.
- A good rule of thumb for managing expectations is to under-promise and overdeliver.
- Include with each delivery a list of future specials and of course, the take-out and delivery menu.
- Utilize the restaurant’s loyalty program to communicate with and market to your database of loyal customers.
- Create a simple frequent patron program. For example, every fourth order receives $10 off or a 10-percent discount.
- Build order tickets by offering a multi-meal discount. For example, place a second or third order at the same time and receive 5 percent or 10 percent off, respectively.
- Offer an additional entrée with orders over a certain amount. For example, spend $50 and receive an order of spaghetti & meatballs at no additional charge.
- Market on social media with pictures of menu items and specials. Quality of the images matters!
- Market on social media with videos of the owner showing cleanliness of the kitchen, food preparation or just offering a personal message of care and thanks. Make it personal!
- Document all processes and methods regarding take-out and delivery to incorporate into restaurant operations to enhance business when restaurant is open for dine-in customers.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate with staff on changes and progress. Celebrate small wins!
Assistance & Resources
The future may be a bit bumpy for some, more so for others. Knowing who to turn to and when to turn to for guidance and help is important. Having resources at your disposal is also important. So, if you hit a wall, for whatever reason, please feel free to reach out to us for assistance or even if you just need someone to talk to. Please do not hesitate.
You can reach us via a LinkedIn message, by email to Paul@Acceler8Success.com, and by phone or text at (832) 797-9851. Learn more about Acceler8Success Group at Acceler8Success.com.
Make it a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!
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