by Donald Burns, CDMP, CMEC, CHt
Every day I get hundreds of emails from people all around the world asking how they can better their restaurant. While there are a multitude of reasons why restaurant might not be making the profits it needs to survive, here are three surefire ways to start making your restaurant better.
1. Reduce Your Menu
Let’s face it, the days of excess are far behind us and that includes your menu. Today’s customer is savvier than ever. When they see a four-page menu they know that the quality of the food served is going to be questionable. A smaller menu means higher quality, faster service and higher profits. Reducing your menu size will reduce your inventory and allow you to turn over your food production items much quicker. Pruning your menu really appeals to the Millennials. They value food quality, flavor, local sourcing and the ability to customize their choices over massive “something for everyone” menus of days gone by.
Research has shown that nationwide menus have decreased in size nearly 9%. Take a look at the industry leader which is Chipotle…..they still have just four main items on their menu: burritos, tacos, burritos bowls, and salads. They offer those four items with 18 optional ingredients which can be put together in 60,000 combinations. That has customizable appeal that today’s consumer is looking for.
Take a look at another popular restaurant Five Guys. Five Guys has just five core entrees: burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, a veggie sandwich and a BLT. But fifteen free toppings make them customizable in more than 250,000 possible combinations.
I’d rather have a smaller menu that my team and I flawlessly execute, than a large menu that tries to be everything to everyone with average execution. – Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach™
2. Get Rid of Poor Performers
This is the holy grail of owner mistakes! You want to lower your turnover by 10-15%? Just hire bad people because they never leave!
Your number one job as an owner is to guard the doors of who you allow to take care of your guests. Restaurant competition is fierce. I mean brutal. Every time someone walks through your door, they have chosen NOT to spend their money somewhere else. That’s your responsibility to hire and train a team that lives and extends your passion into the food and service.
Bad attitudes and substandard skills are rampant in this industry. You have to be slow to hire and quick to fire. For the first few weeks, new hires are usually on their best behavior. Then, they start to get comfortable and their little quirks start come out. Right then is the time you need to decide if those little quirks are going to help or hurt your brand. Remember your restaurant is a brand in every decision you make is to protect and perpetuate your brand identity in the market.
A quick word on energy vampires in your restaurant:
There are such things as vampires. They are negative energy vampires and they will suck every drop of positive energy from you, your team and will have a dramatic effect on customer service. I have been battling these creatures my entire life. If you allowed one of these vampires into your restaurant, then you need to get rid of them as soon as you can. They always cause way more damage than any skill they do bring to the business. Their mission is to spread their negativity like a virus throughout your restaurant. They want control. They want everyone as unhappy as they are.
Most of time we hire for skill. What we need to really hire for his positive attitude and the ability to change. Poor performers are just that, poor. They are an anchor on your team that pulls the rest of your service down. Your superstars have to work twice as hard when teamed up with a poor performer. And the thing is the superstars won’t say anything. They would just work twice as hard and burnout that much faster.
Do you have some staff that are just poor performers? I know you must have at least one or two…come on, be honest.
If you do, then you need to let them go. Yes, fire them. Today.
3. Create a Yearly Marketing Plan
When is the best time to go fishing? Answer: When the fish are biting.
Then why is it that most restaurant owners and operators only focus on marketing when business is slow? It’s actually quite counterproductive. Now all restaurants have a cycle of business, meaning there are peaks and valleys. A strong marketing calendar and plan will reduce those huge peaks and valleys to more of rolling hills.
Now restaurant marketing plans can get very elaborate and very in depth. In fact there are complete marketing software programs you can buy just to develop a 20 page marketing plan that you probably never use. I find simple plans usually get action and with action comes results.
I’m going to give you a short lesson from my Restaurant Marketing System™
Step 1: Get a yearly erasable wall planner at your favorite office supply store.
Step 2: Divide it into four quarters.
Step 3: Look at next quarter.
Here is the real trick was marketing that most restaurant owners do not understand. It takes about 90 days to see the results of consistent marketing messages. There is an old marketing adage called the Rule of Seven that states a prospect needs to see or hear your marketing message at least seven times before they take action. Given today’s hyper connected world and flooding of advertising and messages on social media channels I would safely say that the Rule of Seven can easily be changed to the Rule of 18.
Example: Valentine’s Day is coming up so when do you think the majority of restaurant start to advertise? Usually two weeks before.
Here’s a better plan. Start planting the seed now in November with what I call “teaser ads”. You’re not asking for the reservation, you just throwing out the suggestion that your place is perfect for romantic Valentine’s dinner. I started doing this when I owned my own restaurant and built up the anticipation and demand a month before the date. The week before Valentines, I had to turn away 190 reservations. The following year, my teaser ad in November was, “Nothing says I love you like dinner at 34West. If you missed out last year, please make sure plan ahead.”
I usually develop four different ads for each special event. I market or post each ad four times a week for 8 to 12 weeks before the event. Excessive? It depends on your market. If you find people starting to complain then dial it back a little bit. I think it’s easier to be out there and tone it down.
Step 4: Make sure you are on all social media channels
Today, if you’re not online your off-line. Think of social media like channels on TV. Some people like ABC, some like NBC and some like CBS. Now throw in FOX, Showtime and HBO and media gets more and more diluted. You’ll see in research today that the top-rated shows on TV only pull in half the amount of viewers they did back in the 90s. Even though the size the viewing audience has increased there are more channels and distractions for constant viewer base. Think about your restaurant? You have more competition today than 10 years ago I’m sure of it.
So if market conditions have changed, why do we still cling to old ways of marketing? Answer: outdated thinking.
Today you need to be on what I call The Four Horsemen of Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Most restaurants only have a Facebook page. It’s about the same as having an antenna for your TV and no cable. When I first ask clients about the need to be of other social media channels, the usually give me the excuse is that they don’t need it. Later the truth comes out that they don’t know how to use the others. Please don’t use ignorance and denial as an excuse to avoid interacting with your customer base.
Want to know the big secret about social media? It’s simple. It’s all about being social.
So what does that mean? Stop just posting all about your daily special or beer features. There are hundreds of other restaurants doing just that standing on their soapbox and screaming about their specials and features. Don’t compete. Standout.
How do you stand out on social media?
1. Interact with your customers. When they post comments, say thank you.
2. Posting pictures of your food is great, but don’t make that the only thing you post. People love to see pictures of your guests having a great time in your restaurant. How about some cool black-and-white action photos of your kitchen team during the dinner rush?
3. Create a mascot. I have a client who owns a brewpub in a town where there are about six other brewpubs within a 10 block radius. Talk about tight competition! He created a mascot and named him Ewen Black (a large stuffed black sheep). Ewen is photographed with customers and in unique locations around town in these pictures get posted and shared viral on the Internet.