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What to Do Now? How Restaurants Survive in a Tough Economy
Food chains such as Bennigan’s, Village Inns, Old Country Buffet, Bonanza, Black Angus and FatBurger have all filed for US bankruptcy protection in the past 18 months. This is stark evidence that the restaurant industry is not immune to today’s economic crisis. This crisis has left independent, chain and franchise operators asking what to do now?
Before tackling the question, let’s consider what we know about today’s business climate. We know that consumers are spending less. Based on the lack of easy credit, great loss of wealth, and massive job losses; consumer simply do not have the spending power they once enjoyed. As a result, we can also conclude that less total spending will translate into some combination of less frequent restaurants and less spending on each visit.
Given these realities, there are three things restaurant operators must do now to improve their potential to survive and thrive:
1) Eliminate the noise
2) Tune in to market opportunities, and
3) Configure their operations.
Eliminate the noise
Most of us are inundated with negative information about the economy. It’s hard to turn on the media without getting some report of economic bad news. While it is useful to monitor industry trends and relevant news, it is important to avoid getting caught up in the depressive economic hysteria.
The fate of AIG, General Motors and Chrysler, is not something you can probably influence. Spending an excessive amount of time on such macroeconomic concerns can become a distraction. In the current circumstance, our operations need our full, focused and sober attention. Quieting some of the sources of noise might prove helpful.
Customize your marketing opportunities
In his 2008 book, Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities that Lead to Business Breakthroughs, Craig Stull describes a powerful “Tuned In Process” for delivering products and services that resonate with consumers. The author believes that by understanding your customers and their evolving needs, you are better able to create products and services that succeed in the marketplace.
Now is the perfect time to look for new opportunities to market. You may want to consider how your guest’s needs have changed in recent months, whether your current promotions are working or whether your marketing channels are reaching the intended customers. The hope is that by focusing on your guests and potential guests, you can discover new ways to increase traffic and sales.
Set up your operation
No one can afford to leave profits on the table today. So, once you know what your market wants and how to reach them, the next step is to make sure your restaurant is running efficiently. Assuming you’ve identified some new ways to increase sales, focusing on maximizing margins and controlling costs will help you realize better profits. Your menu, recipes, production practices and service standards are good places to start.
Have you analyzed the performance of your menu recently? Thinking of getting rid of slow selling items? Have you thought about replacing low margin items? Are you featuring or promoting popular high margin items? These are just a few ways to easily improve your bottom line.
When it comes to recipes and production practices, have you tested any new items lately? Have you looked at recipe batches and production routines to reduce waste. By producing smaller batches more often, you can improve quality and reduce waste? Finally, have you minimized waste associated with over servings and service errors. I will admit that these nutty aspects of the business are not sexual. However, they are the most often overlooked sources of untapped profits.
It was Winston Churchill who said “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time” As much as I favor a strategic approach to business, I have to agree with Mr. Churchill. . Times like these require us to tune out the noise, tune in to market opportunities and fine-tune our operations.
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