If ever there was a good time to make some positive changes to your restaurant’s operation, now is that time. An okay year is ending after a couple bad years and next year looks just about as good as can be expected. Now is the time to kick things up a notch and really go after more business. If you’re going to beat out the competition then you need to trim down, work harder, and be smarter. Here are 50 resolutions to help you get there:
1. Build a good website – By good we mean “informational.” When a customer visits your website they want three things: a menu, a map, and a phone number. Take down all the fancy pictures and put those three things first.
2. Stop being afraid of Yelp – Yes, a bad review by an influential Yelper can be disastrous for a restaurant. But instead of trying to limit Yelp you need to engage. Respond to bad reviews, reward good ones, and take that bull by the horns.
3. Stop hating Groupon – Many restaurants have used it, few have liked the results. Like it or not Groupon is here to stay so stop being a hater and start getting the most out of your coupon-cutting patrons by collecting as much information from them as you can so you can try to turn them into regular customers.
4. Get new menus – Drop the dollar signs, highlight the good margin stuff, and put your best sellers in the middle of the list – all proven ways to get your customers buying your bread-and-butter entrees.
5. Stop pretending social media doesn’t matter – Despite the ongoing rise of social media marketing restaurants have mostly ignored the trend, preferring to engage customers in more traditional ways. Well, the time has come to engage using social media. The investment is small, the potential gains are big, and as adoption continues to increase so will the cost of not participating.
6. Get your food out of the house – Whether you cater events, start delivering your entrees, hold exclusive off-site events, or participate in summer food festivals, your food needs to leave the house to be seen and recognized. The free press these initiatives usually generate are only the side benefit to reaching your customers no matter where they are.
7. Source locally – Local food was one of the hottest trends of 2011, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be hot again in 2012. Local food is great for marketing because when you talk about partnering with other local businesses to bring local food to your tables you become a part of the community, and the word-of-mouth this generates is invaluable.
8. Let customers pay what they want – Some restaurants have gone as far as making pay-what-you-want their only pricing plan. You may not have the sand for that, and understandably so, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hold special events with pay anything as the core of the promotion. Even if you only break even, the buzz around the event will help you snag more regular customers.
9. Give away your cooking secrets – Yeah, then it’s not a secret anymore, right? Maybe so, but your restaurant isn’t a secret anymore either, and that means more customers. Nothing makes a customer remember you like being let in on all the stuff going on behind the curtain in the back of the house. Heck, you could even put on a cooking class in the restaurant and watch the foodies swarm in.
10. Sponsor a local sports team – Little league, amateur softball or soccer, or even create your own league for your favorite sport – no matter what you sponsor you’re getting your name out there as a part of the community and that word-of-mouth advertising is the best kind.
11. Claim your Google places page – It’s easy to do, free of charge, and gives you an automatic presence every time someone searches for restaurants in your area. All you have to do is enter your business address and then watch out for the mailer Google sends you. Enter the confirmation code and your business is now activated.
12. Raffle for charity – Everybody loves a raffle, but you probably haven’t done one in your restaurant because you’re not sure why you would give stuff away to people who are paying to eat there anyway. This is why: you collect every single email address in the room when they enter the raffle. Now you have a way to entice all those customers back over and over.
13. Create a YouTube channel – You or someone in your restaurant already has a Flip video recorder (heck even the latest iPhone will work!). Put these wonders of modern technology to work making behind-the-scenes videos about your establishment. Uploading them to YouTube is free and pretty simple, and now you’ve created another way to talk to your customers when they’re not in the restaurant.
14. Hold an exclusive event – Regular customers love nothing more than feeling special, and nothing will make them feel more special than an exclusive event at your restaurant. Set up a prix fixe menu, throw together some new dishes, and set aside a slow Tuesday night to really impress your biggest fans.
15. Host live music – from a single piano or singer/songwriter to a full-on rock band, every restaurant can use some type of live entertainment. If you’re just trying to improve the ambience then run some drink or food specials to coincide with the live act and turn it into a regular event. If you’re booking hot local bands, use their performance in your establishment to access their fan base and turn them into regular customers.
16. Stop micromanaging – Making sure everyone is doing their job right all the time is part of owning and/or managing a small business. On the other hand, double checking people makes them incapable of taking responsibility themselves. Trust but verify: have a quality control system in place but let your employees take ownership of their jobs. You just might find that productivity will go up while you actually do less.
17. Get a handle on inventory shrink – Food product is one of your biggest expenses, and because there’s always a lot of it laying around it can be easy for some to go missing. Sometimes this is unintentional and other times it is very intentional. Either way you’re losing money. Start with a good inventory system and then put some checks on employee misuse like clear trash bags (so you can see what’s getting thrown away), ban backpacks and other personal baggage from your kitchen, and train staff to minimize waste.
18. Learn to repair equipment yourself – There are a lot of simple fixes to big equipment items like refrigeration, ranges, and fryers that you can handle yourself. Learning how to be a restaurant equipment mechanic can save you tons of money in parts & labor and save you a lot of downtime as well. The Back Burner blog (http://blog.etundra.com) has dozens of equipment repair guides available for free.
19. Stop serving dishes that don’t sell – It can be easy to fall into the trap of adding more and more variety to your menu just for the sake of variety. The problem is, if a dish isn’t moving then it’s costing you money to buy those ingredients and store them. Go through your sales numbers regularly and ax anything that isn’t turning over quickly enough. Printing new menus is a much less expensive effort.
20. Add an over-the-top entrée – Menu pricing is all relative. Things are only as expensive as the next item on the list, so why not give your customers something to compare against – something so over-the-top expensive that everything else on your menu will seem affordable by comparison. Bonus points for putting your highest margin items right next to the expensive one!
21. Get new distributors – You buy A LOT of food product, and it’s about time you started leveraging your buying power to get better deals. The big guys like SYSCO may not give you a discount but you also don’t need to buy everything from them either. Shop around, and do so regularly, and make it clear to the guys you already do business with that they had better treat you right before you move on.
22. Train employees to make you more money – Anybody can write down an order and bring out drinks and food at the appropriate times. It takes a true server to be able to connect with customers and recommend a bottle of wine or sell a few specials. Ongoing training will not only help your servers raise check averages but will also turn them into money machines for your business as well.
23. Separate the campers from the turn and burn – Table turnover is the key to maximizing a busy night in any restaurant. At the same time, you don’t want to push customers out the door who are there to enjoy a nice evening out. Not sure how to strike the right balance? Segment your customers into cozy booths or busy open tables in the middle of the floor depending on how they got there – advanced reservations probably want to relax while late walk-ins are probably on their way to do something else. Let the former camp in the booths and turn and burn the latter out in the open.
24. Refuse reservations – Reservations are a necessary evil in the food service business, or at least that’s how the traditional thinking goes. Sometimes, though, reservations just don’t make sense at all. Peak holidays – New Year’s Eve or Mother’s Day, for instance, are far too busy for you to risk leaving a table empty because someone is running late or decided to go elsewhere. So refuse reservations or take a deposit.
25. Clean up your restroom – There’s no denying it: customers are judging you by your bathroom. If it’s shabby or dirty then they wonder if other places they can’t see (like the kitchen) looks the same. Send a strong message when your customers visit the restroom: show them the tight ship you run by taking care of the details behind the bathroom door.
26. Start managing portion control – A simple side like mashed potatoes doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance – just whip up a large batch and serve them till they’re gone (or they go bad) – but for every extra ounce you put on a plate you’re losing money. Using portion control tools like scales and sized ladles will help your busy staff avoid overserving, and help you reduce leftovers.
27. Actually sell desserts – It’s far too easy for full customers to turn down a server who walks up to the table, check in hand, and asks “Did you save any room for dessert?” There’s good money to be made in dessert sales, especially if you know how to sell them. Start by making desserts small and very affordable, thereby removing the “I’m too full” excuse. Next, make real models of your desserts for display. Being able to see desserts rather than imagine them has an enormous effect on the decision making process.
28. Secure your data – You are in charge of a lot of very important data. Between customer credit cards and employee social security numbers your business is an identity thief’s dream. All too often this data is far too easy to access, so clean up your act and get that stuff secured by limiting who can access important databases and/or files and possibly even using a security company solution to manage valuable information.
29. Stop losing business to allergies – According to a study by AllergyEats.com, accommodating people with food allergies could boost business by as much as 9%. This is because if one person has an allergy in a group of people deciding where to eat, everyone will change their mind according to which restaurant can accommodate the allergy. This “veto vote” means you’re losing a lot more business than just the allergic person, so start developing methods for accommodating allergies today.
30. Hand out paid sick days – The National Restaurant Association may lobby against them, but paid sick days for your employees are worth far more than they cost. Here’s why: when one worker comes in sick they will inevitably contaminate something in the kitchen, and before you know it the rest of the staff is sick and then customers get sick. Retaining good, reliable staff is certainly worth the effort, and perks like a couple paid sick days will help you retain the best.
31. Stay open all night – Urban areas are increasingly becoming 24/7, and that means there are hungry customers peering into your dark windows late at night. If you run a late kitchen with a skeleton crew you can generate some great extra business by capturing the late crowd, especially on weekends. Pare down your menu to high-margin munchies, find a couple reliable people to work the late shift, turn up the house music and watch your restaurant work for you while you sleep.
32. Get a rebate when you upgrade equipment – upgrading restaurant equipment is no small expense, but sooner or later it will be a necessary one for your business. As long as you are upgrading, you might as well maximize energy efficiency with an EnergyStar rated piece. That way you can save on monthly energy bills and also qualify for local, state, and federal tax rebates. Go to energystar.gov and check out their Rebate Finder.
33. Set equipment schedules – Powering up restaurant equipment puts a huge load on your gas and electric meters all at the same time – and that costs you more money than it should. Create power up and power down schedules that space out your usage and try to set them for off-peak hours when rates are cheaper.
34. Stop thawing meat with running water – It’s a common practice at home and in many restaurants, and if your kitchen is using hot running water to thaw meat then you’re throwing dollars down the drain. Create a thawing schedule for every day of operation and see that your staff sticks to it. Sticking frozen product in the refrigerator 8 hours before the dinner rush is so much cheaper (and safer) than sticking it in the sink an hour beforehand it’s not even funny.
35. Starve the dishwasher beast – Commercial dishwashers are energy hogs, pure and simple, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least cut down their usage. Start by washing only full racks of pre-rinsed dishes. Next check the water pressure in the unit against the manufacturer recommendation. If it’s more then cut it down to save water. Finally, turn off booster and tank heaters at the end of the night to save energy.
36. Get LEED certified – The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a program that rewards many types of buildings, including restaurants, with a certification for sustainable and efficient practices. Getting certified involves earning points for different types of sustainable design elements in your commercial kitchen, and probably only makes sense for certain types of restaurants. If your customers are very conscious about the going green trend, however, LEED certification starts to make a lot of sense.
37. Replace refrigerator door gaskets – Cracked, compressed, and worn door gaskets on refrigeration units are costing you money! That’s because cold air is escaping the unit through these old, worn-out gaskets. Even worse, there’s a food safety threat involved: grime and dirt breed bacteria in those cracks and the temperatures of food product near the door may enter the danger zone. Do yourself a favor and get those gaskets replaced today.
38. Optimize the kitchen ventilation system – The ventilation system above the cooking line in a restaurant kitchen is constantly running – and that means it’s also constantly costing you money. Some simple tricks will help you control that cost, like getting the system rebalanced, pushing your equipment up against the wall underneath the hood to maximize suction, and installing a demand control to automatically tone down or rev up the system according to cooking volume.
39. Replace steam table pans – If you use a steam table then you’ve probably got more pans than you know what to do with, and that’s why the new year is a perfect opportunity to get rid of the ones that are costing you money. Over time the corners and edges of steam table pans bend and crumple from use. Every crack between the edge of the steam table and the lip of the pan is allowing heat to escape – and that means your table is working far harder than it should be. Flatten out your pans so they fit snugly against the table and replace the ones too far gone to repair.
40. Install a three compartment sink – Not everything needs to go through your commercial dishwasher, and you can really save some money by resorting to good old-fashioned hand washing, that is, as long as you’re using a three compartment sink. Using three compartments, one each for washing, rinsing, and drying is much more efficient than trying to do all in a single compartment.
41. Grow your own food – Not that you needed more work in the coming year, right? Even so, many chefs have started growing their own herbs and vegetables in little vacant lots, on rooftops, or right behind the restaurant as a way to source the ingredients they need as locally as possible. Customers love the idea and you can also save some money by gardening at least a few of the many ingredients you use daily in your operation.
42. Craft your own cocktails – Specialty cocktails have made a serious comeback in restaurants and bars, and if you’re not serving them then you’re missing out. Add some culinary creativity to bar offerings with specialty cocktails and market them during happy hour. Just make sure you use quality, fresh ingredients, a witty name, and a unique combination of flavors to make the perfect cocktail.
43. Brew good coffee – It’s sometimes easy to forget about the quality of the coffee you serve, but with the rise of premium coffee you can bet your customers care deeply about sipping only best cup of joe. Revisit basic brewing techniques like making sure the bed of grounds is only 1-2 inches, the water is filtered, the coffee machine is clean, and the temperature is between 195 and 205 degrees.
44. Cook with quinoa – Quinoa is a grain native to South America that is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. It’s high in protein, relatively cheap to buy, and very versatile when it comes to preparation. If you’re looking for some new flavors and textures for 2012, quinoa is as good a place as any to start.
45. Buy some iPads – Some restaurants have begun using iPads as menus or wine lists, and the interactive nature of tablets turns out to be an extremely effective marketing tool, with some restaurants reporting a 30% jump in wine sales after introducing an iPad wine list. Obviously, the cost is pretty steep, but digital ordering is definitely the future.
46. Go induction – Induction ranges are energy efficient and don’t need to be vented which means you can place them in some creative places in your restaurant. They do require stainless cookware to work but they are also much faster at heating up whatever you’re cooking.
47. Shrink portion sizes – Smaller portions are all the rage since the Great Recession hit the American economy. That’s because a smaller portion means less cost to both you and your customer. And in an increasingly health-conscious world, smaller portions mean you can still use decadent ingredients without blowing up calorie totals.
48. Serve sake without sushi – Sake is gaining mainstream appreciation in the U.S., and not just when people go out for sushi. Try adding a couple premium sakes to your drink list for variety. You might be surprised how many people order it up.
49. Add nutrition info to menus – This isn’t the easiest task in the world but it can have a real effect on your customers, who have said over and over they would prefer to have access to nutrition information in restaurants, even if they still go with the richest item on the menu.
50. Don’t ignore food trucks – Yes, they have multiplied like flies across every city and town in America, and for good reason – people love them. Whether you want to try out a new concept or find some new marketing channels for your existing restaurant, food trucks are the perfect vehicle for hitting the streets with your brand in 2012.