When you opened your restaurant you had big dreams and a plan. Then there was a change in the market and perhaps your plan went astray. It happens. Actually, it happens all the time. Many restaurant owners get stuck during those challenges. They lose their faith and become prey to self-doubt. Operating a restaurant is hard work, but success is definitely possible with the right attitude and a good game plan. To help your restaurant improve business, here are 10 things you should do every day.
First you need to be honest with yourself. You also need to take personal accountability for where you brand is now. It’s easy to point the finger and place blame.
There are no good people to hire.
The chains are taking my customers.
All of these statements are just excuses. Excuses are bullsh*t. If you cannot be honest with yourself first, there is no real reason for you to read on. Now, if you’re ready to take responsibility for the current state of your restaurant then let’s continue.
Get Back to Basics
The famous UCLA coach, John Wooden was known for his focus on the fundamentals. When you find your restaurant going off track, the best thing to do is to start back at the beginning. Now is the time to go back and review your notes about your brand and what you originally stood for.
Now take a look your menu and see if you have strayed away from your original notes. If you have, now might be a good time to dial your menu back in alignment with your brand. This happens often when the restaurant owner is not the chef. Every chef wants to leave their mark on the menu. That can become an issue when you’ve gone through multiple chefs. Remember that the restaurant’s menu should support the brand, not the ego of the person running the kitchen.
Fall in Love With Your Brand
There’s an interesting term in psychology called the Law of Familiarity, which basically says, if you’re around something enough you’ll tend to take it for granted. Just like any relationship, you have a relationship with your brand. When times are good, you love each other. When times are bad, not so much.
If your restaurant is struggling, it’s easy to take it for granted. It’s easy to avoid the hard stuff and focus only on the activities you still enjoy doing. It’s easy to sit in the office and say you’re busy with paperwork. It’s easy to sit there and have hope that the market will turn around and come back in your favor. Let’s get this straight right now: Hope is not a strategy.
You need to go back in time to the mindset and feelings you had when your restaurant was new. Think of the energy you had. Think of the passion you had. Think of how unstoppable you felt. Now tap into that and find a few reasons you still love your brand.
There is an old Zen saying that “To take no action, is an action.” By now you might have noticed a few things that have caused your brand to go off track. The next thing to do is to make an action plan and make a commitment to do something with that plan. A real decision happens when you actually take action towards it. If you haven’t taken action, then you truly have not committed.
Talk is cheap. A lot of restaurant owners talk about improving this and that, but few do. Mostly, you can spot those that won’t take action by their use of the word “should.” I know, I should cost out my menu. I should start marketing on Facebook. I should repair the sink in the ladies’ bathroom. They basically just should all over themselves. Be one of the few that actually take action over those that just talk about it.
Design Your Menu and Concept Around Guests, Not Personal Egos
Ever watch Gordon Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares? Besides the dramatic effect of treating people poorly, Ramsey does have a formula for the turnaround. The first thing: cut the menu down.
- He does this with a few key items in mind:
- It’s better to pull off 12 items great all the time than so-so 25 items.
- Develop signature dishes; you want to be known for something special.
Listen to the market and not your ego. I love the so called “chef driven” menus that have 12 steps to each plate, which ends up taking an hour to get on a busy Friday night dinner service. Yeah, that was a good idea — of what NOT to do.
Menu engineering is a big thing! You have to do market research and tap into the local pulse. Just because Grandma had a good meatloaf recipe, doesn’t mean you should you put it on the menu. Plus there are complex psychological factors that come into play on a menu, and visual placement of items make a dramatic difference.
Good tasting food that is seasoned properly with solid cooking technique and clean presentation will win your customers over and over again…a lot more than Asian pear gelato, black pepper-grape foam with a blue cheese tuile. Trust me.
Create an Effective Restaurant Marketing Plan
Creating an effective restaurant marketing plan isn’t easy, but by taking the right steps you can make it a reality. Just remember these tenets to successful restaurant marketing:
- Marketing is a yearly commitment. The number one tragic mistake for the majority of restaurant owners is that they only throw money or energy into marketing when business is slow. Big mistake! All businesses have peaks and valleys in sales. That is a natural effect. You cannot have sunshine everyday; there have to be a few rainy days. Without a consistent marketing plan, your business cycle might resemble the extreme highs and lows of a roller coaster. With a solid, well implemented plan, it’ll be more like the gentle rolling hills of Kentucky.
- Marketing is multi-platform. Think of marketing like a chess game. Each chess piece plays a different role. You marketing strategy should be set up the same way. Social media platforms are very niche specific, kind of like TV channels. Some people like NBC, some like CNN, some like FX, and others like Showtime. Social media is like that. Some people love Facebook, while some avoid it. Twitter has a certain demographic that it draws in, as does Instagram.
- Marketing is your duty. Most restaurants approach marketing with what can be called The Field of Dreams Approach: If you build it, they will come. Well, not necessarily. Sure when you first open there will be talk and hype about the “new restaurant.” Then six months later the honeymoon phase is over as the crowd has moved on to the next new restaurant. Markets are fickle. The best way to solve this is to keep your brand “top of mind.” To do that you have to start marketing your brand with a sense of obligation and duty. If you don’t, your brand will never thrive. Sure, you might survive. You probably will break even. But did you open a restaurant to just get by and break even? Marketing tips the scales in your favor.
- Marketing is affordable (if done correctly). Marketing can eat into a budget pretty quickly if you don’t stick to a plan. You probably get weekly calls or emails asking if you want to advertise in a local newspaper or magazine. You might even get solicitations for TV, radio, or billboard ads. While all these mediums do have a time and place, the best bang for your buck is the social media arena. Here your find a few well placed marketing dollars can really pay off. Most social media platforms today have some kind of marketing offer. Facebook ads is a classic example of how for a few dollars per day, you can extend the reach of your page to more people in your market.
- Marketing gives you a competitive edge. Sadly, a lot of restaurants do not take advantage of the power of social media. Most have an excuse or belief system (in coaching that’s called BS) that it’s too much work or too complicated. An excuse is just an alteration of reality. Nothing about it will improve your situation. Restaurants that are surviving and not thriving seem to have a lot of excuses of why they cannot be successful. An excuse is just a BS story you keep telling yourself. Advice? Divorce the story and marry the truth. Truth: Social media marketing is an affordable and approachable way to communicate your brand to the world. The power of the Internet cannot be ignored. (Well, actually you can ignore it; however, it will ignore you back). It gives you the power to market against the big chains.
Grow Your Online Reputation
Have you ever Googled your restaurant? If not, do it right now. What comes up on the first page of results? You’ll likely see a lot of the top review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and OpenTable. Pay the most attention to these page one results because this is what potential customers see first. You want to make sure your top results reflect your restaurant positively, and you want to grow these positive reviews.
Google’s rank algorithm factors in the number of 4- and 5-star reviews, in addition to businesses that have reviews on multiple review sites. Focus on getting high reviews on more than one major review site, so your restaurant appears on page one of Google, gets more traffic, and sees more customers through the door. Also, online reviews will naturally include keywords that help people find your business such as “outdoor patio,” “delivery,” and “happy hour.”
Consider posting your reviews where customers can see them – possibly while waiting for a table, a drink, or a to-go order. Recently I ate at a brewery in Guerneville, California that had a chalkboard on the wall of their bar with one positive and one (funny) negative review from Yelp. The chalkboard showcased the positive side of their restaurant, but also made light of how ridiculous some online reviews can be. It showed the restaurant had clout, but also humor, and made me like the place even more.
Don’t be afraid to ask your customers blatantly for positive reviews if they enjoyed themselves. You can even promote giving reviews in exchange for coupons or promotions. Create business cards to hand out at the end of a meal with a check, send an email asking for reviews, and post review site stickers on the windows and doors of your restaurant.
Don’t underestimate the value of training your employees to ask your customers for positive reviews. Just don’t be overly pushy and do all of these things at once, and remember to focus on getting reviews on more than just Yelp. A good approach would be to spend three months focusing on Yelp, then the next three months focusing on TripAdvisor, and so on.
Attract Customers by Being Social and Green
It’s a great thing that so much of the population today is more informed and concerned about how businesses treat people, get involved in the community, and recognize the fragile nature of our planet. The millennial generation in particular is leading the challenge to restaurant owners to get with the program and become more sustainable and socially concerned. Restaurants that ignore the growing public support for businesses that put people and planet on par with profits, will inevitably lose ground to their more socially and environmentally conscious competitors.
If a small business owner wants to gain public support, and more customers for their restaurant, he or she has to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Offering a free slice of pie with every meal on Wednesdays, or having a recycling bin behind your restaurant is not enough to call yourself a triple bottom line business. Your restaurant has to participate in a more meaningful way.
Study and Analyze the Schedule
Even if you make your schedule once a week or even once a month, check it every day. Make sure you know who is working and who is off. Consider whether adjustments need to be made, so you have enough staff to handle customer needs. If you have to make changes, let your employees know right away. They might have legitimate, prior obligations.
Charles D’Amico, Blue Rock Consultants: “Even the greatest menu, greatest location cannot run without great operations performed by great people. Treat your staff like you would treat your customers with love and respect; without both you cannot survive.”
Closely Monitor Your Inventory
Have you ever noticed when you buy a new pack of pens, they almost all disappear within a few days, but the final two last for weeks? If you have excess inventory, it’s more likely to be wasted. It’s the old adage: If you can measure it, you can control it. Inventory control is about the complete understanding of what you are selling and preparing, and the waste involved in between. Comparing what you’re selling to what your inventory shows you are consuming is a simple and effective way to control costs. These metrics can be measured in many of today’s POS (point of sale) systems, and can still be audited by hand if necessary.
If you’re a franchise, auditing the inventory you’re purchasing versus what you’re using allows you to control waste and maximize your restaurant profits. If you’re a small brand or solo operation learning how to audit your inventory, your sales and product usage is huge in deciding how to move product, control costs, and grow margins.
What Does This Mean For You and Your Profits?
At the end of the day, a successful business requires hard work, knowledge, and the ability to get others to buy into what you’re trying to accomplish. It takes the proper HR structures, systems to support your goals, and the capital to reach your customers and grow your brand. Whether you’re a franchisee of a known brand, or an individual business owner with their own dream, your goals and expectations should be the same
If you can grow your margins properly by taking out a restaurant business loan, you will have the ability to staff, market, and grow your brand for sales you never dreamed of. Getting lost in merely the sales data and not what your PnL is showing you can hurt you down the road. Though it takes extra work, that’s what’s needed to ensure that your dream of succeeding in the restaurant business is reached.