How to Prepare Your Restaurant for a PR Crisis

PR Plan

Running a restaurant is a big responsibility. You have employees, vendors, and customers all counting on you to succeed. This pressure is magnified even more so when there’s an unexpected crisis thrown into the mix.

Whether it’s a health hazard or an earthquake, your restaurant needs to be prepared to deal with the fallout and snap into crisis mode. These crises happen without a moment’s notice and can be catastrophic if not dealt with correctly. So how does your restaurant begin to prepare for the unexpected?

Avoid Being the “Ostrich”:

When a crisis does strike, your restaurant needs to be fast-acting to acknowledge the issue and take the appropriate steps to work towards a solution.

The very last thing you want your organization to be facing at the height of a disaster is a media outrage because you didn’t make any sort of statement. There is no playing the ostrich here; you cannot stick your head in the sand and pretend your problems will go away. You need to be clear, succinct, and precise with your plan internally and to the public. This can be done with a crisis management agenda.

Creating this plan can help you remain calm in times of crises which, in turn, can lead to better decision-making. Every restaurant should have an agenda for managing critical situations, the size of which will depend on the size of your operation and the issue at hand.

How to Compile a Crisis Management Agenda:

  • Brainstorm the risks faced by your restaurant such as food safety, insurance liabilities, and potential disasters (before they occur).
  • Create a checklist or plan of what should happen when an emergency happens.
  • Designate a task force of individuals who will carry out the step-by-step plan.
  • Delegate tasks and information to be disseminated internally and externally of the restaurant.
  • Identify key organizations that need to be notified such as fire, police, and ambulance services.
  • Make a list of audiences that need to be informed: reporters, legal entities, insurance companies. Don’t forget how you plan to address employees and the public.

PlanThis agenda should be shared with upper level management and designated employees that are appointed in the agenda. For an effective strategy, this information can easily be spread with Google Docs. Using Google Docs can lessen paper usage and, in case of a fire, will ensure you plan stays intact.

Having a crisis management procedure in place can lessen panic and give you a roadmap for navigating the seas of this crisis.

Keep Your Emotions in Check:

It’s without a doubt that going through a crisis that puts your livelihood in jeopardy is a stressful time. It’s also a crucial time to remain level-headed throughout the crisis. By acknowledging the issues your restaurant is facing and following your crisis management agenda, you can use your team to direct your efforts appropriately, even if you’re still in shock while the situation unfolds.

Not keeping your emotions in check can cause more issues if you act on them. Instead of acting brashly, use your emotions to convey sincerity and genuine concern. Maintaining a calm and professional demeanor can not only begin to fix customer perception but also inspire a more civil view for employees.

Emotions

For example, Applebee’s had a tumultuous public relations nightmare in 2013. Long story short, Applebee’s fired a staff member for posting a negative comment that a customer had written (due to a privacy violation) and then praised another staff member through a post that also had the customer’s name. Applebee’s posted on Facebook stating the reason they had fired the first staff member, which invited many comments from followers. In the middle of the night, the Applebee’s social media team posted an update on the post, which got lost in the 17,000 comments currently on the post. The social media team began tagging the people who had commented and copy/pasting the update their comments, leading to more heckling and an additional 16,000 comments. The social media team could have waited until a reasonable hour and posted a new update, not a comment, instead of adding fuel to the fire.

Moral of the story? Think before you act impulsively.

Say Sorry and Mean It:

Apologizing is not an easy step for any business, but it is a necessary evil in trying to repair the public’s trust. While making an apology, focus on being sincere. After all, what is an apology without feeling the deepest regret about the actions that occurred? With an honest-to-goodness apology to the affected parties, a business is taking ownership of the situation and can give it credibility.

micIn making this heartfelt apology, you will also want to take timing into account. If a crisis occurs, a restaurant’s timely apology is important in keeping customers on their side. Even if your team is working behind the scenes to better the situation, it is imperative that these actions are communicated and not done in silence. The longer an apology takes, the less customers will take it seriously.

Go further for your customers and add a side of great customer service to your apology. From late 2015 to early 2016, about 40 Chipotle customers were sickened from E. coli contaminants; a tough blow to a restaurant chain that prided themselves on fresh food free of genetically-modified organisms. Making an apology statement turned advertisement in major newspapers nationwide, Chipotle founder, Steve Ells, addressed the outbreaks, apologized, and made promises of more thorough food safety standards. To bring people back into its restaurants, Chipotle launched their brief rewards program, direct mail offers, and mobile promotions to earn free burritos.

Unfortunately, the world can change at the drop of a hat: people make snap judgments, tectonic plates collide, and food is not handled with proper care. But that doesn’t mean your restaurant can’t be prepared to combat these crises when they happen. Having a plan, keeping your emotions in check, and truly apologizing are crucial elements in preparing your restaurant for a future crisis. Remember the best offense is a good defense.

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The Recipe of a Restaurant: How to Break into the Industry

Open for Business

Have you dreamed of owning your own restaurant? Maybe you’ve sketched out what the exterior would look like on a napkin, daydreamed about what you would serve, or even picked out your china?

But have you ever thought of taking this dream one step farther and putting your ideas to work?

If you’re looking to bust into the restaurant business but aren’t quite sure of what you would need to do it, we’ve compiled the largest pieces you need, into one guide. And because opening a restaurant is no easy task, we spoke with Rob Coffaro, owner of Coffaro’s Pizza in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, to get his expertise on the subject.

Coffaro's Pizza

Prep Time

Concept- First things first, you need a concept. This may be something you already have under belt, but if not, you need to cement what your vision is for your restaurant. Having a more concrete concept can help you carry the elements you want into your restaurant more clearly.

Location- Whether you’re taking over another restaurant or building from the ground up, you should have your location. Talk to your realtor about the different options for your commercial venture. This will impact how you finance your restaurant.

Finances- How you finance will largely depend on your situation. If you are so lucky to have been saving up in your personal savings account, these liquid funds could get you on your way. If your credit is in good standing, a credit card could be a viable solution, depending on how much you need. Another option could be a restaurant specific loan or a Small Business Administration loan. A restaurant specific loan is not bound to a specific need and has a varying interest rates and terms, depending on the size of the loan. Based on the financial institution, this loan can have many different names but serves the same purpose. An SBA backed loan can offer lower down payments and longer terms to the business owner but can be difficult to qualify for. To qualify, a business must meet size requirements, be in good financial standing, be in the for-profit industry, and meet the credit requirements of the lending institution. Instead of going the commercial route, you could also have investors help fund your restaurant. If these are friends and family, remember that while the money can be convenient, it can also be a strain on the relationship.

Business plan- After you’ve analyzed the risks and you’re ready to take on the responsibility of owning your own business, it’s time to create a business plan. This plan gives you a guiding light when things seem dark or what to do next. When documenting your business plan, be sure to include information on your concept, team standards, design, target market, market overview, financial risk, business structure, and external individuals that will be helping you run your business (like a lawyer or accountant).

Legal matters- If you plan on serving alcohol or having a BYOB policy, make sure you check your state’s liquor license laws. Some states can take longer than others for this process, so if this applies to your business definitely get a jump on it!

Slice of Advice- Be Organized

Mix in Your Ingredients

Write your menu- It’s time to test out what culinary creations will grace your menu. Use focus groups of friends, family, and other chefs to narrow down what fits your restaurant’s style and flow. Make sure to also include various substitutions to accommodate guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. When designing your menu, you need to keep in mind the physical look of the menu, how categories will be presented, and the pattern in how it’s read.

Network- How are you going to obtain the ingredients of your daily fare. Research foodservice vendors on price, quality, and delivery time but also keep local farms or vendors in mind. A great way to build relationships in the community is to partner these homegrown businesses which could help get your foot in the door for future events.

Get social- Start creating a buzz about your establishment. Choose two or three social media platforms that you are well-versed in (or are prepared to master) and begin showing the world what makes your business unique. You have a great opportunity to show the beginnings of your restaurant, from the first time you walk through the door to opening night. Use it!

Dimensions- Space planning can give you important figures such as your capacity, how many pieces of furniture you can order, and the image of how your restaurant will look at the end. There are many requirements that restauranteurs need to implement in their layout. Whether large or small, your restaurant can be planned out before you purchase a single piece of furniture.

Filling the space- To complete your restaurant, you will need commercial furniture and restaurant equipment (think refrigerators, ovens, etc.). Be sure to purchase products that promise quality and durability. Don’t forget to also pick up dinnerware, napkins, cooking utensils, and silverware to run your business smoothly and efficiently. It’s also time to finalize your menus and send them off to print!

Safety is key- In most states; you need to have a pre-operational inspection done before your restaurant opens. During this inspection, there should be absolutely no food on the premises. The pre-operational inspection confirms that your restaurant is compliant with health laws.

Build your team- The amount of upper-level management you need will depend on your business structure and size but most restaurants have a general manager, assistant manager, shift leaders, and chefs. You will want to look for individuals that are successful in recruiting, supervising, and budgeting. When your management team is in place, you can start hiring the wait and kitchen staff. From top level management all the way to the first-time job holder, training is important for seamless, united customer service.

Slice of Advice- Hiring

Let’s Get Cooking

Get your feet wet- Have your soft opening a couple weeks before your grand opening that introduces your business to the community. This lets your future customers get to know you and get excited that you will be opening very shortly.

Call your health inspector- Directly after your soft opening, schedule an operational inspection with the health department. Staying up on these issues is important for the longevity of your business.

Make it an event- For your grand opening, make sure that you are present and available. This is the time to enjoy your handiwork and introduce yourself and your team to all those who came out to support you. You should invite some sort of press outlet, but you may want to also hire a photographer to attend. Designate a staff member or friend to be in charge of social media that night, this is an event you will want to remember.

Slice of Advice- Do the Math

Enjoy Your Final Product

So your restaurant is now a full-blown operational business. That’s awesome, but the hard work is just beginning. You need to keep up on budgeting, food safety, licenses, and your customers’ overall experience. It’s important to keep in mind that while it may be simpler to hire the accountant and just leave the finances to them or hire an assistant to focus on staying up to date on licensing, you need to be involved. Just because your restaurant is open does not mean you can stop researching and educating yourself. Let this and every ounce of customer feedback drive you to become a better restaurant and business. You need to be involved with each workings of your business to protect and nourish it every step of the way.

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5 Restaurant Trade Shows You Won’t Want to Miss in 2017

Trade Show Set UpIndustry trade shows are crucial for top players in the restaurant business. Owners, managers, and decision-makers can network, sample new food methods, test top of the line technology, and discover upcoming trends within the industry. Trade shows bring together the moving parts of the restaurant community with the common goal of bettering businesses.

Whether you’re just breaking into the industry or you’ve owned your restaurant for 30 years, these five trade shows are a great place to reignite your inspiration and make connections to further your restaurant.

International Restaurant & Foodservice Show- New York, NY

March 5-7, 2017

Calling all food lovers! Celebrate the City that Never Sleeps with the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show. Enjoy the newest food trends at the “Taste NY & Craft Beverage Showcase” pavilion or spectate the “27th Annual U.S. Pastry Competition” for a deliciously good time. One of the largest trade shows on the eastern seaboard, this trade show is a must-see for restaurant owners. Located in the Javits Center, you’ll find 550+ exhibitors to interact and network with. Previously this trade show boasted 20,000 attendees and is limited to restaurant and foodservice professionals. Industry insiders can buy a 3-day pass to enjoy vendors, live demonstrations, and educational opportunities. Gain a fresh perspective on your business and get inspired with specialty events and pavilions. If you’re looking to bump elbows with some of the most experienced individuals in the restaurant industry, make sure to check out this trade show!

Nightclub and Bar Trade Show- Las Vegas, NV

March 27-29, 2017

Bringing the neon and glamour of the Vegas strip, the Nightclub and Bar Trade Show sparkles at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Work hard and play harder at this trade show with an estimated 39,000 attendees and more than 600 exhibitors. The NCB show caters to everyone from single owner operations all the way to multi-location tycoons. And don’t be fooled by the name, restaurants and hotels alike frequent this show with its Vegas-like atmosphere. This show is not open to the public, giving attendees a more exclusive and efficient interaction with suppliers. It also offers additional conferences and networking parties to further the education and connections of attendees. Show-goers can choose from a series of ticket packages to customize the experience. Whether you are an owner, buyer, or industry newcomer, this trade show is a great place for networking and experiencing the nightclub industry at its truest form.

Craft Brewers Conference and Brew Expo America- Washington, DC

April 11-14, 2017

If brewing is your game, the Craft Brewers Conference and Brew Expo America is the show for you. Taking place in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, this trade show brings in 11,500 attendees and 700 exhibitors. This show takes a large part in providing education, services, and technology for the ever-expanding brewing industry. Because it is an industry trade show, the conference and show is not open to the public. For industry-insiders, different ticket packages are available depending on which events you wish to attend. To stay updated in this industry, seminars are offered at this show with titles like “Starting a Quality Lab in a Craft Brewery”, “What I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Brewery”, and “101 Ways to Blow Up a Bottle/Can and How to Not Do It”. From brewing masters to industry newbies, this trade show brings together the brewing community to new heights.

National Restaurant Association Show- Chicago, IL

May 20-23, 2017

If you’re looking to have plenty of vendors and options in one space, the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago is definitely one to check out. One of the largest trade shows in the restaurant industry, the NRA show spans four days and requires at least two of these days to walk the entire show floor. Simply put, this trade show is enormous. Located in McCormick Place, this trade show rakes in 44,000 attendees and 1,300 exhibitors. While this show presents a great opportunity for start-up businesses to be launched into the restaurant industry, this is a popular show for larger chains and veterans to hit up because of the vastness of the offerings available. Needless to say, this is a great show to make connections from all over the country. This show is not open to the public, but is accessible for anyone involved with the food service or hospitality industries.

Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show- Orlando, FL

September 10-12, 2017

Whether you’re in the beginning stages of managing a restaurant or have 15 locations, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show is a must-attend show this fall. Located in the Orange County Convention Center, this trade show boasts around 8,000 attendees and approximately 400 exhibitors. Don’t let size full you, this trade show is highly attended by large resorts and corporate chains. Exclusive to the restaurant and food service professional industries, the general public is not permitted to attend this show. The FRLS excels in food demonstrations and culinary experiences. This trade show offers over 40 education sessions, informational forums, and a variety of exhibits to keep your Floridian stay filled to the brim.

IFRS in NYC

Photo via International Restaurant & Foodservice Show

Ready to attend an industry trade show? Make sure to check out these tips before you go to get the most out of your trade show experience.

Are any of these trade shows on your short list to attend this upcoming year? Let us know in the comments below!

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6 Steps You Must Take To Survive a Restaurant Recession

An empty restaurant.

If you’ve watched the news or read anything about the restaurant industry lately, then you’ve probably heard about the restaurant slowdown, dare we say recession, that all of the pundits are predicting.  Whether those recession fears are overblown or not, one can’t ignore the negative commentary coming from some of the industry’s biggest corporations talking about slowing sales and lower traffic year over year.

2016 has seen the separation of definite winners and losers in the hospitality industry.  Some restaurants like Panera, Papa John’s, and Texas Roadhouse are still killing it, while others like Yum! Brands, Ruby Tuesday’s, and Smokey Bones have taken a beating.  Some have even gone out of business.   The year 2016 has seen numerous restaurant bankruptcies from once successful concepts like Cosi, Quaker Steak & Lube, HomeTown Buffet, and Johnny Carinos.

 

What is causing the restaurant downturn?

The Natural Business Cycle

The restaurant industry has seen tremendous growth since the turn of the century.  Over the past 16 years, restaurant food and drink sales have more than doubled from $379 billion in 2000 to an estimated $782 billion in 2016, which represents an approximate 6.5% annual growth rate.  The growth is even more impressive when you realize that in 1970, restaurant sales were only $42.8 billion.  This success has prompted more and more competitors to enter the marketplace.  In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, there are more than one million restaurant locations in the United States, or 1 restaurant for every 319 people.

While the growth trend may continue, every industry is subject to the ups and downs of the business cycle, so it is normal to have some years of negative growth.

Falling Grocery Prices

As of September 2016, the price of groceries had dropped for 9 straight months, a phenomenon that almost never happens without a general economic recession.  In some places, grocery prices have dropped as much as 5% over the past year.

When grocery prices decline, more consumers see the value in cooking at home vs. eating out; this is particularly true when restaurant menu prices don’t keep up with the decline.  In this cycle, as grocery prices have declined, restaurant menu prices have stayed steady, or even increased, prompting more people to cook at home.

Changing Demographics

According to the Wall Street Journal consumers aged 18-35 make fewer than 50 trips to restaurants each year.  Compare this to the 75-80+ times per year that the average American eats out (stats do not include pickup or fast food), and you can see that the demographics are definitely not in favor of continued growth.

Innovative Grocery Startups

New innovators in the grocery delivery space like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are making it easier for consumers to cook restaurant quality meals at home, at a reasonable price.  For example, meals at Blue Apron cost between $8.75 and $9.99 per meal compared to an average cost of $39.40 per meal at a restaurant.

Politics

It’s hard to quantify how much consumer spending lags in an election year, however many corporate restaurant CEO’s have come out in the past few months and blamed election uncertainty for slowing same store sales growth.  Whether the election is being used as a scapegoat or not is hard to tell, but now that it is behind us, politics should be less of a factor in 2017.

Rising Costs

As if all the factors affecting growth in the industry aren’t bad enough, many restaurants also have to deal with rising labor costs in the form of wage pressure and healthcare costs under the Affordable Care Act.

 

6 Keys to Survival?

Have a hook

The days of offering “ok” food at an “ok” price and succeeding are over; there’s simply too much competition to operate a middle of the road establishment.  Sure, good food is a must, you can’t survive long without it; but, in this day and age, you’ve also got to have a hook.  In business, a hook is known as a competitive advantage: something that you do better than any of your competitors.    If your food is the best around for your genre, then that IS the hook.  However, if your food is just mediocre, then you better start looking for something else to bring customers through your door.  The hook doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive; it could be as simple as an innovative sandwich (Primanti Brothers), a large menu (Cheesecake Factory), top notch customer service (Chick-fil-A), or a focus on your local neighborhood (Applebees).

Ideally, your competitive advantage will be something that is not easily replicable by competitors.  For example, while something as simple as free Wi-Fi can give you a short term competitive advantage in an area where it is not widely available, it’s not likely to last long once your competitors catch on and start to offer the same thing.

Be proactive about your finances

One of the key takeaways from this year’s NRA Show Keynote Session between Jon Taffer and Robert Irvine was that far too many restaurant owners are totally unaware of their finances.  They let a book keeper focus on the accounting, while they focus on the food, staff, and atmosphere.  That may work ok in times of fast growth and easy money, but it can really hurt your restaurant when the going gets tough.

The problem with not knowing your finances is that you can’t see potential trouble coming until it’s too late; you are forced to react to bad situations instead of being proactive and taking action to avoid them altogether.  For example, if you don’t look at your food costs on a regular basis, then you might not realize that certain foods are rising in price, and you will be serving dishes that are no longer as profitable as they once were.

While we’re on the topic of being proactive with your finances, there are two other things that you need to do before the next recession.  First, make sure that you stock away some extra “rainy day” capital when times are good.  Second, build a relationship with your banks commercial lending officer and open a line of credit as a backup source of funding should you ever need it.  If your profitability ever falls off a cliff for a couple of months, these should provide quick access to cash if you need it.

Maximize your free advertising

What is the first budgetary item to take a hit when business is slow or your restaurant is losing money?  If you’re like most restaurant owners, then the answer is probably advertising and marketing.  It makes sense that this is where many owners choose to cut; if the choice comes down to firing staff or not running that 30 second TV spot next month, then many small business owners would choose the latter.  Nevertheless, advertising during a recession is precisely what a restaurant must do to stay at the top of consumers’ minds and try to steal market share away from competitors.  Fortunately, thanks to the internet and social media, there are ways to promote your business that cost next to nothing, at least in terms of dollars.

We are lucky to live in a time in modern history where creativity and ingenuity can actually outperform advertising dollars.  So put on your thinking cap, and figure out a way to get your name out there.  If you have a great story to tell, call up your local papers and ask them to write about it.  If you are offering something special, make sure that all of your social media followers (I’m assuming you utilize social media at this point) know about it.  Take that 30 second TV spot that you were planning and plaster it on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.  Whatever it takes to get your name out there, do it.  A downturn is the perfect time for a little Guerilla Marketing.   Unleash your inner PT Barnum and market the hell out of your business, because it may be the thing that keeps the lights on until business picks back up.

Try to renegotiate your lease when the time is right

This one is tricky.  Landlords obviously don’t want to renegotiate a lease contract lower because they have you locked in (and may have you personally on the hook).  But, it isn’t impossible.  The one thing that landlords hate more than renegotiating lease space is vacancy.  If there isn’t a lot of competition in your area, or if the number of commercial real estate vacancies are rising, then you have some power to renegotiate, particularly if the alternative is going out of business and/or filing for bankruptcy.  Ask your landlord for a temporary rent reduction first.  If that doesn’t work, try to negotiate a reduction or partial deferral in exchange for a longer lease term.

Offer loyalty programs

One of the most important things you can do to survive a recession is to retain your current customers.  Did you know that it costs 500% more to acquire a new customer than to retain a current one?  How about that 81% of consumers surveyed said that they are more likely to continue doing business with brands that offer a loyalty program.  Knowing this, offering a loyalty program becomes almost a no-brainer.  If you can’t keep your current customers coming in the door, then it is going to cost you 5 times as much to acquire new customers.  Start a program that lets customers get something for free, or at least a percentage off, for every x number of times that they dine at your restaurant.  Sure, it’s going to impact your bottom line, so make sure that your margins are robust enough to handle the hit and make it up in increased volume.  It could be the difference between customers choosing your restaurant or the place down the street.

Stay positive

If you’ve been in management for any length of time, then you know that employees tend to mimic the attitudes of their bosses.  If you, as an owner or general manager are constantly showing worry, then employees will feed off of that attitude, which can create a negative customer experiences.  Likewise, if you let your worries make you irritable or moody, then employees will pick up that and will start to act in kind.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to keep a smile on your face when you don’t know if you’re going to make next month’s payroll, but it is necessary to keep your culture positive and keep employees motivated.  By no means are we advocating that you lie or hide the truth from them.  Let them know where the business stands, and give them all of the facts.  But, attitude is everything, and as the captain of the ship, yours is the most important in the whole organization.  Approach every downturn as an opportunity to innovate and improve your restaurant in anticipation of better times.  Get employees involved and make them feel ownership.  You might be surprised when the best idea to lower costs or retain customers comes from them.

Every business has its ups and downs, and the restaurant industry is no different.  We have enjoyed a long stretch of growth and good times, where the rising tide of demographics and changing social norms has lifted all boats.  Hopefully, that trend will continue, and this short lived down trend will end as quickly as it began.  If it doesn’t, however, following the tips above can help you to weather the storm and emerge from the other side in a better position than ever.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Restaurant’s Menu to Increase Profitability

Improving Your Menu to Increase Profitability

 

1) Take a hard look at your prices.

Pricing products is one of the most difficult things that any business owner has to do. At it’s simplest, you try to calculate prices that will cover your costs and earn enough of a profit to make it worth staying in business. But, what if you’re leaving money on the table by pricing your items too low? Or, vice versa, what if your menu is priced too high and your losing sales volume? Either scenario could effect profitability in a major way.

Developing an optimal pricing strategy is 1/2 art and 1/2 science – entire books have been written on the subject, so it is too complex to cover in detail here. What it boils down to, however, is matching your prices to the value that your customers perceive in your items. If customers perceive that your $12.99 burger with locally raised, grass fed ground chuck represents an appropriate value, they’ll be happy to pay it – regardless of what it costs to make.

So, how can you gauge your customers’ perceptions of value and price accordingly? Start with your direct competition. Are they pricing the same burger for $8? If so, then, all other things being equal, they’re probably stealing some of your sales. On the other hand, if they’re pricing it at $15, then there may be an opportunity for you to raise your price a little and increase your profitability.

2) Eliminate the clutter

Do you have items on your menu that just don’t sell? Does your menu have so many items on it that you have to use a small, hard to read font in order to fit it all in? If you answered yes to either of these questions, consider ridding your menu of the clutter. Of course you want to keep your classics, customer favorites, and high profit items, but it may just be time to get rid of the rest. Too much on your menu will overwhelm your customers, create a large amount of inventory that you will end up throwing away, and leave you with increased labor costs, all of which reduces profitability.

To combat the clutter, consider recommendations made by O’Dell Restaurant Consulting, a company that offers restaurant consulting services. They recommend taking your sales mix report and eliminating the bottom half of the items; the ones that aren’t selling. Then, take the top half and really evaluate where in your kitchen these items are prepared, using that to organize and balance your menu. For example, have a grilled items section, sautéed selections, fried foods, etc. O’Dell suggests no more than 20 main course dishes, including sandwiches, 4-6 starters, and 2-3 salads. If you have pizza on your menu, it is suggested to make up 2/3 of your main course selections and you should only offer it in a maximum of 3 sizes. You should still accommodate special requests but have a special price for those requests. Cleaning up your menu and getting rid of the clutter will give your customers better food and better service in addition to allowing your restaurant to serve more people.

3) Try a new design.

A fresh perspective and a new look to your menu is a great way to upgrade your brand and improve profitability. Consider investing in the services of a graphic designer or a marketing professional who can use their tricks of the trade to make your menu more attractive and eye catching. Or, look into online companies who offer professional templates, like Vistaprint, to complete this task on your own. Regardless of who does it, design does make a difference. It’s all about the text font and size, the illustrations and images, colors used, and even the shape, thickness, and texture of your menu. It’s also about making sure that your final menu fits in with the concept and atmosphere of your restaurant.

4) Change up your descriptions.

The way you describe your menu items makes a difference. Keep your menu descriptions short but offer descriptive terms that highlight their taste, uniqueness, or ingredients. The tastier it sounds, the more interest there will be in ordering it. If this isn’t your forte, consider hiring a professional copywriter or marketer to assist you with this task. You can find freelance professionals who do this type of work at www.upwork.com.

5) Consider item placement and positioning.

When organizing your menu, here are a few fun facts that may be helpful to increase sales…According to SoftCafe, a developer of menu software for restaurants, customers often remember and order the first two items and the last two items in each category on your menu. On a tri-panel menu, people look at the center panel first and move their attention counter clockwise. Place your highest margin items in these areas, and you could see a substantial increase in profitability.

6) Add fresh into the mix.

Food trends have moved into organic, fresh, and healthier options. Offering “fresh” items on your menu not only sounds attractive to your customers, but can also be a selling point for your restaurant. Supporting the local economy and having healthier options for your customers is good for the environment, good for the local economy, and can make you stand out from other restaurants. In addition, customers are willing to pay a little more for ingredients that are fresh, local, and healthy with an even better taste.

7) Offer specials.

Customers will come to your restaurant not only looking for deals, but also for menu items that they can’t get anywhere else. Consider a specials menu or insert with your regular menu that you change out every so often to push high margin items. A great example of a company that utilizes this strategy is Red Lobster, which has different, short lived, specials like Shrimp Fest, Crab Fest, and Lobster Fest at various times of year.

Play up seasonal offerings during the holidays or offer certain items related to commercialized events like the Super Bowl or the premier of a popular television show in your area. Specials keep your menu interesting and they can even allow you to use up inventory that might otherwise go to waste.

8) Don’t forget photos.

When possible, try to include photos that offer your customers a visual presentation of your food. Some people are visual decision makers; they will see an item and order it because the picture intrigued them. Consider highlighting your popular menu items, a new or featured item, or even something that is a long time classic. With these photos, be sure the images are sharp ones with a professional look. But, don’t go overboard. Too many images can be overwhelming and can look chaotic. Plus, it’s okay to have white space; it gives your customer’s eyes a chance to rest. Applebee’s does a great job of using photos on their menu to entice their customers.

9) Make your menu easily accessible.

In this day and age, people want information in an instant and make their decisions based on the information available to them. Included in this is your restaurant’s menu. Your goal is to get that information to your customers as soon as possible. Yes, you can make sure that your menu is on the table when each customer is seated or that the hostess hands each patron a copy of it when they first sit down. You can even offer a menu on the wall in the waiting area for your customers to read. But, one of the best ways to offer your menu even before any customer walks in is online through a mobile friendly website, app, or on any of the social media sites. When customers can access your menu from anywhere, it may just be the deciding factor that pulls their cars into your parking lot. And when paired with the recommendations above, you’ll be sure to see the profits of your efforts.

10) Consider your customer.

Who is your customer and what would appeal to them? When your restaurant menu appeals to each customer, especially the news ones, they’ll surely return for more. For example, if your business caters to families, offer a separate kids menu. If your restaurant is located in a college town, offer pricing that appeals to the average college student. Or, if you have an upscale restaurant, offer a menu that caters to your customer in both variety on your menu and in design.

Best Advice for Restaurant Managers

advice for restaurant managersRestaurant managers are under a lot of pressure, and why wouldn’t they be? Day after day, night after night, they orchestrate the front of the house while keeping diners happy. They coordinate with the executive chef and are required to be experts in human resources, time management, and inventory control. When you consider how many duties a restaurant manager has to juggle, it’s not surprising that many would love to hear how other managers bring the best experience possible to their customers.

Here are some great pieces of advice that East Coast Chair & Barstool has heard from accomplished restaurant managers. 

·        Don’t try to change it all. You’re not Gordon Ramsay. If you’d like to make changes, especially if you’re starting to manage a restaurant that has been in business for some time, observe the general atmosphere and front-end business, then pinpoint several areas that you believe need the most work and can make the biggest impact. Major changes can throw a restaurant into upheaval, change the quality of the food, and hurt the restaurant’s image. For instance, if your diners mostly come to your restaurant for a healthy, quick lunch, adding fried foods to the menu may disappoint your regulars. Be sure that your changes will make your customer base happy.

·        Budget your time so your restaurant can grow. Time management is probably the most useful skill a restaurant manager has. Knowing how long everything should take, and then knowing how long it actually takes is the first step. From there, you can plan how to improve your process, your training, and your delegation skills. If you don’t know how to manage your time, don’t worry. It’s something that can be taught. Why not use the same time management programs that CEOs rely on? It will change you from a manager who may micromanage or manage ineffectively, to one who can learn how to set aside extra time to grow their restaurant. Once you carve out that time, you can increase your productivity and then coach your staff to do the same.

 ·       Schedule your employees so they have a life. Restaurant employees know that they will be working long shifts and long hours, but if you can create a schedule that gives them the opportunity to enjoy planned days off on a regular basis, then you’ll be able to garner employee loyalty, reduce waitstaff turnover, and have your pick of potential employees once the word gets out that believe in work-life balance. Hiring the right people is a key part of a restaurant’s success, and you want to make sure that you can choose from a wide talent base.

 ·       Be business savvy, not just restaurant savvy. You may have been working in restaurants since you were a teenager, but do you have experience with inventory management, budgeting, labor requirements, legal issues, and overall administrative duties? If not, consider taking a course in restaurant management so that you can make sure you’re impacting business in the best way. 

We’d love to hear your advice too! Leave us a comment below to share your own advice and experiences.