After more than 30 years in the restaurant consulting business, we’ve helped thousands of clients launch new concepts, revive old ones, and set the bar for menu innovation. Though every client and project are different, certain pieces of advice never grow old. Below are a few of our partners’ timeless recommendations, redefined for today’s foodservice operators.
You make money with your hands, not your feet
The next time you’re in your restaurant kitchen, stop and watch the team go about their work. Do they rush from the walk-in to their station to grab ingredients? Do they have to walk down the cook’s line to drop off their finished plates at the expo station? Are they running around the kitchen to access the equipment they need to make specific menu items? If you add up the amount of time that your kitchen team is moving around the kitchen and multiply that total by the average amount you pay for labor each minute, you’ll be shocked at how much you’re paying for people to walk around the kitchen.
Efficient kitchen, cook’s line, and station design reduces roving to a minimum and keeps team members at their stations so they can prep, cook, and assemble plates as quickly as possible. Once cooks set up their station, they should have all of the ingredients, tools, and equipment they need at their fingertips, or at most in a few steps with minimal cross-over. While labor efficiency is an evergreen goal, it’s more important now with fewer bodies in the kitchen.
Lunch is about speed, value, and convenience
With so many restaurants today looking to expand sales, it’s critical to have a lunch strategy build on these three tenets. In today’s environment, we highly recommend that operators adopt this strategy to all day parts.
Many diners are eager to get out and enjoy a sit-down meal at their favorite restaurant, while a significant portion of the dining population still feels apprehensive. As infection rates rise in a majority of states, dining room closures could crop up again in the coming weeks. All of this uncertainty points to a continued commitment to speed, value, and convenience across the board. These are not just sales-boosting strategies — in the eyes of your customer, they have risen to critical needs. Foodservice establishments that can flex with changing constraints and deliver on guests’ evolving needs are poised for greater success in this challenging business environment.
Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves
Monitoring your business expenses has never been more crucial than now. Profit margins in foodservice are notoriously slim, and with lower sales and higher commodity prices taking their toll, operators must focus on watching every penny that goes out the door.
Shoring up expenses on cleaning supplies, paper goods, and utilities certainly help, but your most significant savings opportunities lie in managing prime costs — namely, labor, food, and beverage expenses. Take a look at your P&L and calculate what percentage of gross sales is being offset by the costs. Ideally, prime costs should fall around 65% of sales. If they’re much higher, you have an opportunity to reorient your costs against the reality of today’s volume as a starting point.
Where restaurants often miss the mark is calculating their food and beverage costs. Most operators subtract purchases from sales and call it a day. While this method is quick and easy, it only reveals substantial shifts in the expense numbers, not everyday trends that over time add up to significant added food cost, like over-portioning, excessive waste, and petty theft. By determining accurate per-recipe and per-plate costs, managers and owners can gain greater visibility into their highest variable costs and identify opportunities to fine-tune their operations for greater savings.
You can’t save your way to prosperity
Cutting costs is essential operating procedure these days, but penny-pinching alone won’t get you to continued profitability. There comes a point when further cost reductions begin to negatively impact food and service quality, a consequence that no one can afford.
Generating more sales is always the answer, and one of the most impactful ways of doing so is through upselling. Increase your check average by bundling value-added items together and promoting family-focused meal solutions. Offer special deals and discounts to your loyalty program members to increase purchase frequency. Most importantly, educate your front-of-house staff on encouraging guests to try new items or add on to their order in a helpful and not a sales-y manner.
If you’re not talking, you’re not training
A quality training program for every restaurant position is an absolute requirement for success, but many establishments rely on shadowing or simple checklists. Over and over again, the best training involves thoughtful and detailed communication between trainer and trainee. Some of the most impactful lessons happen on the spot when managers can observe and correct in the moment. This “walking around” training is much more likely to affect real change.
Good training corrects mistakes, but great training involves catching team members doing something right. By pointing out a team member’s success in front of their co-workers, you elevate their attitude along with those of the staff around them.
The devil is in the details
Getting the details right not only increases guest satisfaction, it also elevates your brand in the eyes of your customers who are watching even more closely. These days, keeping the promises you make to your guests is critical. If you’ve committed to sanitizing tables after every use, it must be done without fail. If you’ve designated specific trays for silverware and others for bussing dirty dishes, you cannot mix them up. If you’ve developed a specific policy for solving guest issues, execute it the same way every time.
With all of the added stress, anxiety, and health concerns swirling around, every guest touchpoint must be executed flawlessly. No detail is too small for a guest to notice.
What do you want to be known for?
This is (sometimes literally) the $600,000 question. Though the pandemic has caused many restaurants to shut their doors for good, there’s still plenty of competition for stomach share. It’s just not enough to sell good food and offer good service — being exceptional at something is essential. Are you known for that over-the-top signature item that everyone Instagrams? Do you offer a take-out meal for two that delivers a creative dining experience? Have you elevated a common item to new and craveable heights?
Distinctive and memorable restaurant brands who continue to innovate while responding to guests’ needs, wants, and expectations will win the day, regardless of market conditions or the amount of local competition.