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How to Increase Summer Traffic in Your Restaurant or Bar

patio

Days get longer, the sun gets stronger, and everyone is taking vacation days. After Memorial Day Weekend comes and goes, summer is here in full force. This can mean more traffic, different clientele, and new struggles for your business. But no need to stress, there is more opportunity to summer than what meets the eye.
This transition to a new season is an easy way for you as a restaurant or bar owner to include fun activities into the calendar. Summer is a great time to differentiate your business and show off your niche!
Here are some tips to start sprinkling a little summer sunshine (and beat your competitors to the punch).

1) Know Your Audience
Market to your audience smarter, not harder. It is essential to know who you are trying to draw in. Is it all out-of-towners that flock to you during this time or is it when the locals are coming migrating back? By doing a little research, you will have a better idea of interests that attracts this group. If summer also means tourist season where you are, be ready for traffic increases. Train the staff on this shift as well, explain the importance of making sure each guest has a memorable experience (in a good way). Understand what you have to offer and who you will be offering it to.

OutdoorSpace

2) Spatial Awareness
If you are the type of establishment lucky enough to have an outdoor area, it’s time to break out the patio furniture. The end of May is a great benchmark to start having outside seating available to guests, but it all depends on your climate. Not only does it allow guests to enjoy a nice breeze, it helps with overflow seating as well! Just make sure your furniture is up to par before you stick it outside in the inevitable summer storms.

3) A Dash of Summer
Got a fierce strawberry spinach salad you’ve been dying to put on the menu? What about a frozen drink that your bartender came up with by just throwing a mix together? Take advantage of what’s now in-season to put on your menu and come up with summer specials. This is a great way to show off food or drinks that are too expensive to routinely feature. Highlighting these items will present more of an opportunity to be noticed by your patrons, and therefore, ordered. Take it one step farther and get some feedback from these specials. Finding what works may lead to a new staple for your regular menu!

Music

4) Turn It Up Some
While you’re taking the advice of tip #2, use your outdoor area to host live music. Whether it’s a singer-songwriter, DJ, or local band, find an entertainer that fits your genre. Bringing an artist in is a great way to publicize all the extras your establishment has to offer and it might even turn into a tradition. This type of event may also bring people to your restaurant or bar that wouldn’t typically visit. You may be introducing them to their new favorite haunt!

5) Fiesta Like There’s No Manana
There are quite a few holidays that fall within the summer months; so why not celebrate them? Between Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, or just the fact that it is summer, you’ll be able to find a celebration that you can throw a party for in your restaurant or bar. Decorate, have themed entrees or drinks, sponsor a contest- the opportunities are endless! If your budget only allows for one of these types of celebration, no worries, just make it work for your restaurant or bar! Go all out without abandoning the main focus of your establishment or bankrupting your business.

Now that you have some tips to expand your summer plans, the key takeaway is to entertain your clients. Take this chance to have old customers remember why they consistently pick your establishment and invite new ones into an exciting environment to make memories. Variety is the spice of life; the same goes for your summer business when the seasons change.
Does your restaurant or bar have any summer traditions or any advice for starting them? Let us know in the comments below, we love to hear feedback from our readers! Check us out on Pinterest for more inspiration.

A Hard Dose of Reality at NRA 2016

NRA Show Session - Reality Gets Real with Jon Taffer & Chef Robert Irvine

In May, I had the opportunity to attend the NRA Show’s first crowdsourced session Reality Gets Real with Jon Taffer & Chef Robert Irvine, two of the industry’s most recognizable television personalities.  As a huge fan of both of their shows, and as the marketing manager for East Coast Chair & Barstool, the national furniture sponsor of Bar Rescue, Season 4, I had been looking forward to this session since it was announced by the NRA.

As I made my way into the packed Grand Ballroom at McKormick Center in Chicago, IL, I had no idea what to expect, but I was pretty sure that it would be worth the trip – and it didn’t disappoint.  What followed was an hour of candid, rock solid advice from two hospitality pros that have seen and done it all in the industry.  Without any of the showmanship and bravado of their TV personas, these two highly intelligent thought leaders gave insights into everything from evolving to stay ahead of the competition to why they are so hard on the bar and restaurant owners that appear on their respective shows.

Hats off to moderator Phil Kafarakis of the NRA, who did an excellent job of keeping the conversation moving while still allowing for plenty of give-and-take between Jon and Robert.

Below, I’ve summarized some of the key takeaways from the session.   If you would like to watch the recording (which I recommend), you can find it here.

Leadership

  • Leadership, or lack thereof, is the biggest factor in whether a restaurant succeeds or fails. Both Jon and Robert have around a 70% success rate in turning around bars and restaurants on their respective shows; they are able to achieve this level of success by turning failing owners into more effective leaders.
  • Both Jon & Robert said that the biggest failures they’ve had were caused by owners that never really accepted responsibility and refused to acknowledge that they were the reason their business wasn’t working. Both have witnessed owners undo all of the renovations and processes that they have put in place…before their shows have even aired.
  • Jon and Robert use fear as a motivator on their shows to get failing owners to take responsibility for their failure. Both say that nothing gets a failing business owner to take action quicker than appealing to the fear of losing their house and putting their family in serious financial trouble.

Marketing

  • A brand isn’t a logo, it’s not a color, and it’s not a marketing material. A brand is what we do.  Brands aren’t created; they’re built one guest at a time.
  • We don’t create food and beverage in this industry, we create human reaction. If a guest doesn’t react to your food, then you are going to be stuck in mediocrity.  Whoever creates the best reactions wins.
  • In Jon’s experience, if somebody comes to your bar/restaurant and has a flawless experience, the likelihood that they will come back is less than 40 percent. If they come back a second time and have a flawless experience, then the likelihood that they will come back is still under 50%.  However, if they come back a 3rd time and have a flawless experience, the likelihood that they will come back for a 4th visit is over 70%.  So, as operators in the hospitality industry, we should be marketing for at least 3 visits.
  • Millennials look at their phones about 260 times per day, so we, as marketers, need to find a way to get on that phone to communicate with them.
  • Jon believes that technology is bothersome when it gets between a server and a guest. He stated that people don’t come to your establishment for food, drink, or to watch sports, all of which they can get at home; rather, they come for the experience…and that is how you compete by giving them a world class experience.  So, don’t let technology get in the way of creating that experience.  Robert, on the other hand, believes that technology, when used effectively, enhances that experience.
  • Cell phones (technology as a whole) can be a killer of business, because they put all of the power in the hands of the consumer. It’s extremely easy now to get on your cell phone and tell a worldwide audience how your meal/server/experience was terrible.

Operations

  • About 70% of the restaurateurs that Jon comes into contact with on his show don’t even have data on their food costs, beverage costs, or overhead.
  • Both Jon and Robert believe that it is so important to know your costs and your weekly P&L. Robert gets daily reports on all of his restaurants’ profits & losses so that he knows what he made and what he lost.  “It’s my money, and I want to know where it’s going”.
  • Robert thinks that, as a restaurant, if you aren’t redoing your interior every 3 years, you run the risk of becoming stale and losing to the competition.
  • Robert believes that wallet-less payments will soon take over the industry. The technology is already there, the only thing lacking is consumer acceptance.  He said that servers will have a credit card that wages and end-of-the-night tips will be paid to, and the money will be made available to them immediately: “Uncle Sam will love it, and the servers will hate it”.
  • We are creatures of habit. We love to go to the same restaurants and eat the same food.  Excellence can only be achieved through consistency.  If you aren’t producing a consistently great experience, there will always be somebody newer that is.

One thing was clear from attending this session: Jon and Robert create successful restaurants by taking a top down approach.  If you are a struggling business owner, you don’t have to be on television to change your fortunes; you can learn a lot by watching this session and questioning your leadership, processes, and attitude toward change.  Don’t expect your employees to do it for you: any major changes are going to have to start with you.

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7 Best Practices to Achieve Success in the Restaurant Industry

Why did you decide to open your restaurant?  Has it been a dream of yours that you’ve finally been able to act on, or is it just in your DNA to provide a service to others?  Regardless of your answer or the reason you opened your doors, your intent is to be profitable and successful.  Do you know anyone who owns a business who doesn’t want to succeed?  Probably not.

To provide you with resources that will assist you in achieving this success, we occasionally attend educational sessions at trade shows for the restaurant industry.  In our recent attendance at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, we found a session called the “7 Best Practices of Highly Successful Restaurants” and we knew it was a session we had to attend so that we could pass along this information to you. The presenter for this session was Jim Laube, founder and president of RestaurantOwner.com which is a website that offers restaurant owners membership into an abundance of “resources to turn your good restaurant into a great business.”  Jim began his 30 year career in the restaurant business as a server, moving into positions as a bartender, then manager and even into a controller and CFO for a regional restaurant chain.  Jim now serves as an advisor to thousands of independent restaurants and foodservice professionals providing presentations and training programs to assist with growth and improvement in the restaurant industry.

In your quest to be successful, here are the 7 best practices that Jim recommends you follow:

  1. Focus your marketing on existing customers through the use of a customer database.

Restaurant Customers

According to the National Restaurant Association, over 60% of sales in fine dining restaurants and 80% of sales in casual restaurants come from repeat business.  Knowing this, your marketing plan should be aimed at this audience so you’ll want to know who these customers are.  Building a customer database is the best way to do this so that you can communicate with these individuals regularly.

In order to build a customer database, you’ll want to collect the following information:  name, address, birthday, anniversary, and e-mail address.  You can collect this information through a birthday or anniversary club, VIP club or other loyalty program, comment cards, and/or through staff incentives.  With this customer information, you can send an occasional e-mail to introduce a new menu item, send coupons or special offers, or announce a special event.  Whatever your marketing strategy is, communication with existing customers will encourage more frequent visits in addition to the possibility that those customers will tell their friends or bring them in.

  1. Have a birthday club.

Group of young people celebrate happy birthday with cake and festive hats.

According to Jim, having a birthday club is the most effective marketing practice and he has the statistics from restaurants he works with to prove it.  When sending birthday and half birthday postcards, Jim shared that 78% of these postcards are redeemed on the customer’s birthday and 96% are redeemed on the customer’s half birthday.  He found that even with over a thousand members, birthday clubs provide the restaurant with a 90% redemption rate.   He also shared some important points: everyone enjoys getting a deal especially on their birthday, customers like something better than nothing ($10 versus $0), and the idea that birthday clubs build customer loyalty.  In addition, birthday mailings often get a good response and great customer feedback.

To prove this idea, Jim told the attendees about a success story of a quick service restaurant in a suburb of a major metro area called Golden Chick.  In the first four years of business, marketing was done through newspaper ads, money mailers, Valpak, and a shopper’s guide which totaled $18,000 to $20,000 per year with poor results.  It was documented that although the yearly annual sales improved over those four years, the impact wasn’t as great as the company had hoped.  After implementing a birthday club program which they started with a “cold” list that led to the gradual building of a customer database, those results changed.  Over the next four years, Golden Chick’s annual sales increased by 52% from the time that the birthday club was implemented.  In addition, their marketing costs went from over $18,000 per year to around $100 a month.  Sounds like a strategy that could make a huge difference to any restaurant aiming for success.

  1. Have and use systems.

Drawing of a process chart

Think about a situation where you have had consistently extraordinary experiences at a restaurant.  Then, ask yourself this:  what did they do to make your experience extraordinary?  How did they do it?  Likely, it boils down to systems.  Systems are procedures, processes, or a series of actions designed to achieve a desired result.  If you think about it, restaurants are built upon the concept of systems because they are following certain steps repeatedly over and over again.  It’s not just with food, but also with hiring, training, cleaning, purchasing, storage, preparation, ordering, reservations, service, scheduling, payroll…and this list could go on.  With effective systems in place, restaurants are offered consistency and predictability.  There’s often higher productivity and morale, in addition to fewer surprises and less time needed from the owner to manage the daily operations.

In Jim’s presentation, he talked about a system that is easy to create, easy to understand and follow, effective, and helpful in training new employees.  The system he is referring to is a checklist.  Checklists can be formed to confirm that tasks are done or they can be formed to guide tasks that need to be completed.  Either way, any implemented checklist should offer characteristics that Jim stated are necessary in order to be effective.  Checklists should be short, precise, and fit on one page, include key items only, have an ease of use for both busy and non-busy times, and should be viewed as helpful reminders rather than a “how to” guide.  You can either develop these on your own to customize a system in your restaurant or you can find already developed restaurant checklist templates here, all from the RestaurantOwner.com website.  The checklist templates that are offered on the site include but are not limited to a bartender checklist, a cleaning checklist, a manager opening checklist, a manager shift-change checklist, a new employee orientation checklist, a purchasing checklist, a preparation checklist, a service checklist, and a storage checklist.  There may be costs involved in obtaining these checklists but they can offer you a great starting point if you don’t already have a system in place.

  1. Be serious about your mission.

mission

Let’s jump back to why you decided to open your restaurant.  With that in the forefront of your mind, think about why your restaurant exists, what you want to accomplish, and what your employees would say if you asked them those questions.  These answers can help you create a mission statement that will give meaning and purpose to the everyday activities of your restaurant.  It will become the basis for standards and accountability.  It will help you recruit and retain the right people and pull all of these individuals together as a team.  In addition, it will enhance the effectiveness of your leadership and make it easier to manage and coach your employees.

When you are creating your mission statement, Jim communicated the importance of considering four important elements in a very clear and succinct manner.  They are:

  • What your company does
  • Who you do it for
  • How you want to do it
  • Results you want to achieve

In addition to these elements, Jim stated that every mission statement should include the following components:

  • A performance challenge or goal
  • Who we do it for
  • How the goal is achieved
  • Desired outcome or result

To showcase these elements and components, Jim offered an example of a mission statement that included all of the recommendations above.  Union Square Hospitality Group, a “family of businesses” that opened their first restaurant back in 1985 and now hosts 13 restaurants, a full-scale catering and venue hospitality business, a jazz club, and an organizational consulting business, developed this mission statement:

“Our mission is to thoroughly delight our guests through such unparalleled hospitality, service and culinary experience that they will rave about their experiences and have no choice but to return.”

This statement clearly includes all of the elements and components from above.  You too can have a mission statement that sounds as great as this.  When doing so, remember that you’re not only creating your very own mission statement, but that you also need to communicate it.  Both of these are equally important to the success of your business.  Some avenues to communicate your mission can be through interviews, orientation and training sessions, handbooks, management meetings, pre-shift meetings, decision making discussions, and any other time that an opportunity arises.  With all of this considered, you and your staff will have a clearer vision as your proceed towards obtaining success.

  1. Track and monitor your prime cost weekly, not just monthly.

Tracking weekly costs

If you’re the owner of a restaurant, it’s likely that you know what prime cost is.  If not, this is the sum of the total cost of sales added to the total payroll costs.  The total cost of sales includes the cost of food, beverage, and paper and the total payroll costs include management and hourly employee costs in addition to taxes and benefits.  Jim communicated that the rule of thumb for prime costs should be 65% or less of sales for full service restaurants and 60% or less of sales for quick service restaurants.  He also stated that it is important to calculate prime costs as one number rather than food costs, beverage costs, and labor costs separately.  When figured together, your prime cost will give you a much more meaningful and valid indication of your restaurant’s unit economics, potential for profit, and your management’s effectiveness.  For information to assist you with calculating your prime cost, RestaurantOwner.com has already developed templates that you can use to get your costs organized.  Again, there may be a fee involved but worth it to keep you informed.

In addition to the actual calculation of your prime cost, Jim offered the recommendation to compute it weekly with his reasons why this should be done so frequently.  First and foremost, he stated that this is something that all chain restaurants do.  Second, it brings about greater staff awareness and accountability, and there is faster recognition and response to problems.  Finally, it is a tool that will allow owners to see how well management is managing.  When done on a weekly basis, Jim shared that it is possible for your prime cost to go down 2-5 points.

  1. Keep a running inventory of “key food products.”

Spices are a part of food cost.

Every restaurant has a running supply of food to fill the plates of their customers and some sort of process to keep track of what is in inventory.  But, do you know what your key food products are and how much of them you have in inventory?  Jim recommends identifying your key food products by looking at your food inventory and finding 10-15 items that drive your food cost; the ones that make up 60%-70% of these costs.  Once you identify these items, begin to keep a running inventory of each of these specific items.  You may have an inventory system already in place where this is done but are you doing it daily and keeping a running inventory?  If not, now is a great time to start!  When you keep a running tally of your key food products, you will be able to order more when needed, less likely to run out of something that a customer wants, and you’ll be able to identify when food is being wasted, burnt, or eaten by your employees.  We all know that in our industry food is money, so having a running inventory can help you save money rather than spend it.

  1. Teach your employees “basic restaurant economics.”

Teach employees basic economic concepts of cash flow and expenditures

Here’s a question that any restaurant owner may chuckle at: how much money does your typical employee think you are making?  Likely, you along with many other restaurant owners would answer this question the same way; your employees think you are quite wealthy with instant access to money anytime.  Employees are the front runners of your business and they only see the money that is coming in.  But, do they really know anything about the money that goes out?  In order to educate your employees so that the wrong assumptions aren’t made, Jim states that this calls for what he refers to as “Restaurant Economics 101.”  This is where you educate your staff on where the money that comes into the restaurant goes, so that there is a better understanding of the economics of your restaurant.

A great way to demonstrate the economics of your business is by using the 100 pennies activity in an employee meeting.  Here is what you do:  give each employee 100 pennies and say that this represents all of the money that comes in to the restaurant.  Then, explain where the money goes.  For example, maybe 35% of your sales goes toward purchasing food and beverages so ask your employees to take out 35 pennies for food costs.  Maybe another 30% of your sales are spent on labor costs so ask them to take out another 30 pennies.  Continue doing this with additional costs that your restaurant has to give every employee a visual of where all of the money that they see comes in goes.  When they see this, they are offered a better understanding of the economic status of your restaurant which may lead to better care and upkeep, less waste, and a deeper interest in your business.

Success is defined on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  Isn’t that what you want as a restaurant owner?  If so, following recommended best practices by professionals who have been in the business for years is in your best interest; an interest that will determine how closely you come to that success.

The 10 Most Important Restaurant Touch-points to Ensure a Great First Impression

Waitress Setting Tables

Restaurants only have one opportunity to make a good first impression on a new customer.   This impression can be made through different touchpoints, or contact opportunities, and can be the reason why a customer decides to revisit or avoid your establishment. In addition, our socially connected customers want to tell all of their friends about both their good or bad experiences on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and various other social media avenues.  Knowing this, restaurant owners need to ensure that the impression they are making on each and every customer will guarantee a positive share, encouraging the customer to revisit and their friends to pop in.

We recently had the pleasure of attending the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada where we gained some first-hand knowledge about customer touchpoints from the renowned Micah Soloman.  Micah is a business speaker, consultant, and two-time bestselling business author on customer engagement and loyalty who held two packed room educational sessions called “The 10 Most Important Customer-Service Touchpoints in a Restaurant,” detailed as follows:

Discovery

Discovery is how the customer hears about your restaurant and then forms an impression.  Discovery can be made via a website, a social media account, word of mouth, and through reviews online.  To offer a good impression upon discovery, make sure your website includes your menu and current prices, the correct hours of operation, an appropriate address or GPS location, as well as visual interest through colors, text, and photos.  Mr. Soloman also mentioned the Google Streetview trick.  This trick involves having progressive photos that offer viewers a look in to your establishment.  The recommendation is to have a street view image of your restaurant followed by a closer image of your opened front door, and a final of the interior of the building that a customer would see when walking in.  This allows for a visual representation of you welcoming the customer into your establishment from the street, through the open door, and into your actual building.

The face of your restaurant/the first physical impression

Consider the impression that passersby get when they glance at the exterior of your restaurant.  Is the building clean? Are the windows clean?  Is there enough lighting for people on the street to see your interior?   Is the parking lot free of pot holes?  Is there enough parking with clearly marked spots?  Are there visible accessible routes for individuals with disabilities?  Is the sign visible and easy to read?  These questions could go on and on as there is so much to consider, but focusing on a neat and clean exterior with ample and accessible parking to welcome customers driving by is your best bet.

What happens at the host/hostess station

If your restaurant has a host/hostess, consider the impression customers get from this first interaction with your restaurant.  Is there an immediate acknowledgement of their presence by your host/hostess?  Is the customer greeted with a welcoming attitude?  Does the host/hostess honor special seating requests?  Is the customer rushed to their seat or given a good pace to follow?  If the customer is a regular, does the host/hostess acknowledge that?  Is the terminology he/she uses appropriate and welcoming?  In addition to considering the staff, it’s important to consider the actual hostess/host station.  Is there appropriate signage to communicate a host is on duty or if the customer should seat themselves?  Is the station welcoming and clean?  If the underside of the station is visible, is it also clean? These may seem like little things that you don’t think customers will notice, but they often do.

Seating and at-table greeting

When your customers are seated, consider the impression that they get from the table set up in conjunction with the restaurant atmosphere.  Are the tables clean and free of crumbs?  If there are silverware settings, are the pieces clean?  Are the chairs or booths wiped off and inviting for customers to relax?  Have you sat in your chairs and booths lately?  Try it and have your staff do it as well.  Make sure they are safe and that the tables aren’t wobbly.   When seated, does the hostess ramble off the specials in a way that lends to the customer feeling like they are rehearsed? Is the temperature in the restaurant comfortable?  Is the noise level appropriate?  Taking the time to sit and focus on answering these questions will really help you stop to consider these important aspects of each customer’s experience.

The menu

When it comes to your menu, we’re talking about what really brought your customer in.   Therefore, the way you present your offerings is the key to the impression you will make on your customer.  First off, is your menu clean?  You surely don’t want to offer a menu that is sticky or dirty so be sure that your staff cleans them regularly.  Next, is it easy to read?  Does the font lend to ease of reading without a magnifying glass?  It is easy to navigate?  Are there too many offerings that could create a customer to become overwhelmed?  Finally, consider pricing.  Are the prices clearly identified?  Do the prices reflect the appropriate value of your menu items?  When it comes to menus, you could really consider so much more than what is offered here.  But, these are the most important areas to consider because they make the biggest impression.

The server

The most interaction your customer will have is with their server.  It is important that many considerations are made when hiring, training, and continuing education with these staff members.  In hiring, Marilyn Sherman, a certified speaking professional and author of the popular book Front Row Service, suggests that restaurants hire for attitude and train for skill.  A good attitude and a friendly personality go a long way in the service industry especially when a customer’s impression of your restaurant is so important.  Ask yourself these questions about your servers: Do they have a clean appearance?  Are they smiling and welcoming to every customer?  Are they friendly and offering a pleasant attitude?  Are they attentive to the customer while dining in your restaurant?  Are they reaching over guests to pour drinks, serve guests, or clear the table?  Are they clearing the plates too quickly and/or rushing the customers out?  Are they using positive terminology like “you’re welcome”, “thank you”, and “my pleasure” when responding to needs, special requests, and complaints? Also, consider nonverbal communication.  Servers should be smiling, always facing the guests, and attentive to their needs rather than attending to other distractions that have nothing to do with the customer.  It should be known not to vacuum or mop while guests are eating or to complete tasks that cause a disruption to the dining experience.  Servers have a great effect on your restaurant’s impression so hire and train the best.

Food and drink: appearance, timing, presentation

People eat with their eyes so when they are presented with a dish that is visually pleasing, they’ll be ready to eat!  Plus with the social media craze, restaurant dishes are becoming a popular center point for images shared all over the internet.  It’s best to be prepared for the spotlight.  With regard to appearance, are your chefs paying attention to what each plate looks like when they prepare it? Is the size of plate consistent with the portion of the food?  Are the plates and glasses clean?  Are you providing a garnish to finish it off when appropriate?  Is there a good balance of contrast with colors and textures on the plate?  Are your servers doing a last check on the plate before it is taken to the customer?  Is the food appealing?  In addition, timing is key.  Timing can be the difference between a visually appealing plate with food at the perfect temperature and one that may look good but with cold food.  Are hot foods served on a hot plate and cold foods served on a cold plate?  Are foods taking the expected amount of time, is it too slow, or is it too fast? The way you present your food and the amount of time it takes to reach the customer are both considerations that can serve as a huge impression on each and every customer.

Service recovery: how you handle when something goes wrong

The typical customer service cliché is that the customer is always right.  If your customer has a bad experience and tells you about it, it’s your job to handle it in a manner so that their “story” changes.  Their story about the horrible restaurant with poor service and bad food will turn into a new and better story about how wonderful the manager was and how he/she remedied the situation.  Remember, you aren’t trying to prove anything to your customer and nobody wins an argument with a customer.  So, having plans and policies in place on how to handle when something goes wrong is important.  Consider compensating the customer for a re-make of the items the customer was not happy with.  Act quickly so as to minimize the amount of time that a customer is angry and stressed.  You may even offer a coupon for their next visit, give them a free menu item during their current visit, or come up with a creative way to offer a little something extra.  Your efforts to remedy a situation that goes wrong in your restaurant will create an impression that you care about your customers.

Payment and exit

When a customer makes the decision that it’s time to go, their exit should be easy.  Therefore, if your payment and exit process is timely, difficult, or unclear, the impression you are making is not so good.  Ask yourself these questions regarding your customer’s exit: Is your payment process timely or is it rushed?  Do the servers ask the customers if they are ready for the check?  Is the payment process organized and secure?  If there is a kiosk on the table for ordering and payment, is the server still checking in rather than letting the kiosk be a replacement for them?  Are your servers asking if there is anything else they can get for the customer?  Is there a host/hostess at the door to say goodbye and to welcome them back for a future visit?  Are there any services that you can offer to make a good impression like holding the door upon their exit or holding an umbrella and walking the customer to the car?  The last impression that you have with a customer can be as important as the first in leaving a lasting impression.

Visiting the restroom

Last but certainly not least, is the impression a customer gets when visiting the restroom.   Is the restroom clean…floors, sinks, toilets, etc.?  Is the garbage overflowing?  Is the bathroom stocked with the necessary supplies?  Are there accessible stalls that host bars at the right height for those who need it?  Is there enough room for customers to easily move about in the restroom?   Are there visible checklists to ensure that cleaning is done on a regular basis?  Including the restroom as an important part of your restaurant is something that all restaurants should consider.  Making sure it is clean, stocked, and accessible will ensure only positive first impressions.

Customer satisfaction is the key to any business, particularly in an industry that is so competitive.  Like Mr. Soloman recommends, taking the time to give special attention to the moments that customers remember are of upmost importance if you want those customers to return.  Your attention to these touchpoints will ensure happy customers who only share positive experiences at your restaurant.

Avoid These 5 Major Pitfalls that Can Destroy Your New Restaurant

The number of failed restaurants can be a little scary when you first look at them. Several years ago, Cornell University paired with Michigan State University to conduct a study of restaurants in three local markets over a 10 year period. Of the establishments studied 27% of restaurant startups failed in the first year. After 3 years 50% of those restaurants were no longer in business; after 5 years 60% had closed their doors. At the end of the 10 year study 70% of restaurants had failed for one reason or another. While these numbers are better than the commonly exaggerated 90% failure rate told by TV personalities, they are still daunting. Restaurants fail at an alarmingly high rate but it is by no means inevitable.  So here are a few tips so you can prevent your dream from becoming a nightmare.

1. Location

iStock_000086431925_Full
Everyone knows the phrase “Location, Location, Location!” but it doesn’t just apply to home ownership. It is also true in the restaurant industry. Dwellings that offer visibility, sufficient parking, and an abundance of foot traffic are naturally going to attract more customers than places that are missing any or all of these factors. It is easy to become excited and take the first available space within your budget, but this is your dream come true so be sure to be diligent in your search for your dream space. It would be a shame to have a wonderful concept only to have to shut down due to poor location.

2. Inexperience

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Around 61% of American’s wish to own their own business. It is not unreasonable to assume a decent number of them would like to open their own restaurant. While many workers start their careers in the restaurant industry one way or another it doesn’t mean they understand all parts of owning their own establishment. A sure way to fail is not doing your research before opening a restaurant. You can have the best of intentions but without the knowledge to back it up your great idea can quickly take a turn for the worse. Combat this issue by knowing every job in your restaurant. Not only will you become well educated but your staff will respect you more if you are able to jump in and help during busy times. It is important to remember not to be too proud to ask for help. Vincent Petryk the owner of a Boston based ice-cream store J.P. Licks, which has 13 locations, started his career by spending a few years working his way up at a fast food restaurant.

3. Poor Customer Service

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In today’s modern era of Yelp and Urbanspoon restaurants don’t usually get a second chance if they don’t perform well the first time a customer visits. Disengaged staff, and unclean restaurant and poor food quality can all contribute to a poor customer service experience. Poor customer service leads to terrible reviews, which can snowball into fewer sales and before you know it you are closing your doors for the final time.

4. Lack of Accounting Knowledge

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With all the other aspects of running a business the back of house can often be forgotten. But it is important to know the proper accounting procedures to institute in your restaurant. Designing and maintaining a system of checks and balances will help to keep your business prosperous for many years to come.

5. Overspending

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Spending too much before even opening is another common problem that new business owners face. It is easy to get excited over the prospect of finally seeing your ideas come to fruition.  Being conscious of cash flow can help ensure your business makes it past the first year. Failing to watch cash flow can cause a restaurant to go under before it truly gets started. Payroll can also grow quickly, and until funds start coming in more regularly it is important to watch how many people you are hiring. Having a good understanding food costs is also very important for cash flow and keeping your business in the black.

 

By avoiding these major pitfalls you can help to ensure the longevity of your establishment. It is best to start your business with a game plan. Be aware of the ins and outs of restaurant ownership. Whether that is knowing the best locations in your area, understanding the ins and outs of the accounting world, or all the jobs it takes to keep the service running smoothly, knowledge is your best friend. With a few precautions and the right tools you can build a solid foundation for your dream business.

How Restaurant Owners Can Get the Most Out of Attending a Trade Show

Its trade show season and our crew at East Coast Chair & Barstool is gearing up for traveling to shows around the country. We’ve already exhibited in Columbus, Ohio for the North America Pizza & Ice cream Show back in January and we still have three more shows to attend this year. We invite you to visit us at one of the following locations to meet up and check out our furniture: Las Vegas, Nevada for the Nightclub & Bar Convention & Trade Show from March 7th through 9th, Chicago, Illinois for the National Restaurant Association Show from May 21st through 24th, and Orlando, Florida for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show from September 27th through 29th. In addition to inviting you to visit our booth at one of these trade shows, we’d like to offer you some information about how to get the most out of your attendance.

Restaurant trade shows offer a place for owners and vendors in the industry to gather in one place. Vendors set up booth spaces to showcase their products, market their company, and network to restaurant owner attendees from across the country. Attendees are greeted with cooking demos, working product displays, new technologies, and food samples galore, in addition to special discounts that are only offered for trade show attendance. Owners have the opportunity to ask detailed questions about products, experience hands on opportunities to try new products and technologies, and gain knowledge through educational sessions that offer industry best practices, trends, and other relevant information. New ideas are often born at a trade show and owners return to work with a new motivation to improve business practices similar to when their doors first opened.

So how can you, as a restaurant owner, get the most out of attending a trade show? Take a look at this list of steps that we have compiled after years of attending and exhibiting at shows.

Before the show

  • Register for the trade show in advance to ensure your admittance as well as to take advantage of discount registration if it is available.
  • Book a hotel room close to the trade show location and do it well in advance. We recommend that you book a room at the hotel that is affiliated with the show to ensure the ultimate convenience for you. It may cost a little more but will allow you more time to take advantage of what the show has to offer.
  • Research the vendors that will be at the show by viewing and even printing out a map. Make a list of the vendors that you need to see in addition to others that spark your interest. This information can typically be found on the trade show website or through links in the e-mail you will receive once you register for the show.
  • Read materials regarding the educational sessions that will be offered at the trade show and plan to take advantage of them. Some shows include attendance at these sessions with your trade show admission, others do not.
  • Decide what products or services that you are looking for or would like to check out.
  • If you and your managers or employees are attending the show with you, plan to divide and conquer so that you can take full advantage of the time you have available.
  • Check to see if the trade show has an app that you can download on your phone that gives you first-hand information about the show.
  • Set appointments ahead of time with companies you know that you want to visit.
  • Pack extra clothes and shoes for the trip in case you decide to change up what you wear to the show and so you don’t have to worry about laundry. Branded shirts are often worn by attendees to showcase their restaurant while exploring the show.
  • Make sure to take a stack of business cards to hand out to everyone you meet.
  • Take an extra bag in case you pick up larger materials that don’t fit into your suitcase.

During the show

  • Dress comfortably with supportive shoes for all the walking up and down the isles you will be doing.
  • Arrive when the show begins to beat the larger crowds.
  • Don’t forget to wear that shirt you packed with your company logo to showcase your business!
  • If you make any purchases at the show, have a specified place to keep your receipts so they you don’t lose them.
  • Booth staff will often try to engage with you as you are walking by. It’s a great way to approach new customers! But, if you are not interested in the products or services they are offering, it’s okay to say “no thank you” and keep walking. Booth staff understand this will happen and they likely want to spend more time with interested attendees anyway.
  • If you visit a booth that you would like more information from, ask them to e-mail you more information.   Most of the time you will find that vendors have a device that can scan your name badge in order for your name to be added to the company’s e-mail list.
  • Take photos at the show that you can share on your company’s social media platforms. Let your customers know that you’re working to advance your business with new products and services.
  • Set up dinner meetings with fellow attendees or vendors after the show to network and compare notes.
  • Review the materials that you received from vendors each day so that you aren’t bombarded with doing that task upon your return home from the show.
  • Plan to leave the show about a half an hour early to avoid long lines for buses or cabs
  • Set aside some time to do something fun! Trade shows can be overwhelming and often taxing on your mind and body. While on a business trip, it’s important for you to unwind, relax, and have fun.

After the show

  • If you haven’t reviewed your materials nightly, pull out your bags of business cards, catalogs, and flyers. Categorize them by priority and make sure to check the trade show specials when you are doing this. You surely do not want to miss out on a trade show discount that is only offered for a limited time.
  • Follow up with vendors that you met with or are very interested in ordering from
  • Plan a meeting with your managers and staff to discuss your experience at the show and to communicate your future plans with these new resources and information

Trade shows have become a must for restaurant owners in today’s competitive restaurant industry. Keeping up to date on the trends and knowing what products and services are available are key to staying relevant among the hundreds of thousands of other restaurants trying to stand out. Following these steps before, during, and after a trade show will help you stay focused on the event to make sure you’re getting the most out of attending.

Trends within the Food and Restaurant Industry for 2016

2016 Trends in the restaurant industry

 

At the beginning of each year, it’s exciting to think about what it will bring. For those in the restaurant industry, staying current with predicted trends isn’t only about excitement, but also the need to stay relevant and competitive in a cutthroat industry. Two popular companies that provide the latest trends in the industry each year are Technomic, a food research and consulting firm, and the National Restaurant Association, a national food service trade association. Both have published their lists for what they expect the food and menu trends to be for 2016. Here is a summarized version of both reports, in addition to a few up and coming trends based on our conversations with restaurant owners nationwide.

Snacks versus full blown meals

Diners are moving toward snacks and small plates instead of full dinners

In today’s fast paced world, grabbing a snack is much more efficient than sitting down for a full blown meal. It seems as if everyone is always on the go, being pulled into many different directions throughout the day at work and at home. In fact, according to Technomic in their study on snacking, 51% of today’s consumers say they snack at least twice a day with a third of consumers saying that they snack more frequently than they did just two years ago. 45% even reported that they replace one or two meals a day with a snack. In addition to this increase in snacking, consumers are changing their idea of what they consider a snack.  The report found that innovative, healthy and easily portable snacks, in variety, are what consumers want. MCDonald’s snack wrap, Uno Chicago Grill’s house made guacamole and chips, Houlihan’s pot roast sliders, and P. F. Chang’s steamed shrimp dumplings are all great examples of this.

Technomic suggests offering snacks driven by savory flavors with high protein, or ones that are sweet and spicy.  With snacking on the rise, offering these items could be a great way to drive traffic into your restaurant and increase your sales.

High quality fast food

Customers are switching to high quality fast food like bowls with fresh ingredients over cheeseburgers and fried foods

With the popularity of fast-casual restaurants making a huge impact on the restaurant industry, customers have now been exposed to higher quality ingredients like locally sourced produce and hormone-free meats that they can get quickly at a reasonable price. Places like Panera Bread, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, Firehouse Subs, and Chick-fil-A are all examples of restaurants already offering these quality ingredients to the public with a short time from order to table.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, American adults are choosing healthier foods. People are making better use of the Nutrition Facts Panel found on most food packages and serving up meals at home versus eating out to achieve this. If your restaurant can respond to these new healthier desires by offering more nutritious foods, your customers may be enjoying dinner in your dining area instead of their own.

Shrinking menus

Small menus are easier to maintain and keep food costs and waste down.

Instead of having a wide variety of menu items to choose from, the trend is moving toward offering a smaller menu with items. According to Technomic, 7.1% of the top 500 restaurant chains have dropped the number of items on their menu. 9% of those drops are in entrees, 8% in appetizers, and 7.5% in desserts. Take Chik-fil-A for example. The company released this statement when they recently removed their famous coleslaw from the menu; “We know many of our customers love our coleslaw, yet we have also heard from them they are looking for new tastes and healthier ways to eat in our restaurants. To provide this variety means we will occasionally have to remove items from our menu.”

Here is why a smaller menu is worth the cuts: less is more. Having less items on your menu gives your customers better quality dishes, faster service, and hotter food. Customers are then happier because restaurants can do a better job with their most popular items. It’s almost like offering your own list of specialty items that customers come to your restaurant and only your restaurant to eat. In addition, restaurants are able to cut costs by cutting food bills and creating less food waste.

Even though trends are moving towards the shrinking menu, it’s not recommended that your take your four page menu and cut it down to one. You surely don’t want to shock your customers with drastic changes. Try making a slow transition by first taking items that aren’t so popular off of your menu. Work your way down, over time, to only offering a few appetizers and salads, a handful of main entries that you are good at and popular with your customer base, and a few desserts to top it off. Small changes, a little at a time, are all you need to fit in with this trend, if it is what will work best for your particular restaurant.

Ethnic flavors

Ethnic foods like Sriracha sauce are taking the culinary world by storm

Ethnic flavors are growing in popularity since Sriracha sauce became a savory phenomenon in the restaurant industry. In fact, Technomic reports that 77% of consumers purchase ethnic foods and flavors at least once a month. Chefs across the nation are incorporating more ethnic flavors into their menu and looking for that one unique blend to take the industry by storm.  Flavors like ghost pepper from India, sambal from Southeast Asia, gochujang from Korea, and harissa, suman and dukka from North Africa are likely to make their entrance this coming year. In addition, African flavors and Middle Eastern flavors have gained popularity over this year and are likely to continue in that path. Incorporating these flavors into your current menu offerings is a great way to introduce them to your customers.

Fresh and local sourcing…to be continued

Fresh, locally sourced produce and meats continue to be a hot trend

Articles and research in the restaurant industry over this past year have talked a lot about how important it is to buy locally with minimal processing.  This trend is going to continue into this upcoming year because chefs want locally sourced meat and seafood as well as locally grown produce to make their customers happy. The National Restaurant Association says local sourcing has been gaining momentum for several years and is influencing the culinary scene on a national level. They also state that this comes from the fact that today’s customers want to know where their food comes from and are willing to pay a little bit more to have that knowledge. Paired with the fact that the United States Department of Agriculture says that adults are choosing healthier food options, it looks like local sourcing is a winner-winner, “hormone free” chicken dinner.

Wages and tipping

Tipping is a hot button political issue for 2016

There is a heated debate in the restaurant industry surrounding the idea that minimum wage needs to be raised. Places like New York City and San Francisco have already seen these changes and there’s no telling how if, or how quickly, the rest of the country will follow suit. While looking at this debate, a new topic is coming to the forefront: tips. If restaurant owners are going to be required to pay a higher hourly rate for their employees, is tipping still necessary? Employees who have always gotten tips will likely agree that tips are necessary while employers who pay the increased wages will not. While the answer to this question depends on who you ask, it’s a topic that is of great concern to all involved

A more positive approach on the topic of eliminating tipping focuses on equal compensation with each employee seen as a key player on the restaurant’s team. Danny Meyer, the founder of Shake Shack, is at the forefront of this stance. He is eliminating tipping in his restaurants and pairing it with higher wages. This does mean a rise in menu prices but the cost to customers will not change as drastically as one may think. From this, employees gain a wage structure that is fair for every employee who is a part of each customer’s restaurant experience and it provides more of a living wage, rather than dependence on tips. With 11 million workers in the restaurant industry, this structure could surely help to professionalize restaurant jobs and ensure equal compensation.

As a restaurant owner, your best bet with the minimum wage saga will be to stay current with national and state legislation in order to anticipate the changes that will need to be made if your area is affected. A great resource for information on the minimum wage debate is the United States Department of Labor.

Automation

Automated restaurants help owners keep employment costs down and quaility up.

In response to the intense debate about minimum wages and its implementation, restaurants are starting to look at technology to assist with automating orders, payment, and food preparation to save on labor costs. Some already have. Actually, if this debate fails and minimum wage isn’t raised, restaurants will still be incorporating these technologies. Why? Restaurants are finding that by doing so, it makes processes simpler and faster. Automation is a term that can have many meanings for restaurants. For some it may mean incorporating iPads for ordering and payment; for others, it may mean full blown robotics. Whatever the case, you may find more restaurants in this coming year that are incorporating some kind of automation to make their processes more effective, to control their costs, and to minimize the costs of human employees to complete tasks. For more information on this topic, check out one of our previous blog articles called Automation in the Restaurant Industry.

Hard and Soft Design

 

Soft design with curtains, cushions, and carpet is making a comeback from the hard, industrial look.

Bin 36 in Chicago, IL

Previous years have brought about the concept of industrial-rustic design. Taking steel chairs and pairing them with refinished wood table tops in addition to pendant lighting, brick walls, and concrete floors has become quite a popular design theme. It still is. But, some restaurants are now pairing this hard industrial theme with softer items: softer lighting, flooring, and colors through curtains, upholstery or vinyl seats, and even on the walls. These softer elements bring about the less stark feeling that restaurant owners are trying to stay away from to offer a more inviting and comfortable atmosphere. You may have even entered a newer Burger King or Wendy’s and noticed upholstered furniture. This new design idea isn’t an established “trend” that is taking the nation over by storm, but it’s definitely a concept that is growing in popularity and will continue to over this coming year.

Restaurant owners need to know what trends are shaping the industry. Responding to these trends are important to staying relevant and competitive.  If you’re willing to conform to new and upcoming ideas while staying true to your brand, you will have a better chance of staying in forefront of the industry in this grand new year.

 

What You Need to Know When Trying to Obtain a Liquor License

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Most establishments plan on serving some type of alcoholic beverage. Alcohol has a decent markup price in relation to the effort needed to serve it, making it ideal to increase profits. The profit margin changes based upon the type of alcohol, but the lowest is usually around 70%.  Before you can serve you need to get a liquor license. Here are a few tips to get you started with this somewhat complicated process.

One of the most important parts of getting a liquor license is to start early. It can take up to a year or longer to obtain, so it is best to begin once you know you want to sell alcoholic beverages. It might not even be possible to get a license if you do not meet the requirements. Once you do have the license, it is much easier to renew. Most licenses are valid for one year and as long as you remain in good standing you can get automatic renewal set up for a smaller sum than the initial purchase amount.

Depending on your state, costs for a liquor license can vary. To find your state’s governing body go to http://www.ttb.gov/wine/state-ABC.shtml#US. The application fee and taxes may only be a few dollars but the number of licenses may be limited. In that case, you’ll have to buy from an existing bar or a license broker.  If you are buying a preexisting establishment, then you might be able to purchase the former owners liquor license as part of your agreement. If you are not so lucky you’ll need to find a license broker. A license broker is a third party than can help you acquire a license by either facilitating an agreement with another license holder or just give overall guidance through the licensing process. That transaction can be thousands of dollars. Having a lawyer that is familiar with the process can be well worth the extra cost and help make sure that everything is in the proper order.

Classes

When applying for a license you’ll need to know what class you’d like to apply for. Licenses have different classes that are based upon a few different factors. You should know which one your establishment falls into. The type of establishment determines the class. What you serve, where you serve, how you serve, and whom you serve is all affected by what type of class your license that you are applying for.

The Major Types of Classes

Class Type Description
Tavern If you serve food but at least half of your sales are alcohol
Beer & Wine Can only serve beer and wine in the establishment in addition to food
Restaurant Only a certain percentage of sales come from alcohol. Usually between 40%-45% but check your states regulations. Can serve beer, wine, and liquor. This is sometimes referred to as an All-Liquor license.
Club This is designed for private clubs such as a country clubs and golf clubs
Brew Pub Some states offer this to places that brew their own beer
Eating Place This license is usually reserved for carry out places like a Deli, and can only sell beer and in a restricted amount
Retail Reserved for grocery stores, drug stores, and liquor stores

Make sure to check your states classes because each varies a little bit. For example Colorado has up to 19 different class types and you’ll want to know which best fits your business model. Several classes are defined by what percentage of your sales will be dedicated to alcohol. If you are considering opening a night club with the intent of have over 50% of your sales be alcohol, your establishment would fall under the tavern class and that is the license you would apply for.

Qualifications

The local liquor control board determines what types of liquor that can be sold, what hours your business can be open to sell liquor, the qualification for obtaining a liquor license, license fees and quotas. Make sure to become familiar with their board’s requirements.

Anyone applying for a liquor license should have a few qualifications in place before applying. Any applicant should be of legal drinking age, for obvious reasons. They must also have a clean personal history. If you have had a few traffic tickets in your past, they do not appear on a criminal record. They will still have record of the information in their systems, but it shouldn’t affect your ability to get a liquor license unless you have a large number or they have been left unpaid and there is a warrant. In that case you have bigger problems than not getting a liquor license. The information on a criminal record varies by county and by state so be sure to check with your local municipalities.

Applicants will need a seller’s permit.  A seller’s permit is needed if your new business is going to sell or lease anything at wholesale or has retail levels that you need to collect sales tax or any taxable services. The State Department of Revenue will need to approve a seller’s permit before you can sell anything. Some states will also require that the applicant live in the same locale as the business for 90 days. Another requirement for some states is the completion of a training course. A responsible beverage server’s training course is sometimes required by the state’s liquor control board (sometimes called the alcohol control board) before a license can be issued.

Liability

It is also a good idea to get insurance. If you are planning to sell or serve liquor for the first time, insurance is important. Alcohol sales can be a risky business, so getting good liability insurance is a must have. Liability insurance will not cover sales that contradict the law, such as sales to a minor or any other laws your state has in place. But it will cover things like assault charges if a fight breaks out, or medical charges if someone gets hurt in your establishment.

A common question is will insurance cover your bar if you serve a patron and they leave your establishment and get into an accident. The answer is yes and no. An intoxicated driver cannot sue the bar owner, but a person injured by the driver can. The bar’s liability in this situation is usually determined by a judge on a case by case basis. It falls to the person suing a commercial alcohol vendor to prove that the serving of alcohol was a “proximate cause” of the injury. They must show a connection between an injury and the drunk person’s act of drinking at that particular bar or tavern. With anything involving the law, it is best to do your own research or speak with an attorney and insurance representative in your area.

If you have liquor liability insurance, the coverage can be used to pay for the cost of a lawyer and court fees. Chuck Brechtel, who is an owner of a chain of bars called The Bulldog and Lager, makes sure to include liquor liability insurance for all of his bars. Stating that “If you have to go out of pocket for tens of thousands of dollars paying attorney’s fees, that can bankrupt you”.

Whether you plan on only selling the occasional glass of wine or intend to brew your own beer, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to acquire a liquor license. Start early, determine your class type, gather the appropriate paperwork, and submit your materials to your state’s liquor control board. If you get frustrated, remember that 70% profit margin. It is a lot of work but all worth it once the profits start rolling in.

Automation in the Restaurant Industry

Restaurant Automation includes technologies for ordering, serving, and producing food.

When you hear the words “automation” and “restaurant” in the same sentence, what comes to mind? You may envision being seated at a table with the ability to order and pay for your meal right from a table kiosk. Or you may jump to the idea of a robot server holding a tray of food that is delivered to your table from the restaurant kitchen. Wherever your thoughts turn, automation is  becoming more popular in the restaurant industry and will likely continue to grow in the future

What is Restaurant Automation?

Restaurant automation, as defined in Wikipedia, means “the use of restaurant management systems to automate the major operations of a restaurant establishment.” Automation can be partial or complete, with partial meaning some human intervention in the major operations and complete meaning none at all. Automation can be seen in ordering food, preparing food, and even in serving and billing, with technologies like mobile and robotics playing key roles in its implementation.

Who is using automation in their restaurant?

Many restaurants are already taking new technologies to partially automate some of the operations within their restaurant. One major chain that has implemented new devices into their restaurants is McDonald’s, which has franchises all over the world, with many in Europe and Australia already using self-ordering kiosks on their front lines. These kiosks are currently being tested in several locations in the United States and will soon be installed in 2,000 franchises across the nation. The kiosks offer customers the ability to customize their order through a new “Create Your Taste” menu that offers options with each order, from the type of bun, cheese, and meat to the toppings and sauces to finish it off. Once submitted, the order is made at a different cooking station and then delivered to the customer at their table. Other popular restaurants that are currently using a complete tablet ordering system are Chili’s Grill & Bar and Applebee’s. The customer’s dining experience involves a friendly hostess escorting them to their table where they arrive to find a tablet to complete their order. And, while the customers wait, the tablet includes games that they can play for a small fee to keep them entertained. The goal is for customers to not only place their order, but to complete payment via the self-ordering tablet. The human server is only needed to deliver the food and refill drinks.

There are also restaurants that are already taking advantage of complete automation in their establishments. Many of these restaurants can be found overseas like Genki Sushi in Hong Kong, where ordering sushi doesn’t involve any human interaction, and Wall-E Restaurant in China, where robots are your waiters. But, you can also find fully automated restaurants in the United States. One of those restaurants is Eatsa, a quinoa restaurant in San Francisco, California. This restaurant is fully automated with no waiters, no one taking orders at a counter, and very limited staff. The restaurant only employs real people to prepare food, unseen by the customer, and one or two individuals to assist customers with ordering via an iPad and/or to keep the dining area clean. Without having all of the typical staff and experiences when a customer walks in, there is a new process to follow with ordering and paying for food. Customers walk in with the view of a digital menu paired with many iPad’s set up as kiosks for ordering. They proceed with their customized order and once the order is complete, the customer’s name comes up on a screen. When the food is cooked and ready, a number appears next to the customer’s name which corresponds to a “cubby,” on a large wall of cubbies with the same number. This means that the food is ready and available in the cubby. With two taps of the screen, the cubby opens and the customer takes his/her food. Like Eatsa says, “It’s pure magic,” and that magic is resonating well with the customers as proven through many positive reviews on Yelp. So well, in fact, that Eatsa plans to open up two more locations in the San Francisco area by early 2016.

Another restaurant that is using automation is Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant. Located in or near Kansas City, Kansas, the automation in this restaurant comes from service via train delivery cars rather than robots…and humans. Customers grab a table in the dining area which hosts a phone right at the table. They pick up the phone, place their order, and within a short amount of time their food and drinks are delivered by a train delivery car that follows a track which makes a stop at each table. The novelty of a train bringing food and drinks to the table has been quite appealing to customers, especially to those who have a love for trains.

What are the benefits of automating your restaurant?

Automation offers many benefits to both owners in the restaurant industry and their customers. Owners find that there is a more efficient business flow in the kitchen, better control of costs, and easier access to real time sales data. Automation allows for greater output at a lower cost and is typically used as a compliment to labor, rather than a complete replacement. Remaining employees can then focus on the restaurant’s core competencies like food preparation and customer relations.  As owners and managers face pressure to raise minimum wages, utilizing employees as effectively as possible will become even more important and early adopters of automation may gain a competitive advantage in the short term.

For customers, automation is empowering. They are able to customize their order, receive it the way they want it, and get it faster than they’ve had before. Furthermore, automation injects an element of consistency into every facet of the operation where it is utilized.  Customer’s know that when they enter their order into a kiosk, it will be relayed to the kitchen exactly how they ordered it; and, if a robot is cooking it, the final product will have little variation from one time to the next.

What are the challenges of automation?

Automation can have challenges, and those challenges are important for restaurant owners to consider when thinking about automating their business. The first is the initial cost. The technologies needed to make the automation dream come true can have a big price tag, ranging from tens of thousands to millions per location depending on the level of automation desired.  In addition to equipment, owners will also have to factor in any monthly subscription costs, employee training, and maintenance fees.  These costs can put automation out of reach of many single location “mom and pop” establishments.  However, like most new technologies, costs will likely come down with time as new vendors enter and innovate the market.

Second, while early adoption of automation can provide a short term competitive advantage, it also has the potential to commoditize aspects of your operation in the long term.  Think about it. Once kiosk, or tablet ordering becomes widespread, how will you make that part of your business stand out from competitors.  The same goes for server automation; once a robot or conveyor belt is delivering the food to your customers, what separates you from the competition if they have the same robot or conveyor belt?  Gone is the server whose friendly smiles and warm demeanor built a rapport with customers that kept them coming back.  Technology, while increasing efficiency and consistency, can also reduce the number of opportunities to separate your business from the competition.  If an area of your operations is not considered one of your restaurant’s core competencies, then automating it might make sense; but be sure to consider the long term consequences before automating any function that makes your business unique.

The bottom line.

The decision to implement any degree of automation in your restaurant will, like most business decisions, boil down to your bottom line. Will the financial benefits outweigh the costs involved? The best thing that you can do is to research and find out what automation technologies are out there, as well as the cost of its maintenance and implementation. While doing this, think about your restaurant and envision how and where you can use these devices and services in your current processes. Gathering this information will provide you with a better picture of how best to take the automation plunge.  Although we cannot predict the future, we can assume from past history in other industries that technology is only going to continue to grow, improve, and become more cost effective. With it, it is very possible that automation will one day become a common part of nearly every restaurant experience.

Tips for Hiring Millennials and iGens in Your Restaurant

Millenial server training with chef in a restaurant

Have you caught yourself saying it yet? Those words that made you cringe when your parents or grandparents used to say them to you? “I just don’t understand kids these days! When I was your age, I…” I’m sure you can finish that sentence. As the generations below us keep getting younger, we’ll likely catch ourselves saying those words that we dreaded hearing as a youngster, if you haven’t already.

In the restaurant industry, owners are experiencing a similar situation. They are trying to make sense of the generation that is now taking over the workforce as well as preparing for the generation that is currently and will soon be making their entrance. We’re referring to Generation Y, also known as the millennials, and the new and upcoming Generation Z.

Despite the comments that you may have caught yourself saying about these two generations already, they are both intriguing groups of people who have so much to offer the restaurant industry. They may have a different focus, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make great employees. Let’s explore the characteristics of these two generations followed by some tips that you can use when employing these young workers in your restaurant.

Generation Y or “Millennials”

Born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, millennials are the most diverse generation ever. Generalizations surrounding this group typically include terms like entitled, optimistic, hungry, digital, social, global, and inpatient. They are tech savvy achievers labeled as wanting to be their own boss, have flexible schedules, but most importantly, doing work that matters. They are known as the most likely generation to volunteer and give back specifically for personal growth. They are engaged when allowed to work independently, when their creative input is valued, and when their thoughts and ideas are heard. Millennials are motivated when they see advancement in their positions as well as when they are given opportunities to earn more money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is expected that by 2020, millennials will make up almost 50 percent of the US workforce.

Tips for employing Millennials

With their presence in our industry now, here are some tips that restaurant owners can use when employing millennials:

  • Best practices in hiring: tell your story about who you are and what’s important to your company, emphasize the culture within your restaurant, and maintain a strong presence on the internet as well as on social media. All of these practices will pull this generation in to want to work for you because of the connection that you have created with them.
  • Offer applications online.  These tech savvy individuals prefer to do everything online, even completing an application. Have a form they can complete and submit anytime from anywhere. Paired with this, be sure to offer a notification within 24 hours that you have received their materials. You can even ask the interviewee to submit a video application with specific questions they would need to answer like “why do you want to work for our restaurant” or “what makes you stand out.”
  • Interviews should stress what it takes for them to be successful in the position that they are interviewing for. If there is room for advancement, it is important to mention that. It would be helpful to use several decision makers during this process with open ended questions that offer the interviewee the opportunity to be heard by many.
  • When training, it’s important to know that in general, everyone learns differently. Embrace this idea, but make it interactive using creative avenues to appeal to this group. Ideas include using photo and video for training from your website, pairing the trainee with a trainer for mentoring, and/or demonstrating a task followed by the employee doing the task for the most impact.
  • Tips to help them succeed once they work for you:
    • Always encourage employee engagement and feedback. Millennials want to be heard and for you to really hear and understand what they have to say. Engage in conversations surrounding these topics in addition to giving them constructive feedback so that they can be successful in their position.
    • Offer flexibility with scheduling. You likely have a set schedule that you need employee coverage. Consider offering split shifts or alternate schedules to appeal to this crew.
    • Give employees more varied job responsibilities. Hiring an employee for a set position that you need to fill ensures that those tasks are covered. But, how about flipping around roles or changing things up? Can you distribute tasks in a different way to offer more variety on the job? Consider these things only if it does not complicate the routine and flow of your business.
    • Embrace social causes. This is the generation that cares for others. If you support any charities or give to any causes, communicate that. Not only to your employees, but also to your customer base.
    • Discuss short and long term goals. Millennials want to do well in the jobs they are working in now. But, they are also interested in the future. Be clear about any advancement opportunities and what it will take to reach those positions.

Generation Z or “iGens”

Generation Z is also known as “iGens”, a name they have gained through alignment with Apple products. Since this group hasn’t known anything other than a world with technology, their nickname seems appropriate. Born between the mid or late 1990s or from the mid 2000s to the present day, Generation Z is often labeled with terms like high maintenance, realistic, loyal, energetic, creative, curious, global, entrepreneurial, and technologically proficient. They are also seen as highly connected because they are the generation raised early on with smart phones, touchscreens, and tablets. They create the trends and share it on all of their social media accounts while loving that they have information at their fingertips. Because of this, instant gratification is extremely important.

Tips for employing iGens

Since Generation Z is the future of your restaurant, here are some tips that you can use when employing these young workers:

  • Best practices in hiring: incorporate technology, embrace a mentoring program, be quick to respond to their needs, and listen to their ideas.   All of these practices will pull this generation in to work for you because of the importance these play in their lives.
  • Go mobile. This group likely has a phone attached to their hip for instant…anything. If they can go to your website and find out what you’re all about from their phone, they will. If they can find an application on your website from their phone, they will.   If they can pull up that application and submit it to your restaurant from their phone, they will. Anything and everything can be done from a phone so it’s important for your restaurant to have a mobile presence to appeal to this group.
  • Interviewing practices are the same for this group as with Millennials above. But another technique to try is behavioral interviewing. This type of interviewing simply involves asking applicants to tell you a story and then listen to what they have to say. For example, ask them to “tell me a story about a time you solved a problem at work.” Or, “tell me a story about a conflict you had with another employee at work. How did you solve it?” You may already be using this action based interview strategy but if not, it can really tell you a lot about what kind of employee the individual will be.
  • Training should encompass multiple strategies. One of the most important is implementing mentoring programs. Pairing each new employee with a mentor will provide access to how the business is run as well as ongoing assistance for all those questions that come up in the first few months on the job. It’s also a great tool to encourage communication and build a sense of community within the culture of your business. Another strategy to offer is providing visuals with training. Visual representations and teachings show the step by step process of how something is done. Visuals will clarify any questions with your processes and when done with a mentor, can prove to be very effective. Both of these strategies are important to include in your training program to motivate this group of driven workers.
  • Other general tips that will be help them succeed:
    • Listen to these trend setters. If you want to make an impression on this generation because they represent the bulk of your customer base, ask your employees who are members of it. They are creative and know how to get the word out. Take the time to listen to what they have to say so that you can implement their ideas and make a statement. Not only will this help with your current customer base but it may attract some new customers.
    • Use rewards. This generation is used to getting a ribbon, trophy, or some kind of reward for everything that they do. Implementing an employee reward program that offers recognition will be motivating especially when you change it often.

Generation Y and Z are filling up the workforce that currently represents restaurant employees. As owners and managers of these establishments, learning more about how to motivate and retain these individuals are key to running a successful business in today’s world. With some adaptations and changes in the way we hire, train, and employ these future leaders, we’ll be saying “when I was your age, I….” much less than our parent