Every once in awhile things need to be cleared out and dusted off. The same process can be applied to bad habits at work. We can’t think of a more ideal time for you to reassess your operations and implement new changes for the better. In the spirit of a fresh start, we reached out to restaurant consultant agency Synergy Restaurant Consultants, to learn more about the common mistakes restaurants are making.
About Synergy Restaurant Consultants
Based in California, Synergy Restaurant Consultants has a long history of helping restaurants lower production costs and perform at their highest levels. For over 30 years, the Synergy team has helped more than 1,000 restaurants.
Brad Miller spoke with us directly. After 15 years as a restaurant owner and operator, Miller switched roles from running restaurants to consulting for them. For the last 10 years, he has helped hundreds of restaurant owners—from single-unit operators to multi-unit chains—improve their operations and finances. Below are the seven bad habits he has seen restaurants make time and again.
1. Underestimating Cost Control
“You’ve heard the saying: Save the pennies and the dollars will follow,” Miller says. “This is certainly true for restaurants. Every minute your employee stands at the cash register with nothing to do, or your cook clocks in early, it costs you money. In California, that costs $.175 per minute (at minimum wage). That 40% extra trimming on your rib-eye steak can cost you $1.25/oz. When you add those numbers up at the end of the month and year, it can shock you.”
Margins for restaurants can be thin, so you want to keep your costs as low as possible. Identifying the key areas where money is “wasted” can affect how much profit you’ll earn in the future.
2. Thinking More Sales Will Fix Your Problems
“If your food cost is 35% with low sales, it will most likely be 35% with higher sales. Sales volume will bring you more cash flow, but unless you create a plan to lower your prime cost (cost of goods, labor, and paper), your profits will never grow as fast as you’d like. Remember: If you want to increase your profit margin from 5% to 10%, it would be easier to lower costs by 5% than to double sales—and achieve the same result!”
This goes hand-in-hand with the first mistake Miller mentioned: not controlling costs. Here are four ways of gaining control:
- Source your ingredients wisely, and don’t overspend.
- Control portion sizes on plates.
- Decrease waste in the kitchen by using as much of every ingredient as possible. (You can also try serving ugly fruit to reduce waste.)
- Balance your menu with low- and high-cost items.
3. Failing to React to Sales Declines
“Restaurants can be very cyclical in nature. Unless you have a strong marketing plan with specific tactics, you will always feel that seasonal drop. January may be the best time to introduce a new LTO [limited-time offer] or hit social media marketing hard. This also might be a good time to get a couple of steps ahead of your competition by offering items that are in front of the latest trend.”
When sales decrease, don’t panic. The first things to look at are your costs. Have you been spending more?
If your inventory and accounting are in order, then pull the staff together for a creative marketing meeting. Give servers and kitchen staff the chance to brainstorm marketing possibilities, and then move forward on the ideas with the most potential. Whether it’s a new limited-time-only menu or a hashtag campaign on Instagram, commit to it wholeheartedly to keep sales coming in at a profitable pace.
4. Not Having a Human Resources System or Plan
“Getting sued is terrible. If this happens, you must ask yourself, Why were we sued in the first place? Then, update your policy handbooks and train your staff. Did your management get the training they need to avoid similar problems in the future? Does your restaurant have the right tools (operations manuals, HR handbooks, and training manuals) to prevent future actions? If not, history will probably repeat itself.”
A human resource (HR) plan will help your restaurant avoid lawsuits, and most importantly, it will help ensure that employees feel comfortable on the job. Employees are often too embarrassed or shy to tell their managers about an uncomfortable work situation. By having a neutral, unbiased person available for staff to turn to, you can learn of any disturbing behaviors early on and take proper action. Not to mention, HR will help you streamline your hiring and training systems.
5. Charging Too Much or Too Little for Menu Items
“The best way to send guests to your competitors is by not being competitive. It may be time to take a close look at your recipe and plate costing and competitors’ pricing. Restaurant operations that don’t update their plate and recipe costing are ‘working in the dark.’ Knowing your overall food cost is one thing, but accurate costing is integral to operations. You might learn that you only have to adjust some portion sizes or change an ingredient to keep your food costs in line.”
If your competitors are serving similar menu items for lower prices, you might find yourself with empty seats. Even worse, if a competitor is working with a less desirable menu but charging more than you, you’re losing dollars on every plate! The general rule for restaurants is to calculate food costs as 33% of the plate price.
6. Ignoring Yelp Reviews
“Social media and Yelp are a really big deal. You may not like it, but review sites are here to stay. Don’t let one squeaky wheel affect a good rating that you’ve been working on for five years. There are some creative ways to get ahead of bad reviews and win back those upset guests. And never, ever, try to cheat the system. Those crafty programmers have written algorithms to prevent you and your friends from artificially boosting your rating!”
Having a bad review isn’t the end of your restaurant’s reputation, but it’s important not to ignore it. Respond politely and with concern. Even if the poster doesn’t react, others will see that you took the time to respond with care and attention, leading them to think twice about listening to the negative comments.
No matter how bad the review is, avoid having a social media meltdown—things will only get worse. Instead, get inspired by these restaurants’ replies to negative reviews.
7. Thinking Your Food Is Good
“If your food is ‘good,’ you’re in trouble. Your food should be ‘amazing’ and your service ‘remarkable.’ If you can’t safely say that you serve, hands-down, the best product in town, you’re not competing in this very aggressive landscape. It is time to change. Take a close look at your flavors and plate presentations. Challenge your staff to come up with the next big idea for your menu. Engage your guests for feedback and include them in the process.”
Pablo Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.” If you’ve lost the passion for running your restaurant, get back into the kitchen, reach out to others around you for motivation, and rekindle the flames. To make the best product, you need to commit to your menu with total dedication. Only then will creativity ignite.
Need more inspiration to change things up? Check out these 8 ways of attracting new customers.