Archive for October, 2014

Golden Rules of Restaurant Hospitality

October 29, 2014

Despite the fact that any restaurant’s success hinges on its ability to attract and retain customers, many restaurant businesses lose sight of the basic rules of hospitality in favor of simply trying to keep the business afloat. While it’s always important to keep an eye on the bottom line, keeping your customers coming in and leaving happy is equally critical. No matter what state your restaurant’s business is in, here are a few “golden rules” of hospitality that should never be absent.  

Take the Craft of Restaurant Hospitality Seriously, Not Yourself

The first important thing to realize about hospitality is that it is an experience that starts the moment your customer sets foot in the door. This experience is largely determined by the mood that you and your staff set. How is it possible for a guest to have a relaxing, enjoyable experience if the staff is emanating a frazzled, semi-cranky, “hurry up and tell me what you want” attitude? Customers want to see that restaurant employees are knowledgeable about the dishes that are being served and that they take the quality and experience of that service seriously, but they also want to receive this service in an environment where people are relaxed and enjoying what they do. Bottom line, recognize that good hospitality can have more to do with friendly, open attitudes and excellent, upbeat service than the actual quality of the food itself.

Treat Every Restaurant Guest as a Family Friend and Every Dish as a Competition

The definition of hospitality includes receiving and treating guests or strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way. This means giving them a warm welcome when they enter, engaging them in some form of personal conversation during their stay and ensuring that their experience is a positive one in every possible way. In other words, treat every customer as you would a dear family friend, taking measures to impress and delight them and to assure their happiness and comfort.

Furthermore, underscore your commitment to excellence by treating every dish that you create as if it were going to be entered into a competition. Ask how customers like their meals shortly after delivering them and be prepared to take any action necessary to make sure they are happy with their orders. Let every customer know that you have worked hard to make their experience with you special, and that every dish has been personally prepared with loving care. Customers who are made to feel special, welcomed and heard will return to your business again and again.

Cultivate Goodwill Between Your Restaurant Business and the Public at Large

Last but not least, cultivate an attitude of sharing and goodwill between your restaurant and the public at large. The can be as simple as freely sharing the recipe for that favorite dish, or as elaborate as letting the local community know that your business is interested in buying local produce and sponsoring local fundraisers, events and gatherings. Also, look for ways to tailor your offerings to better suit your core demographic. For example, if you have a lot of kids come into the restaurant, consider starting a “kids’ club” program, or take a survey of your most loyal patrons to see if there is any way you can make their experience with your restaurant even better.

The take home point here is that a restaurant can’t afford to neglect the basic rules of hospitality if it hopes to survive. Those basics are easily met by treating every customer as an honored guest, cultivating an attitude of openness and warmth and making a commitment to going above and beyond to ensure that your customers leave happy, satisfied and eager to return.

3 Cost Cuts Restaurant Customers Won’t Notice

October 22, 2014

With margins that can sometimes be paper-thin, restaurateurs are always looking for ways to cut costs and save some of that hard-earned cash. Unfortunately, those cost cuts aren’t always perceived positively in the eyes of the public—especially if the attempt to increase the bottom line comes in the form of menu price increases, lack of adequate staffing or use of inferior ingredients. Fortunately, there are a number of behind-the-scene ways to tighten up your restaurant’s budget and make cost cuts that your guests won’t notice.

Be Smart About Restaurant Supply Delivery and Proportions

There are several ways that you can make better use of your supplies to save money. For instance, if you are currently receiving multiple deliveries per week from several different vendors, consider consolidating vendors and deliveries down to one or two a week. Less-frequent deliveries equates to better bulk savings. Ordering larger quantities from the vendors you stick with may enable you to negotiate better prices as well.

Furthermore, make better use of the inventory you have on hand. Keep careful track of what is coming in and what is going out; build specials around surplus ingredients and make a point of utilizing all of your currently available inventory before the next shipment of new supplies is delivered.

Last, but not least, be consistent about your portion sizes. Consistently sized portions keep guests from feeling cheated if they get a smaller portion one time and a larger portion the next. They also help to control costs and improve inventory tracking. Extra scoops add up over time and a lack of standardized portioning makes it difficult to know exactly how much each dish is costing the business to produce, in comparison to the amount of product sold.

Leverage Restaurant Beverage Sales

Another smart way to improve profit margins is to leverage beverage sales that are cheaply produced. Iced tea, for example, can cost as little as five cents a glass to provide. Rather than providing water automatically, notify guests that it is available upon request as a conservation strategy. Not only does this save on water, but it also increases the odds that they will order other beverages off the menu instead. Lastly, build your drink specials around surplus inventory to further make use of everything you already have on hand.

Make Best Use of Restaurant Staff Scheduling

Striking a balance between over-staffing and having adequate staff on hand to handle the amount of customer traffic is always a tricky business in the restaurant industry. Yet, making best use of your restaurant staff scheduling is another way to cut costs. Obviously, you want to schedule fewer people on days you anticipate will be slow, but you also want to make sure that you have your most skilled and efficient employees scheduled on your busier days. Furthermore, it’s smart to try to pair servers who have established rapport and have demonstrated the ability to work well together. Servers who get along are going to be far better at working together and covering a room more efficiently. Talk with your staff and observe them in action to figure out how to best put their unique skill combinations to use.

Identifying areas where you are spending more money than you need to be can be challenging. Looking for opportunities to save money without sacrificing the quality of service is critical to any restaurant’s success. Sometimes a little experimentation is required in order to strike the perfect balance for your restaurant business, but the cost-saving effort is worth the while.

3 Restaurant Cash Flow Tips for Smoothing Out the Financial Ups and Downs

October 15, 2014

Having adequate cash flow is the bottom line for every restaurant business. Without enough cash on hand to pay suppliers, employees, rent and bills, a restaurant can’t keep its doors open, let alone attain profitability. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that you can employ to help smooth out the ups and downs of the sometimes uncertain income that can go hand in hand with being in the restaurant profession.

Restaurant Cash Flow Tip #1: Don’t Spend What You Don’t Have

Deep down, everyone knows that it’s risky business (and probably not a good idea) to spend more money than you have, yet many restaurant owners end up doing exactly that in a desperate effort to make ends meet and keep things running smoothly. No matter how tempting it might be to do so, pay your bills only on revenue that you actually have in the bank, NOT on the sales you hope you might make. Paying out money that you don’t actually have is a great way to put your business on the fast-track to failure.

Restaurant Cash Flow Tip #2: Prioritize and Spread Out Your Bills

While it is smart to sit down at the beginning of every month and make a plan for meeting your bills, it’s not necessarily wise to pay all of them at once. Many restaurant owners do this, hoping that they have either set aside enough money or that sales will float their payments, only to run into serious cash flow problems a few weeks down the road. While it’s fine to write out all of your checks in one setting, stagger when you send them off according to due date and priority to ensure that your restaurant’s cash flow is stable. Consider changing to a bi-weekly payroll, with pay days alternating with business bill days. Furthermore, consider investing in a payroll service, and leave the headache of saving for, or making incremental payroll tax payments, to the pros.

Also, prioritize your bills. If a missed payment could hurt your business’s ability to operate, such as rent and taxes, make sure these are paid first. Bills such as utilities or insurance often have a reasonable grace period, or more manageable late fee, and may be better choices to put off, if such a choice has to be made.

Restaurant Cash Flow Tip #3: Maintain Open Lines of Communication with Vendors and Financial Partners

Maintaining open lines of communication between your vendors and financial partners is a critical factor in stabilizing cash flow. Many vendors offer flexible payment options and financing and are happy to work with you as long as the payments are regularly scheduled. Establishing solid relationships with your bank and credit providers is important as well. While your bank might not give you a loan, they most certainly can clear NSF fees from bounced checks, and will be more likely to do so if you communicate with them and let them know what is going on with your business. Most cash flow blues come in a sudden storm, so setting up relationships with a reputable credit provider is important as well. If you’re working with a good company that provides working capital, stay with them and focus on building a strong relationship. People are more likely to help you if they know you before you come asking.

Managing cash flow is never going to be a simple or easy process, but being smart about your financial planning, and building solid relationships with the financial investors who can help, will go a long way toward stabilizing the ups and downs in cash flow that are part of what it means to be in the restaurant industry.

3 Franchise Success Markers to Consider Before Buying that Restaurant

October 8, 2014

There are a number of benefits to buying a restaurant franchise rather than trying to start your own single-store location. You get to set up shop under an established brand name with a proven system of operations. Depending on which franchise you choose, you may also get handed trained staff, marketing plans, in-place supplier relationships and an existing customer base. That said, not all franchises are created equally, and finding the brand that is the right fit for your personal style and needs takes some research. Here are the three biggest success markers to consider before determining which franchise brand is best for you.

Restaurant Brand Perception: Don’t Pick a Bad Egg

The first marker of restaurant franchise success is the local populace’s overall perception of the brand. The last thing you need when starting a new business is to try to fight a bad reputation for poor service or inedible food before you’ve even gotten started. That’s like hobbling your horse before you push him onto the race track. It’s a waste of time and effort. Make sure that you’ve done your research on consumer perception of the brand before you buy.

Is It Better to Pick a New or an Already-Established Franchise?

Assuming you have narrowed your list of potential franchise options down to only those with a neutral or positive consumer perception, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not you want to go with an already-established, well-known brand or a new restaurant franchise startup. There are pros and cons to both choices.

The benefits of going with an established brand include an established track record, customer base and system of operation. The cons can include higher franchise fees and less management flexibility. Before you go this route, ask the seller for detailed financial information for a minimum of the past three years. This information will give you a much clearer picture of the highs, lows and warning signs it is critical to know about before striking any deal.

The benefits of going with a new startup restaurant franchise are that you’re able to start from scratch, often forging your own relationships and being totally in charge of creating the brand perception for the franchise in your area. New franchises are often cheaper to get into as well, since you won’t have to pay a higher fee for goodwill or purchase past cash flow. The cons include greater risk and more elbow grease to get going.

Total Franchise Cost and Management Flexibility

The last considerations to take into account when choosing a successful restaurant franchise are the total cost of getting going and the amount of management flexibility the franchise allows. Franchises are often prone to a number of additional fees and royalties, including the upfront franchise fee, as well as possible fees for renovations, marketing campaigns, training materials, extra suppliers and annual “membership” to the franchise. Brands vary widely on the fees that are included in the agreement, so be sure you have read the fine print before you sign!

While most franchises have a set of guidelines about how the business should be operated and marketed, management flexibility varies widely from franchise to franchise as well. Some will dictate all promotions and policies (leaving you free to run the shop); others will give you much greater freedom (giving you more choice and control over how you run your business). Which you choose has a lot to do with how much control you want over your restaurant.

Buying a franchise isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but can be quite a successful venture if the franchise is properly selected. The bottom line: don’t pick your franchise because it makes your favorite dish. Do your homework and pick your franchise based on the one that has the best chances of success.

3 Important Concepts for a Successful Loyalty Building Restaurant Campaign

October 1, 2014

No one is likely to disagree that building customer loyalty in the restaurant industry is important, yet there are a surprising number of restaurant businesses who have yet to implement any sort of loyalty rewards program. The most cited reasons are cost and limited ability to measure results. That noted, there’s also no doubt that loyalty programs are effective, and if done properly, can be just the incentive needed to get that customer’s foot out of your competitor’s door and into yours.

Restaurant Loyalty Programs Can Run the Gamut from Simple to Sophisticated

The first thing to recognize about loyalty programs is that they can come in many forms. They can be as simple as a paper punch card that gives the user something like “buy 10 get one free,” or as sophisticated as a mobile application that integrates with the POS, collects data and provides a mobile payment platform that doles out rewards the instant they are earned. There are pros and cons to both sides of the spectrum, but there’s no doubt that the expectation of rewards is a big motivator. In fact, customers will often spend a good deal more on a ticket when they are about to receive an incentive than they do on the average transaction. As a result, the restaurant often makes back what it spent on that reward in a single transaction.

Regardless of how you go about your loyalty building campaign, in a highly competitive arena like the hospitality industry, it’s risky not to employ every viable way of enticing customers into your restaurant (and then taking measures to ensure their continued engagement)—especially when your next-door competitors are doing so.

A Restaurant Loyalty Program Needn’t Be Discounting

Another important understanding to have about loyalty programs is that it needn’t be all about giving your customers frequent discounts and promotions, if that is not consistent with the brand image you’re trying to create. It’s important to recognize that the point of a loyalty program is you’re telling your most valuable customers that you value them, by creating a program that is personalized and relevant to their interests and needs.

If you’re building for the long-term, you’re trying to create a loyalty program that engages and rewards customers, enticing them to make the extra effort to visit your establishment over a competitor’s. This kind of loyalty program can actually build your brand up.

Providing a Consistent Customer Experience is Key to Building Loyalty

One of the keys to building loyalty is to provide a consistent customer experience. This concept applies at the single store level just as well as it does across an entire franchise system. It doesn’t matter how good your promotions are, or how spiffy your loyalty rewards program, if the quality of service can’t be relied upon. People need to know that they can count on having the exact experience they are after if they are going to be loyal in seeking it out. It’s as simple as that.

Recognizing that you have a lot of options when it comes to what type of loyalty program you are going to build, as well as how you are going to implement it, is a liberating understanding. You know how important it is to build a loyal following for your restaurant if you hope to see it succeed long-term. Having a commitment to consistently providing the best customer experience possible, as well as finding ways to reward your most valuable customers for their business, goes a long way toward ensuring the success of a loyal following for your restaurant.