The current economic downturn has affected every aspect of the American economy, including the food service industry.
The NRA has projected a 1% drop in all restaurant sales for 2009 (when adjusted for inflation), potentially making 2008 and 2009 the only two consecutive years where restaurant sales have fallen since the NRA started keeping track in 1971.
That’s sobering news for any restaurateur, and many restaurant managers can tell you after a quick glance over last quarter’s books that this NRA prediction isn’t coming as a huge surprise.
But there is silver all over the huge cloud bank of gloom that is our economy, and a smart business owner should be able to hang on until the ride is over.
For starters, the food service industry isn’t hurting as badly as other sectors of the economy (at least you’re not a UAW member, right?), and typically restaurants are the first to turn around after a slump.
The key lies in holding down costs while attracting new customers and retaining existing ones. Sounds easy enough, right? Right.
Here’s a few food service trends that can help you survive:
Comfort foods are rising in demand. Chicken, beans, and even spam all saw significant increases in sales in the last quarter of 2008.
These products can help your business manage costs while you portray them to the customer as a “value” menu item (well, maybe not spam), especially if you highlight them against perceived “luxury” items like beef.
Put together a value menu of comfort foods to bring customers in, then hope they decide on dessert.
Divide best sellers into smaller portions. Popular menu items are always going to be popular, no matter what the economy is like. It’s just that when your customer takes his wife out this month, he doesn’t want to spend like he did in the freewheeling days of 2007.
Many restaurants are responding by taking popular menu items and offering an appetizer version of the same thing, or a two person value platter that can be shared.
Taking your core product offerings and making them affordable to your customer is a great way to retain your faithful base while enticing new customers who are searching for value.
Stay tuned for some more Restaurant Survival Tips from The Back Burner in the coming days.