The restaurant industry has witnessed more than its fair share of change over the preceding months. Now, just as things are starting to return to normal, the seasons have turned, demanding still more alterations.
You do need to do things differently in today’s world, but many of your tried-and-true practices from yesteryear will also benefit your customers. Here are six winter tips for restaurant management to increase your profit margin.
By 5 p.m., winter skies obscure your eatery under the cover of darkness. While humans can see with low light levels in partial darkness, it takes our eyes several hours to adjust. You might have the most clever billboard out front during daylight hours, but it won’t draw a single customer once the sun goes down unless you illuminate it.
Signs are the most visible communication tools a restaurant has. Ensure you use proper spelling and grammar on your signage — you don’t want to end up getting poked fun at on a subreddit forum after someone posts a picture. Use large, easily legible fonts, especially if your venue lies along a public thoroughfare like a highway. Potential customers don’t have time to interpret funky cursive at 55 mph.
Your graphics also matter. Think about what customers want. If you serve alcohol at your establishment, a beer bottle or cocktail glass lets thirsty travelers know where they can rinse a little road dust off their tongues. When it comes to food, think comfort this season — a mouthwatering roast or pie gets salivary glands flowing.
Despite public opinion cries of “hold, enough,” the Covid pandemic continues. Vaccines mean fewer restrictions and more reasons for restaurateurs to rejoice — but you still need to protect vulnerable customers and staff members alike. Doing so can increase your profits as you gain a reputation for an eatery that cares.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should change your layout to ensure all tables remain six feet apart. You should continue to limit seating capacity to encourage social distancing. Doing so may require you to adjust other policies. For example, you might decide to start taking reservations, even if you previously operated on a walk-in basis.
Additionally, it would help to keep and possibly expand your delivery and take-out options. If you don’t have a dedicated fleet, you can often find smaller delivery apps that provide service at a fraction of the price of large names like GrubHub. Adding extra touches — like various sauces and condiments — to take-out bags keeps customers coming back for more. Allow for as much customization as possible.
Top chefs know that cooking in season results in improved overall nutrition and more delicious flavor. You should update your menu to reflect what’s in season and take advantage of local produce vendors.
For example, now is the time to add plenty of braised kale and steamed broccoli to your menu as they come into season this time of year. Other good choices include winter squash, collard greens, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and turnips.
Get creative with your drinks menu, too — cocktails can significantly pad your bottom line. Invent beverages unique to your venue so that if customers have a craving, they have to come through your door. Mexican restaurants can create a signature margarita. Those venues hoping to draw holiday traffic can craft red and green cocktails that make folks feel festive.
If you’re like many restaurants, you probably keep consistent hours of operation during ordinary times. You’ve no doubt noticed that the present is extraordinary.
Therefore, you might have to adjust your hours of operation based on customer demand and staff availability. Some venues choose to do so by closing certain days of the week. Others open a bit later or close earlier.
Base your business practices around the clientele you typically attract. For example, you might consider switching from lunch and dinner to an exclusive brunch-through-early-afternoon business model if you notice that you get slammed with corporate customers from nearby office buildings around noon but hear crickets in the evening. Could you bring on more midday staff, expand delivery options to local offices and curtail your dinner service?
If you’re still struggling to rebuild from pandemic slowdowns, you might have to get a bit creative. Can you fill empty seats by attracting large groups, thus cutting back on your slower hours?
For example, many organizations are now returning to in-person work. Others are experimenting with hybrid solutions because many staff prefer telework arrangements. Could you partner with such local businesses, offering meeting space during your slower afternoon times? Their organization could replace a full month of conference room rent while increasing your traffic and sales.
Likewise, happy hour discounts and specials are the perfect way to drive business right now. Those who have grown weary of telecommuting welcome the opportunity to once more mix and mingle with colleagues in the afternoon. Find a low-cost appetizer special that people love and upsell your drinks, perhaps crafting special cocktails for this traditional social time.
Many restaurants had a tough time finding staff members. In the hospitality industry, your team works together to create an experience for your customers — a job they can do more readily when they aren’t worried about how to pay their rent.
While the federal minimum wage remains at $2.13 for restaurant employees, you know that your staff deserves better. The living wage for a family of four is $68,808 per year, which breaks down to $16.54 if there are two wage-earners in the home, twice that if the individual is a single parent. Please consider increasing the hourly rate and implementing policies that ensure your workers receive fair compensation.
For example, some establishments include gratuity on the check to eliminate the risk that customers will dine and go without tipping. Others get rid of the tip system altogether, opting instead to find new sources of revenue or raise prices. Experiment and see what works best, including your team in the process. Ask for their input and democratically choose the best process.
The restaurant industry knows how to overcome changes, especially after recent events. Implement these six winter management tips to improve your bottom line.