Helpful Tips for Bar and Restaurant Owners

How Your Restaurant Can Increase Business with a Delivery Service

Online food delivery is a big market, and it’s on track to get much bigger. This $22 billion industry is expected to reach $28.4 billion by 2023. In fact, the online ordering and delivery sector has grown 300% faster than dine-in sales since 2014!

Call it the Amazon effect, but our increasing reliance on ecommerce is spilling over into the way people choose to order food. In fact, one survey showed that 45% of people would be more likely to order from a restaurant that has a mobile ordering service. 

The increased popularity of these services has led to an explosion of options, from national to local versions. We’re going to explore some of the most popular services, how they work, and some ways to make the most out of them. 

National Delivery Services

There are a number of nationwide delivery services that have gained huge popularity in the past 5 to 10 years. 

When selecting a service, make sure to consider its convenience for your staff, costs to you, and costs to the consumer. If fees are too high for the customer at your restaurant’s price point, you may not see the boost in sales you’re hoping for. 

UberEats

With a well-established fleet of contracted drivers, Uber decided to expand into the food delivery world in 2014 with UberEats

How it Works

To use UberEats, customers place an order through the app on their smartphone or tablet. Restaurants are supplied with their own UberEats tablet, which will display the customer’s order. When the restaurant accepts the order, a driver is pinged and told when to pick it up based on the restaurant’s pre-selected prep time.

The payment is all done by the customer through the app, so no money exchanges hands when the driver arrives to pick up the food. UberEats also has a “closed bag” policy, meaning that orders are not inspected by drivers. They just pick it up and leave. So restaurants have to be very careful to get the order right.

Restaurant Costs

Restaurants have to pay a 30% fee on each sale to UberEats. If a dish costs the customer $10, $3 will go to UberEats. Some restaurants increase their costs on the platform to help cover these fees (although UberEats doesn’t encourage the practice).

Customer Costs

Customers pay a sliding scale delivery fee based on how close they are to the restaurant. Fees range from about $2 to $8. This could be great news if your restaurant is in a highly-populated area. But it could result in high fees if your restaurant is far from residential neighborhoods. UberEats can also implement surge pricing during particularly busy times. 

Customers must also pay a 15% service fee on their total orders, and a “small order fee” on orders less than $10. If you think many orders would be less than $10 total, you may want to consider a different delivery service to avoid the small order fee for your customers.

GrubHub

GrubHub was the first company to really disrupt the restaurant delivery service. They work with over 125,000 restaurants in the U.S. and London.

How it Works

Customers can place orders through the GrubHub app, or on www.grubhub.com. Restaurants can also add a GrubHub button to their websites, directing their web traffic to the online ordering platform. 

When the order comes through, the restaurant must accept it. Then a driver will be notified and will come to pick up the order and deliver it to the customer. 

Unlike most other delivery platforms that don’t work with any POS systems, GrubHub integrates with Breadcrumbs POS. If you’re already on that platform, it can provide a really simple, seamless way to manage your delivery orders.

Restaurant costs

Grubhub’s fees depend on your market and if you choose a sponsored or unsponsored listing. 

An “unsponsored listing” will not be prioritized in searches on the app. If you’re trying to get new business, this may not be the best choice for your restaurant, as you’ll be harder to find. But if your restaurant is already very popular and you anticipate people to search for it by name rather than cuisine, unsponsored may work for you. Fees range from 5-15% for this type of listing. 

A “sponsored listing” will be prioritized in search results. But you’ll still have to compete with all of the other sponsored restaurants. The fees range from 20 – 30% for a sponsored listing. 

There’s also a 10% delivery charge on top if you use GrubHub’s delivery drivers rather than your own. And there is a 3.05% + $0.30 credit card processing fee for each transaction.

Customer costs

GrubHub doesn’t charge anything directly to consumers, which is why the restaurant costs are higher.

Restaurants have some leeway on additional charges that they can asses to customers. They can set their own order minimums (usually around $10), small order fees, and delivery fees of $1 to $10. 

DoorDash

DoorDash is the leader in market share for third-party delivery. So the volume of orders that restaurants receive may be higher than on competing services.

How it Works

Customers place their orders through DoorDash.com or their app. Restaurants will receive orders either on a tablet or by email/fax. For fast food restaurants, the driver will place the order in person. Customers pay through the DoorDash app, and payments (minus fees) are provided to restaurants weekly.

Restaurant Costs

Total restaurant commissions range from 20-30%, depending on the market.

Customer Costs

Customers pay a $0.99 to $7.99 delivery fee, as well as a 7% to 15% service fee. 

Postmates

Unlike the rest of the services on this list, Postmates isn’t limited to restaurant orders. You can get just about anything via Postmates couriers, from lunch to a pair of socks to cough syrup.

How it Works

Postmates users place their orders through the app. But some orders are pre-paid, and others will be paid by the courier upon arrival with a corporate debit card. 

This method provides some flexibility. For example, if the restaurant has to make a substitution, the Postmates driver can confirm the change with the customer before finalizing payment. This way, Postmates won’t have to issue a refund to the customer. 

Restaurant costs

Postmates charges a 15 – 30% commission and discourages increasing prices to cover the fee.

Customer costs 

Customers can order from just about anywhere, whether the restaurant partners with Postmates or not. Delivery fees range from $0.99 – $3.99 for partners and $5.99 – $9.99 for non-partners.

There is also a “variable percentage-based service fee,” but details about that fee range proved elusive. The platform also has a small cart fee for orders under $12.00.

Postmates offers a monthly subscription plan for $9.99 per month or $83.99 annually.  Subscribers don’t have to pay the delivery fee if their order is more than $20.

Niche Delivery Services

Beyond these large delivery services, there are plenty of niche programs as well. Some focus on location. For example, Favor operates all across Texas. And Vroom services parts of Connecticut and New York.

Other services focus on a specific food category.

For example, Slice is a pizza delivery service that keeps restaurant rates very low — only $1.95 per order. Restaurants can set their own order minimums and delivery fees, which will go directly to the restaurant. There are no fees set by Slice that must be paid by the customer.

Caviar is another delivery service that focuses on higher-end restaurants. Restaurants must be accepted into the platform. This could be a great option for restaurants at a higher price point.

When selecting a delivery service, make sure to look at your smaller local providers. You may find an option with more favorable rates that can integrate with your website. 

Provide Commission-Free Takeout Ordering

Most of the delivery services offer a takeout option as well. But you should also provide a commission-free takeout platform. 

See if you can integrate your POS with your website for takeout orders. Or try a service like ChowNow, which charges a flat monthly fee instead of a commission. 

Make sure the online ordering system is easy to find with a clear, prominent “Order Online” button. This will encourage customers to order directly from you when they’re planning on picking up, saving you the fees associated with delivery services.

Use Delivery as a Marketing Tool

Due to the fees that these delivery services charge, you may consider them more of a marketing tool than an actual money maker for your restaurant. Take advantage of the marketing aspect by trying to earn your delivery recipient’s repeat business.

Put a coupon into the bag before it gets sealed for pickup, offering a 10% discount for dine-in only. This will encourage customers to visit in person.

Or put a card in the bag thanking the customer for their order, and encouraging them to follow your restaurant on social media. You could also ask them to leave you a review on Yelp or Google.

Another option – include a card in the bag telling customers to sign up for your email list or for text messages. Let them know that if they sign up for your list, they’ll get exclusive access to special events and even occasional discounts. 

Conclusion

Not all of these services will be the best fit for each restaurant. You’ll have to consider your profit margins and customer base before you can decide if one of these services is a good choice for you. 

Most services aren’t tied to contracts, so you should be able to try one out without making a commitment. But with the huge anticipated growth in the online ordering sector, it’s an option that customers are beginning to expect. 

Go Fish: How to Introduce Seafood to Your Restaurant

There are a lot of good reasons why you should have at least one seafood option on your menu. But the most logical reason is probably this — there are a lot of people out there who are concerned about their health. 

Seafood is high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. And it’s low in fat and cholesterol. Including a seafood option on your menu will encourage visitors who may not be interested in a heavy beef or pork dish. It’s a flavorful and filling alternative to chicken — the most consumed protein in America. 

If you’re interested in adding some seafood to your menu, here are some tips on how to go about it.

Safety first

Seafood has some special considerations that must be taken into account when adding it to your kitchen. 

Freshness

Order your fish as fresh as possible. If you’re bringing in a special variety for a Saturday special, don’t order it for Monday delivery. Fish should be frozen or packed tightly on ice when it’s delivered to your restaurant. Make sure to store non-frozen seafood in your walk-in or refrigerator below 41°F. 

Tools

If you’re adding a shellfish that requires shucking like oysters or clams, make sure you have the proper equipment. You’ll need a clam knife or oyster knife, to start. Get the right tool for your particular mollusk. Using the wrong tool can result in injuries. 

You’ll also want a metal shucking glove. These are basically a glove of chain mail, meant to protect your cook’s hand if they slip with the knife. They are a bit cumbersome, but driving a chef to the emergency room during the dinner rush will be much more inconvenient!

You may also want a fish scaler. This tool looks like a serrated spatula, and you can use it to descale a fish. It’s probably only necessary if you plan on cooking and serving whole fish with the skin on.

Allergies

Over 2% of American adults have some kind of seafood allergy. In fact, fish and shellfish are two of the “big 8” of the allergy world, along with milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. 

So it’s vital that your kitchen prevent cross-contamination. That means using separate knives, cutting boards, pots, and pans for all fish and shellfish dishes. And make sure kitchen staff knows to change their gloves after handling seafood. 

Before bringing seafood into your kitchen, make sure to check with your local health department for any storage or handling regulations.

Fresh vs. frozen

Contrary to what some people think, it’s possible to get excellent quality frozen seafood. In fact, if you live inland, frozen seafood will probably be a better choice for your restaurant. 

Consider the logistics of the fishing trade. The boat is out on the water for several days, pulling in fish from the line. The fish has to stay on the vessel until it comes back into port. So a fish could be three days old before it even reaches land. And then the fish has to be put on a truck or airplane, before finally making its way to your walk-in.

If you live on the coast, you’ll have that fish in a day or two. But if you’re in Lincoln, Nebraska, that fish could be almost a week old by the time it gets to you.

But some fishing vessels flash freeze the fish they catch straight off the line. The freezing process will arrest the aging of the fish after it’s been caught. If it’s handled well, frozen properly, and thawed slowly in a refrigerator, the flavor and texture of that frozen fish might just outshine the “fresh” version.

Take advantage of seafood’s versatility

Seafood is far more versatile than many of us imagine. No matter what kind of cuisine you serve, there is room for some kind of seafood dish on the menu.

A brunch-focused restaurant could add cured Nova lox to the menu, served in an omelet or with a bagel and cream cheese. If you serve New American or gastropub fare, cured fish and seafood pâté on a charcuterie board will do very well! 

Seafood is very popular in much Central and South American cuisine. Traditional dishes like ceviche, tapado (Guatemalan seafood stew), and whole grilled fish will impress diners. And seafood curries, like Thai choo chee fish or South Indian Rasam soup bring a little spice to the sea.

People love to experiment with new flavors. So try to present a seafood dish in a new and unusual way. 

If you’re concerned about sales volume, there’s no need to go over the top adding several kinds of seafood at once. A single dish will do until you establish how it’s received. Or see if you can add two different dishes based on one kind of seafood. A shrimp cocktail appetizer and a shrimp stew entree will let you buy once and cook twice.

Promote health

There are few things tastier than a delicious fish fry. Beer battered and golden brown, served with a side of fries and tartar sauce? Yes please. 

But don’t limit seafood options to the deep-fried variety. Since seafood has so many health benefits, include some lighter options. 

Including fish or shrimp as an add-on to the salad menu lets guests create a filling meal (plus it’s a great upcharge.) And grilled fish is a delicious treat that most people don’t tackle at home. If you grill and serve it whole, you’ll have a unique plate to present to your guests.

Consider sustainability

The environment is a hot button issue right now. But whatever your opinion on climate change, one thing is for sure — overfishing is a big problem. 

Fish species like bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, and Chilean sea bass have been overfished almost to the point of extinction. And even abundant species like some salmon and albacore can be unsustainable when fished with destructive methods. 

Bottom trawls and dredges scrape the ocean floor to catch bottom-dwellers like shrimp and lobster, but they damage the seafloor habitat in the process. Large walls of gillnets catch plenty of salmon and perch, but they can also entangle vulnerable sea turtles and sharks.

Even farmed fish aren’t problem-free. Net pens concentrate pollution from the fish raised in them, which then damages the local ecosystem. And this can contribute to widespread disease through the fish colonies.

But none of this means that you shouldn’t add seafood to your menu. 

Sustainable fishing methods like trolling lines, handlines, and pole-and-lines all minimize the accidental capture of vulnerable species. Plus they don’t damage the seafloor. 

Farming methods like recirculating tanks or flow through raceways allow for fresh, clean water to reach the fish. They also allow for wastewater treatment before contaminants affect surrounding areas.

Even sushi restaurants can fill their menus with sustainable and responsible fish. Austin, Texas restaurant Lucky Robot has managed to create a sushi menu with no bluefin tuna, no eel, and no hamachi — three items that are ubiquitous on sushi menus. 

Instead of bluefin, they serve Hawaiian line-caught bigeye tuna. Eel has been replaced with a clever unagi-style BBQ catfish. And instead of hamachi, they serve Hawaiian amberjack. They’ve found that people will try new things if given the opportunity. And they’ll appreciate your conscientiousness as well.

To learn about the least at-risk seafood and the best fishing and farming methods, go to  https://www.seafoodwatch.org/. This website by the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a goldmine of education. 

Educate your staff

The menu is set, the ordering is done, and you’re ready to go! Now it’s time to talk to the front lines.

Make sure your FOH staff is well-versed in your seafood dishes. Give them some good comparisons that they can use for guests who might not be familiar with the new menu options.

For example, Arctic char is a fish that many people may not have heard of. Give your servers a couple talking points that guests can relate to. “It’s moderately firm, not flakey like cod. It tastes a bit like a cross between a trout and salmon. And it has a peachy pink color.” Now the guest has an idea of flavor, color, and texture. 

Make sure staff also knows where the fish came from. Is it farmed or wild? Fresh or frozen? People may want to know. If it’s farmed, they should know the name of the farm, as some are more reputable than others. 

Conclusion

Seafood will be a welcome addition to the menu for many of your guests. Whether they’re looking for a lighter option or just something different, seafood can be the answer. Have fun with it, and get creative!

How to Transition Your Menu for Fall

The weather is just beginning to cool, and already people are yearning for cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, and that crisp nip in the air. While we still have a few weeks before the weather turns, it’s time to start thinking about revamping your menu for the fall. 

The general theme? Heartier dishes. When people are cold, their bodies have to burn more calories to keep their temperature up. As a result, many people feel hungrier during the fall and winter than spring and summer. 

Plus, without trips to the beach on the horizon, people tend to be a little more lax with their meal choices. 

So bid a fond farewell to perfect peaches and crispy asparagus, and say hello to gourds and squash, fall apples, and the wonderful world of root vegetables. 

Appetizers

Let go of the cool, light apps like spring rolls, gazpacho, and hummus. Instead, set the stage with a warm, cozy starter. Gulf oysters are in season year ‘round, so a grilled oyster app is a good option. Or gooey baked brie with a warm baguette. If you do want to keep a cold starter on the menu, try to stick to seasonal fall ingredients. Eggplant is available all year, so baba ganoush might be a hearty dip to consider.

And the soups! Who doesn’t love a warm bowl of soup or chowder on a cool day, served with a warm slice of crusty, homemade bread? French onion with savory beef broth, thick baked potato soup, and classic minestrone all make wonderful starters. Just keep portions small, or no one will want to order entrees. 

Salads

Just because the summer salad season is coming to a close, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for salads on your menu throughout the colder months. Just bring a heartier approach. 

Swap out the watery greens for more fibrous options, like kale or spinach. These greens will hold up well to heavier toppings and dressings. 

Instead of only raw veggies, add some warming roasted root vegetables to your salads. Roasted beets, butternut squash, and sweet potato will add a filling bulk. You can also beef up your fall salads with hearty grains like farro, quinoa, and couscous. Pearl couscous does particularly well in salads, because of the larger grains. 

For sweetness, look for fruits that are in season in the cooler months, like Asian pears. Certain apple varieties like Braeburn, Fuji or Pink Lady are also at their peak in the fall. Dried cranberries are another popular fall fruit that will provide little pops of sugar. And they all go well with some crunchy fall nuts, like walnuts, pecans and pine nuts.

Sides

With so many delicious root vegetables in season, fall sides are abundant. Half of a roasted acorn squash drizzled with maple butter is hard to beat. Pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy, salty pancetta are another favorite. Or you can sauté fall greens like Swiss chard or spinach for a light side option.

Any roasted root vegetable will create a good base for a fall side, from basic potatoes and carrots to parsnips, turnips, beets, and squash. 

But fall sides aren’t limited to veggies. A gooey pasta side-dish will stick to the ribs as well. Bring a fall flavor into the mix by making a pumpkin sauce. Or update gnocchi for the season by substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes. 

Entrees

Any protein can be turned into a fall dish with the right preparation and accouterments. 

When cooking, think long slow-roasting and braising for the richness of flavor that we’re craving in cooler weather. Duck confit, roast chicken, lamb shanks braised in red wine — all great fall options. 

Pork stuffed with apple and walnuts is a classic fall combination that you can play with. Mushrooms are most plentiful in the fall, and they are a great addition to pan sauces for steak and pork. 

For seafood, cioppino (a warm and hearty seafood stew) is a lighter option that guests may appreciate. Cod, salmon, grouper, and flounder are all fish that are widely available in the fall as well. Fish is a great addition to your menu all year, as it can easily be tweaked to fit the season with the right sides and herbs.

Warming spices and flavors

Pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg aren’t the only fall flavors out there. Mint, parsley, and rosemary are all fall herbs that you can work with on your menu.

And there’s no need to stay away from citrus on your fall menu. While we often think of citrus as a summer fruit, some varieties are actually best in the fall. Valencia oranges are in season from April to December, while Navel oranges don’t ripen until November. Lemons are in season year-round, and Mexican limes ripen between August and December. 

Spicy food may be a good addition to your fall menu. It can be too much to eat a spicy dish on a hot day, but when the weather is chilly that capsaicin can provide a welcome flush. And consider warming spice blends from around the world. Curries and Indian spices like garam masala have a little heat that will warm your guests up from the inside out.

Desserts

It’s time to retire the ice creams and sorbets and instead get baking. Fall is the perfect time for pies, cakes, and crumbles. 

Apple, sweet potato, pumpkin, pecan and buttermilk pie are all fall pie staples. Other fall flavors like cranberry, ginger, and carrot can be used in desserts like cookies and cakes. 

You can also skip the fruits and veggies and go heavy on the chocolate. Cakes, bars, and trifles with chocolate, caramel, and peanut butter are the kind of dense fare that does well in the fall.

If you do want a cold option, you could try to incorporate a fall flavor. Orange or lemon sorbets are light but include fall-appropriate citrus.

Cocktails and Coffee

While some wine drinkers are purists following strict rules about what to drink based on their food selections, many others are seasonal drinkers. These types tend to prefer chilled whites and rosés in the summer, and room temperature reds in the winter — regardless of what they’re eating. So make sure the red wine selection is up to snuff. You’ll want plenty of merlots, cabernets, and pinot noirs to keep the chill off. 

If you have the space for it, consider adding some warm drinks to your cocktail menu. Irish coffees are simple, and just require a coffee pot within easy reach of the bar. If you want to get a little more involved, you can make hot spiked cider, or mulled wine. These can be put in an air pot for easy service. 

Bourbon and whiskey are also popular when the weather gets cold. So consider adding fall-inspired whiskey drinks like a Cranberry Old-Fashioned or an Apple Cider Manhattan.

Experiment with fall spices in your drinks like nutmeg and cinnamon. There are even pumpkin-flavored liqueurs that you could use for a boozy take on the famous coffee drink. 

For non-alcoholic options, try to add some herbal teas, hot cider, and even hot chocolate to the menu. 

Descriptions

Since you’re updating the menu anyway, spend a little time thinking about your descriptions. Menu seasonality is important to a lot of people. So if you’re using lots of seasonal fall ingredients, play that up on your menu. Even better if you are able to use some local ingredients! 

People are looking for comfort and coziness when the weather gets cool. Can you bring that feeling to your menu? Emphasize rich and creamy textures. Try peppering in snuggly words like “warm” and “toasty”. Try to position your food as the perfect cap to a chilly day. 

Conclusion

Since fall is the most popular season with Americans, it’s worth it to try to capitalize on these short-term flavors!

Transitioning your menu from summer to fall is a shift, but it doesn’t have to mean you start from scratch. With the editing of some of your sides and flavor profiles, you should be able to pivot much of your menu to one more appropriate for cool weather. 

Swap out some apps and desserts, and you’ll be all set for fall!

How to Turn Upset Customers Into Friends

It’s a typical Wednesday night at your restaurant, and everything is chugging along smoothly. Ticket times are good, there’s a small wait at the host stand, and that new busser is working out really well.

Then, a server comes to you and says, “The guy at 403 is really mad.”

Oh dear.

There is no company in the world that has happy customers 100% of the time. It’s impossible. But what separates the good from the great is how they deal with unhappy guests when problems arise.

Making it right isn’t just a good PR move — it makes sense financially too. Word-of-mouth is a big factor in your sales. 81% of consumers trust their friends’ and families’ recommendations over anything else. 

Plus, it costs up to 25x more to get a new customer than to retain an existing one. So it’s important to know how to turn an unhappy customer into an advocate instead of an enemy. Here are some tips you can use to do just that!

Introduce Yourself by Name

When you first walk up to the table of an unhappy customer, all they know is that you represent the place that messed up.

So start off by humanizing yourself with a proper introduction.

“Hi, I’m Jim, the manager. I heard there was some trouble, and I wanted to see what I can do to help.”

When we know someone’s name, it makes them more of an individual and less of a cog in a machine. Instead of seeing you as a representative of the business, they’ll see you as a person who may be able to help.

It’s amazing how often managers forget this step! 

It’s also a good idea to ask the customer’s name. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” 

But don’t overuse it. Maybe address them by name once during your initial conversation, and once more when they’re leaving. Overusing someone’s name can come across as insincere and patronizing — the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve!

Really Listen

When an upset customer tells you their story, don’t be thinking about how you’re going to respond. Just listen. 

You may think the main issue is that their steak was cold. But the issue may actually be that they told their server about it, and she didn’t seem to care. One is a simple matter of reheating or firing a new steak, while the other is an issue of bad customer service. Those are two very different problems.

So let the customer tell their story, and really listen so you can get to the root of the issue. 

Occasionally, it happens that the meal went wrong from the very beginning. The host was rude. Then the menu was dirty. Then the drinks took forever to come out. You can’t go back and fix all these things, but you can listen with sympathy. 

Sometimes, people just need to vent. So let them get it all out before you start offering solutions.

See Things Through Their Eyes

Your POS system went down, and no one realized it for 15 minutes. Now you have missing tickets and a seriously angry mom whose hungry toddler is having a meltdown. Plus, now she’s going to be late picking up her older child from ballet practice.

Put yourself in her shoes, and try to empathize. She’s not upset because she has to wait. She’s upset because the delay is causing a chain reaction that is going to affect her whole day. 

The POS system going down is obviously not your fault. But try explaining that to an 8-year-old who has been waiting by herself in ballet shoes after all the other parents have come and gone.

What would you want in that situation? Probably anything edible and portable that you could give the toddler, so he would calm down and they could get going. What you certainly wouldn’t want is to hear a bunch of excuses as to why the wait would be another 15 minutes.

Everyone is fighting their own battles, and we only see a little piece of it. So keep that in mind next time someone seems to be overreacting to a problem at your restaurant. A little empathy goes a long way!

Project Confidence

Throughout your interaction with the upset customer, you want them to feel like you have things under control. You are the person who can solve their problem and make everything right. So take control of the situation and assure them that they’re in good hands.

This means taking decisive, quick action. If something came out cold, you snap up that dish and get it to the kitchen lickety-split. If the server was rude, you go chat with them right away. 

Take control! Instead of asking what they would like you to do to fix the problem, offer solutions. If something was too salty, tell them you’d be happy to have it re-made, or you can get them a different dish right away. Don’t put the onus on the customer to come up with a fix. 

Get on Their Side

It can be tempting to see an angry customer as the enemy. Is an undercooked burger really something to fly off the handle about? This lady is being totally unreasonable!

That may be true, but it’s also the wrong attitude to take. Remember, we’re trying to see things through their eyes! 

Once you understand the problem, get on their side. Help the customer to see you as their advocate. This undercooked burger affects them, but it also affects you. While you may not appreciate being shouted at, you should appreciate an opportunity to improve. 

You don’t want to throw your kitchen or their server under the bus, but you can still create a little team of two. Try something like, “Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention! I’m going to go get a new burger started for you, and chat with the kitchen about keeping an eye on temperatures. I really appreciate you letting me know, so I can make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Now you’re a dynamic duo. You have a mutual understanding about the unpleasantness of undercooked burgers, and together, you’re solving the problem.

Always Apologize

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the goal of “making it right” that we miss a crucial step — apologizing. 

It’s a simple acknowledgement that something went wrong and the company fell short. Even if it wasn’t really your fault, apologize anyway. 

If Appropriate, Take Something Off the Bill

Some restaurant owners and managers discourage comping food. They may be afraid that customers will abuse the policy. Or they may worry that managers won’t be able to judge when a comp is appropriate.

But look at it this way — what’s worth more to you? The cost of that appetizer, or not getting reamed on Yelp? 

Losing one star on Yelp or Google can result in a 5% reduction in revenue. So it may be worth the expense to take something off the bill if that’s the best way to make someone happy. 

In general, you’ll have a good idea of when someone is genuinely unhappy, and when someone is just trying to score free stuff. If they eat the whole meal before complaining, raise a fuss but don’t allow you to bring out a replacement dish, or show you a hair on the plate (which looks suspiciously similar to the customer’s own hair), you’ll know their game.

But in a normal circumstance where the restaurant really did make a mistake, a simple comp can be enough to show a customer that you take their complaint seriously and want to make it right.

Follow Up

Once you’ve listened, taken quick action, and given them a discount if appropriate, circle around one more time.

Thank the customer again for giving you the chance to fix the problem. And if they seem happy, ask if they’d be willing to share their email address. A nice note from the owner the next day, again apologizing for the error and welcoming them back to the restaurant, will leave a great impression. That “above and beyond” attention is the kind of care that people remember.

Conclusion

Your customers are your greatest marketing tool. They tend to remember either really good or really bad experiences, and share them in person or on review sites. So it’s up to you to turn each mistake into an opportunity. 

Make sure when your restaurant’s name comes up, the story isn’t about the error, but about  how you went to extraordinary lengths to make it right. That’s the kind of service that will earn you a customer’s loyalty and friendship.

What is the Best Color for your Restaurant?

Grey.

The end.

Just kidding!

If only it were that simple! In fact, the best color for your restaurant will probably not be the best color for the restaurant down the road. Different light levels, cuisines, restaurant size, and even service styles should all be considered when choosing colors. 

It’s no secret that color has an effect on people. It can influence emotions, blood pressure, and even hunger levels! So choosing your restaurant color can be a big deal! Here is some guidance to help you decide the perfect hue for you.

Red

Red is an energetic, passionate color. It can increase heart rate and blood pressure, and is great for grabbing attention. So should you use it for your restaurant?

When you may want to use it

Red has been said to stimulate appetite, which makes it a strong choice for restaurants. And red tablecloths have been shown to make people eat more.

It can also stimulate impulse eating. So if your restaurant is the type of place that benefits from lots of small food decisions, red may be good for you. Think fast food, small plates, or dim sum.

If you don’t want to cover your walls in red, consider using it as an accent color. Napkins, wall art, or even the back bar could be good candidates for red.

When to avoid it

That increase in heart rate may encourage people to eat more, but it also encourages them to keep moving. A high-turnover restaurant could benefit from bright red, but if you want your guests to linger, keep looking.

An exception is deep, dark reds like garnet or wine. The darker hue is cozier and warmer, and encourages diners to hunker down in their booths for the evening.

Blue

Blue is a conservative color, connoting stability and safety. There’s a reason why so many corporate logos feature blue. 

It’s the most popular color in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice for your restaurant. 

When you may want to use it

A lovely clear blue can evoke the sea, which makes it a good option for seafood restaurants. For example, Legal Sea Foods on the East Coast uses blue as an accent color in wall tile and on their menus. 

It also does well in coffee shops and bars, as there’s a theory that blue makes people thirsty.

When to avoid it

Blue is considered to be an appetite suppressant. The exact reason why is not clear, but one explanation is that there is very little blue food that occurs in nature, so we don’t associate it with eating. Another theory is that food tends to turn blue (moldy) when it spoils.

This is why, like Legal Sea Foods, using blue as an accent rather than a primary color may be your best bet.

Orange

Bright, peppy orange means energy and optimism. It’s a great attention-grabber, although some people can find it overwhelming. 

When you may want to use it

Orange will encourage people to keep things lively. It can work really well in a sunny cafe or coffee shop. Guests will stay and chat longer in an orange space. 

When to avoid it

Orange can feel immature and unprofessional to some, so it’s probably not a great choice for a fine-dining restaurant. But, like red, a deeper hue like pumpkin or terra cotta could work. This may be another color that would do well as an accent, instead of a feature color.

Green

Green is the color of nature. It promotes harmony, relaxation, and peace. It can reduce stress and encourage tranquility. 

When you may want to use it

Earthy, muted greens make people think of freshness. So it’s a great choice for a juice bar or restaurant with a focus on light, healthy food. 

Bright, vibrant greens can also work, but a little lime green goes a long way. So consider reserving bright green for an accent color, like fresh greenery on the tables or green tile behind the bar.

When to avoid it

Since green is associated with freshness, it’s not the best choice for a meat-heavy restaurant, like a steakhouse. Plus, green walls can reflect on your food, and no one wants to eat a green-toned steak. 

Black

Black is the color of power, strength, and sophistication. It is chic and timeless. 

When you may want to use it

Black is a great accent color. It looks incredibly smart against white, in tile or textiles. Legendary ad man David Ogilvy always said that black type on a white background was easiest to read, so  it’s a good choice for menus as well.

When to avoid it

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but an all-black room is not very inviting. However, if it was done in a variety of different textures, it could be done. Not for the faint of heart!

Purple

Purple is the color of royalty. It can bring to mind dignity, wisdom, and power. But like blue, it isn’t usually associated with hunger or food. 

When you may want to use it

Purple is a bit exotic in the realm of restaurant colors, so you could consider it if you want to stand out. It’s also associated with Mardi Gras and New Orleans, so it could be an option for a cajun restaurant. 

When to avoid it

With its similarities to blue, purple is a dangerous color to use for a restaurant. It can cast an unappealing hue on both people and food.

But a dusty mauve or amethyst color could create a nice backdrop to an otherwise neutral space. Just avoid bright purple, or your dining room could look like a circus.

Yellow

Yellow is a cheerful, uplifting color. It’s sunny and warm. However, it can also be overwhelming. It can make people uneasy and more likely to lose their tempers.

When you may want to use it

If you want to turn tables, yellow may be a good option. Like red, it grabs your attention, but discourages lingering. 

Consider yellow for fast food, cafes, and yogurt or ice cream shops — places that your guests won’t be spending several hours.

When to avoid it

If you want your guests to feel comfortable and relaxed, yellow is not the color for you. Also, make sure to look at swatches of yellow in all different light levels before committing. What can appear bright and sunny in the morning could have nasty green undertones in the afternoon!

Pink

Light pink can be a calming color, making you think of sensitivity or romance. But a shocking fuchsia or hot pink can act more like red — stimulating and energetic. 

When you may want to use it

Most people consider pink a playful color, so it’s great for a fun, laid back restaurant. A bakery or cafe could be a good candidate for pink.

When to avoid it

“Millennial pink” was incredibly trendy in the past few years, with restaurants all over the country dousing themselves in the color. While they are very lovely (and look great on Instagram), the trend is on the way back down. So to avoid looking dated, it may be a better idea to use splashes of pink instead of pink walls, pink tables, pink chairs…

Grey, Beige, or Greige

Grey and beige are solid and dependable. These earthy, natural colors are sophisticated and mature. They’re also incredibly popular in home decor, so guests will feel comfortable with the colors.

When you may want to use them

Grey, beige, and greige make people feel relaxed and unhurried. So they’re good choices if you want people to linger. 

They’re also versatile. You can dress them up or down, and change out curtains, furniture, and fixtures without having to change the wall color. Plus, they generally look good in both bright and dim light. 

When to avoid them

If you want to churn and burn, pick something flashier. Also, grey can be very cool. Warm it up with wood tones and warm accent colors to prevent it from getting too clinical.

Brown

Brown is the color of wholesome sincerity. It is grounded and safe. brown makes a great earthy backdrop to other vibrant colors like yellow and turquoise.

When you may want to use it

Brown is associated with nature and the outdoors. It can be a great compliment to green.

It’s also a warming color, associated with chocolate, coffee, and baked bread. A coffee shop, deli, or bakery would be cozy in tan or light brown.

When to avoid it

If the rest of the space is very neutral, brown may not be the best choice. Too much of a good thing, in this instance, can become very boring. 

White

White represents innocence, peace, and hope. It is often associated with cleanliness, which may be why a lot of health food restaurants are mainly white. Choosing a white can be surprisingly difficult, as many have blue, yellow, pink, or green undertones. 

When you may want to use it

If you have a small space, white can make it look larger. It can also help to brighten up a dim room. It’s a simple backdrop color that you can then decorate with pops of color and art, without it looking too busy.

White is also great with texture. For example, white subway tile or penny tile are classic choices, Grey or black grout can add some interest. And white curtains in gauze or a rustic linen can warm up a room.

When to avoid it

If your restaurant is already large, painting it white can make it look cavernous. You may be better off with a darker hue to make your space feel cozier. 

Final notes

Clearly, there is no one color that you should always (or never) use. 

But a few things to remember — never rely on that tiny little paint chip from the hardware store when making your choice. Always get a sample and paint a big square on the wall. See how it looks at all times of day and night before making a decision. 

Also, the pros say it’s easier to start with a textile, like a curtain or a cushion color, before selecting paint colors. That way you’ll have something to coordinate your wall color with, instead of staring at the hundreds of paint color options with no guidance.

And if you really can’t decide — it may be time to call in a professional.

5 Experiences to Add to Your Restaurant and Shake Up Your Customer Traffic

Experiences are key to engaging customers. Sure, sometimes customers will want to just sit down and have a meal, have a tasting, eat dessert, or whatever your specialty is. But in other instances, they want to be entertained. By hosting different experiences throughout the year at your restaurant, you can bring excitement to their week. Offering these events can shake up your customer traffic and show your offerings in a new light. For example, going out for tacos just doesn’t have the same ring as heading to a Tex-Mex Taco Tuesday Fiesta. It’s all how you market it!

With any experience, there are a few must-do’s that come with planning a successful event at your restaurant.

  • Plan in advance! There’s a sweet spot between giving customers too much notice and not enough. Have your events scheduled at least a month in advance.
  • You have to advertise! No matter what kind of event you’re hosting for your restaurant, be sure to publicize it. Fliers, Facebook events, and staff advertising to customers are all great ways to let the public know about your big plans. If they don’t know, they can’t come! 

Let’s take a look at some ideas you can put into action at your business:

Throw a Theme Party

This is a great way to show off the versatility and skills of your kitchen! There are so many themes out there, you may want to try and incorporate one into your regular monthly (or weekly) agenda. Themes could be food-based, TV show-inspired, sport-centered, and decade-focused- the options are endless! Having a theme in place can help dictate the menu, decor, music, and overall ambiance for the event. This is a great event to use sparingly to intrigue new customers and bring regulars through the door that might have been coming anyway.

Craft an Art Class

There are many different ways you can incorporate an arts and crafts night for your establishment. From crafting wood signs to painting a masterpiece, let your customers’ creativity run wild, all at your restaurant. This kind of experience works particularly well if you are a tasting room or winery where you serve alcohol (versus patrons spending their dollars elsewhere BYOB-style). 

Not crafty yourself? No problem! Get in contact with a local crafter to supervise the project. Discuss how many they can oversee and the space you’re willing to dedicate. For this event, we recommend creating a limited number of tickets to not only pay for the crafter, but also have a “deposit” on the event. Include light appetizers and refreshments as part of the ticket, while also offering a special drink menu made for the event. Touches like this really elevates the event from an art class to a full experience, leading up to when your customer walks away with their latest craft creation. 

Create a Contest

Bring out a little healthy competition between your customers with a fun contest! Contests can be as simple as karaoke, darts, or trivia. Show off your outdoor space with contests like cornhole, canjam, darts, or any other yard games that encourage customers to pal around and imbibe in the evening’s offerings. 

Host a Yappy Hour

Dog-friendly patios may be the regular at your restaurant or bar, so why not make an event out of it! Many dog owners jump at the chance to have their dogs socializing while enjoying a night out for themselves. Host food or drink specials for the owners but don’t forget to have water and dog-friendly treats for the pups of honor. 

Before you get too far in the planning process, check your local jurisdiction and codes to make sure you can comply with the laws surrounding dogs in restaurants or food-areas

Help a Local Cause

Get old and new customers alike to rally around a cause at your restaurant. Having a fundraiser can be spectacular for business, employee morale, and most importantly, the cause! Working with a local school, team, or group promotes local partnerships and bring many new customers into your establishment. You may even gain a new crop of regulars!

If there’s not a specific event or cause you want to host at your restaurant, take a poll of your employees’ favorite causes. This can spark some ideas and even create a calendar of giving to get everyone on board. 

What kind of experiences does your restaurant have to engage customers throughout the year? Let us know here or on Facebook. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

How Restaurants Can Use Pinterest Effectively

Pinterest may not have the eye-watering user numbers as Facebook (2.4 billion/month) or Instagram (1 billion/month).

But at 250 million monthly users, there is still a robust (and growing) base of dedicated Pinners out there.

And the people who do use Pinterest are the people you want to reach! Half of millennials use Pinterest — the generation that eats out more than any other. And a full 7 in 10 moms report using it as well. When you consider that 90% of women control their household spending, it becomes clear that your customers are on Pinterest!

If you’re not familiar with the platform, here’s how it works:

Pinterest is a way to save images from across the internet in one place. Users create “boards” with whatever themes they want and then save and organize “pins” to each board. Just about any image on the internet can be saved to Pinterest. And each pin links back to the original source. For you, that could be your restaurant website or Facebook page.

So how can you, a restauranteur, use Pinterest as a helpful marketing tool?

Set up a Business Account

The first thing you’ll need is a business account. A business account (rather than a personal account) will provide analytics and allow you to use Pinterest’s advertising features.

After you’ve created your account, you can complete your business profile. Add your website, logo, and some information about your restaurant. 

You’ll also want to follow the instructions to confirm your website. By using this feature, you’ll get additional helpful analytics. It will also add your logo to any pins that come from your website. There’s a tutorial here to help link your Pinterest account to several different types of websites.

Create Boards

Once your account is set up and linked to your website, you can start posting your own content to Pinterest. 

To start, create a Board. A Board is simply a place to organize pins with a similar theme.

You can create as many boards as you like. For example, Chipotle has 21 different boards on Pinterest. Some examples: 

  • Grow — A board focused on gardening. This makes sense for Chipotle, since one of their core values is a focus on fresh ingredients and responsible farming.
  • Cook — Inspiring recipes that they’ve saved from other blogs and websites.
  • Build — Highlights new stores going up around the world.
  • Wear — Dedicated to Chipotle merchandise.

You could do one focused on your menu and recipes. Another could be pictures of charitable events that your staff participates in. 

You could also have a board highlighting interesting things to do in your city. Or if your restaurant is in a historic area, you could set up a board to share pictures of the neighborhood as it’s changed through the years. 

One helpful feature of Pinterest — you can add collaborators to your board. If you have a photographer or marketing person on staff, you may want to add them as collaborators so they can make their own pins.

Start Pinning

After you have your first board set up, you can start adding pins. A pin is simply an image card (along with a caption and website link) that you will save to your board. Pins can be added from other sites across the web, or you can upload images directly to Pinterest. 

Keep in mind that Pinterest is a tool of discovery. You want your images to be interesting and helpful. People look to Pinterest for inspiration and recommendations. So pins like recipes, table layouts, cooking tips, or wine pairings could all do well. 

Also, think beyond the food. Pin pictures of picturesque areas of your restaurant. Not only will this attract potential diners, but your pins may get re-pinned by interior designers or branding firms. The result will be more exposure for your restaurant.

Don’t think you have to create 100% unique content to add to Pinterest. Different social platforms have different users. So it’s okay to re-purpose some of your Instagram posts for your Pinterest audience!

After you’ve been pinning for a while, look at your analytics to see which pins get the most engagement and which drive the most traffic to your website. Repeat their success by adding more pins with similar themes.

Encourage Other Pinners

Many Pinterest fans download the “Pin It” button to their browsers. This lets them easily capture images from other websites as they’re exploring the web. 

But you should also add a Pinterest button to your own website, just like a Facebook or Twitter button. This will encourage users to share your content on their own Pinterest boards for free, user-generated promotion of your restaurant.

Just like any other social media site, one of the goals is engagement. But Pinterest users don’t do as much commenting as users on some other social sites. Re-pins and likes are more common than comments. 

So encourage re-pins of your content. Maggiano’s Little Italy did a “Pin it to Win It” promotion with huge success. Each week, they would award a $100 gift card to a Pinterest user who had re-pinned one of their images. The result was a huge increase in Pinterest engagement.

Remember, the door swings both ways. So when a user shares one of your pins, leave them a comment to say thank you. 

Also, search Pinterest for content that is relevant to your restaurant. If you serve Italian food, search for pins related to home-made pasta, popular Continental classics, or even images of the Italian countryside. Give this relevant content a like or re-pin it to one of your own boards.

By engaging with other users, you’ll encourage them to engage back.

When to Pin

Pin regularly. Spread out your pins across the week, rather than saving them up and pinning them all at once.

Some stats say that you should be pinning at least 5 times per day. While more pins will maximize your engagement, don’t get too caught up in the numbers when you’re just starting out. Commit to pinning a few times per week, and increase your frequency from there.

Research indicates that the best times to pin on Pinterest are:

  • 2 pm — 4 pm
  • 8 pm — 11 pm
  • 2 am — 4 am 

Pinterest makes it easy for you to post during these peak times. After you create your pin, you can schedule it to post anytime in the next two weeks. You can create and schedule up to 30 posts at a time through your Pinterest business account.

Request Rich Pins

Rich Pins provide a little more oomph to your posts. The purpose of Rich Pins is to add extra information to your pin without requiring the user to click through to the source site. And the information stays with the pin, even if it’s re-pinned and the caption is changed. One study suggests they can increase website traffic by 36%!  

Rich Pins are limited to four specific types: Recipe, Article, Product, and App.

Product Pins include pricing and where to buy. You could use this type of Rich Pin if you sell merchandise or pre-packaged food items online. 

Recipe Pins list ingredients, cook time, and serving sizes. You can use this pin to share a popular restaurant recipe with your followers.

Article Pins include a headline, author, and article description. Post an Article Pin to share your good press with the world.

And App Pins allow users to install an app directly from the pin, without visiting an app store. You can use this type of pin if your restaurant has its own app.

You’ll have to request Rich Pins be added to your account before you can use them on Pinterest. Make sure your website is confirmed (see Set up Your Business Account above) before you request Rich Pins. But it’s worth the extra step to gain access to this valuable tool.

Consider Paid Advertising

The low cost of social media is one of its great selling points. But if you want to boost your reach, consider using Pinterest’s Promoted Pins. 

Pinterest estimates that it provides a $4.30 gross return for every advertising dollar spent. That’s a pretty good ROI! 

And unlike Instagram or Facebook ads, where there is no way to save the ad for future use, Pinterest ads are all pinnable! So if a bride-to-be sees your Promoted Pin for catering, she can easily save it to her wedding board as a reminder to inquire about pricing!

And when someone saves your Promoted Pin, their followers can see it as well. Even after the paid promotion ends, that pin will still be on the users’ boards.

Wrapping Up

55% of Pinterest’s users say they log on to find products, vs. only 12% for Facebook and Instagram! So it’s clear that Pinterest is where the buyers are.

While the platform isn’t quite as straightforward as Facebook or Instagram as a marketing tool, users are still highly engaged and represent a large portion of restaurant customers. Adding it to your roster of social media platforms can expand your reach, earn more brand awareness, and bring bodies through the door! 

With such a powerful tool at your disposal, it’s time to start pinning!


5 Furniture Hacks That Will Help Your Restaurant Run More Smoothly

Furniture is essential to any restaurant, but did you know you could actually use it to your advantage? The right furniture can help keep your restaurant operations running fluidly.

Customers are expecting quicker service than ever and restaurants are on the clock to deliver. Time is of the essence and speed is the pièces de résistance to make it happen. If your restaurant doesn’t have the capital to jump to the artificial intelligence of Jetson-like robots….that’s super normal.

Poor time management can snap a business model in half but by choosing the correct restaurant furnishings, you can help your staff run as efficiently as possible. We’ve narrowed down five furniture hacks that will keep your operation effective for your employees and bottom line profitable!

This furniture will streamline your hostesses and waitstaff processes, cut down cleaning times without skimping, and use your square footage effectively.  

Add a POS Station

Hostess Station in Urban Distressed Wood

Eliminate employees not being able to find pens, crayons, napkins, and even wait-time buzzers by having it all in one space: a point of sale station! Having a designated space for these things to reside can help cut out frantic scrambling for these easy to misplace items.

Even better, you can customize your POS station to fit your restaurant’s processes. Need somewhere to put rolled silverware so it’s at the ready? Opt for some wider shelves that can fit baskets the silverware can be tucked away in. Do you need to have the space to stack trays and menu? Try cabinet doors that shut and can hide away stored items.

By organizing these items, at an arm’s length away, your hostesses and wait staff can be ready for whatever the dinner rush throws at them.

Use Crumb Strips in Your Booth Section

Booths with a Crumb Strip

Vinyl color, height, and single vs. double are just a few of the factors that run through restaurant owners heads’ when they purchase commercial booths. But one important factor that is definitely not at the top of their list to consider when buying a booth is having a crumb strip.

A crumb strip in your booths will make your wait staff and bussers’ cleaning routine so much easier. This narrow strip of space between the back and seat cushions of the booth let them really get in there with a rag and, much like its name, get the crumbs out! Not only does the crumb strip make it simpler to get in between the table and booth vinyl, it can also increase the likelihood it won’t be left by your staff because it was too hard to reach. Which isn’t good for anyone… who wants to seat on a crumby booth?

Lower Wait Times with Indoor/Outdoor Furniture Seating

Distressed Viktor Chairs in Kelly Red

Sometimes it feels like the dinner crowd just won’t stop pouring in! As a restaurant owner, this is a great problem to have but it does present an issue for space. If the weather is nice, you’ll want to maximize your patio space. But that could mean prepping furniture you haven’t use in awhile, shaking off the cobwebs, and hoping the dead leaves from last fall have evaporated off your patio.

Why not invest in versatile seating that can pull double duty in both seating charts? These pieces of furniture are typically metal that are specially finished for indoor or outdoor use. Having this kind of seating on hand can be helpful to keep wait times lower, as well as increasing the amount of customers your staff can serve. Lower wait times, happier customers, bigger tips, just from having seating that can go anywhere!

Clean Up Your Outdoor Space in a Snap

Whether you’re just breaking out your restaurant’s patio furniture or you’re putting it away for the end of the season, cleaning it up is a great way to protect your investment and adding to your curb appeal. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could pressure-wash the outdoor space AND your furniture at the same time?

Cue poly lumber furniture!

This eco-friendly substance is a great alternative to wood with its non-porous makeup, which means it won’t retain moisture! Your staff can wipe down (or pressure-wash) poly lumber furniture without worrying about mildew, fungi, or any other growing mold. Poly lumber has many benefits for outdoor use, making it a simple solution for hard-to-take-of furniture.

Accommodate Guests (and Your Staff)

Communal Table in a Restaurant

Larger parties can be a struggle for your restaurant to accommodate, especially if your go-to defense is pushing together smaller table tops. It can be a pain for your wait staff to be constantly constructing and deconstructing the same space over and over, depending on who walks through the door.

By having a communal table or two that you can seat large parties, you can avoid losing your small tables by having to push them together. This way your staff can keep a balance between the larger parties and smaller tables, preventing them from becoming too overwhelmed.

We’re not saying you need to stand there with a stopwatch and record your employees’ every move, but it’s important to consider the success rate of how your staff’s current performance and what you should do to help. Even when your staff is on their game and working their hardest, there may be some areas that you can help make them more efficient in their jobs, just by changing your furniture.

Top Mistakes Restaurant Owners Make in Their First Year and How to Avoid Them

Restaurant Communal Table with Dinner

We’ve all heard that terrifying statistic — 90% of new restaurants fail within the first year. Fortunately for both owners and people who like to go out to eat, this “fact” is completely untrue. According to research by Dr. H.G. Parsa of Ohio State University, first-year restaurant failure rates are closer to a much less shocking 26%. (The 90% myth, by the way, is so prevalent that it was even cited in an American Express commercial in the early 2000s. AmEx was never able to substantiate their claim.)

Still, that means that one out of four new restaurants isn’t going to survive to its first anniversary. Sometimes, these closures are beyond the owners’ control. An economic downturn, staffing issues, infrastructure problems, or new government policies can all lead to failures, despite the best efforts of management.

But there are certain mistakes that restaurant owners often make when they first get started that can be major factors in the success or failure of their restaurants. Here are some common mistakes that restaurant owners make in their first year of business, and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1 — Not appreciating the necessary time commitment

The restaurant industry is hard, both physically and mentally. It requires long hours, intense attention to detail, and a mastery of a whole slew of different disciplines from managing people to sales forecasting to marketing to cooking to sanitation…

And because money is always tight in the restaurant business, all of this has to be organized and executed by an incredibly small management team. The result is long hours away from home, family, and hobbies. In Dr. Parsa’s study, he notes that most failed restaurateurs cited family sacrifice as at least part of the reason that their restaurants shuttered.

Owning a restaurant will always be hard work. But one step you can take to try to balance your work with your home life is to delegate and outsource where you can.

The key to delegating effectively:

  • Communicate exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Provide a clear vision of success.

For example, maybe you decide to hand off social media management to a staff member or freelancer. Make sure that person knows how many posts you want per week and the type of content you like on your feed. Food photos? Videos of guests having a good time? Bartenders making drinks? Behind-the-scenes footage of the kitchen? Promotions for upcoming events? Clear content guidelines will help to automate the process and prevent frustration down the line.

Then, give the delegate a metric that is easy to track. Maybe you want to grow your social media following by 10% per month, or maybe you want a certain number of people to engage with your posts on a weekly basis. Aim for straightforward, concrete goals so the whole team will know exactly what success looks like.

Mistake #2 — Not compensating for inexperience

Opening a restaurant sounds like fun. And it can be! But there’s a reason why industry greats like Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsay worked in restaurants for nearly 15 years before opening their own. There is a ton to learn before you’re ready to be the boss.

Training and managing a small army of prep cooks, chefs, servers, bartenders, and hosts is difficult enough. Add in marketing, controlling food and labor costs, licensing and permitting, facilities management, special events, and more, and it’s enough to make your head spin if you haven’t risen through the restaurant ranks.

That doesn’t mean that every restaurant with an inexperienced owner is doomed to fail. But you’ll need to hire the best general manager or director of operations that you can afford. Ten or twenty years of restaurant management experience will come at a cost, but it will be worth to have a pro on your team.

Mistake #3 — Lack of clear concept

Your concept is not just your cuisine. Your concept is what makes you unique. Why should people go to your pizza joint, instead of the pizza joint down the street? What special purpose does your restaurant serve?

Maybe you are an upscale date spot located in a renovated 1960s gas station serving ultra-thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas with high-end toppings like foie gras and shaved white truffle.

Now compare that to Chuck E. Cheese — a family-friendly pizza place with lots of games and entertainment for kids. Both serve the same basic cuisine, but their concepts are radically different.

So what is it, beyond just your type of food, that makes you special? You’ll never be all things to all people, so dig in and focus on who you’re trying to attract, and for what occasions. You want to position your restaurant as the “go-to” place for something specific — an occasion, an atmosphere, a certain theme. What do you do better than anyone else?

A clear concept will serve as a guide as you navigate choices down the line. Menu changes, community events, and promotions will all be easier to approve or deny when you have a clearly defined concept.

Mistake #4 — Allowing subpar food to persist

Your menu was carefully curated, each recipe lovingly tested and presented by your executive chef. You tried each dish, gave it your seal of approval, and are now confident in the knowledge that you can be proud of your food.

But over time, corners get cut. Maybe the line cooks are sandbagging steaks to get through the rush more easily, resulting in dried-out sirloins. Maybe the prep cooks are only letting the soup simmer for 15 minutes instead of the required 45 minutes, so the flavor isn’t as rich.

These time-saving tweaks aren’t malicious on the part of your staff, but they can drastically reduce the quality of the food. And customers will notice.

Make it a habit to eat in your restaurant regularly — but discreetly. Ask a manager to ring in food for you, but make sure they don’t tell the kitchen staff that it’s for the boss. That way, you’ll get an accurate taste of what your restaurant is serving to your guests, and you’ll be able to address any deviations from the original dish.

Mistake #5 — Not keeping track of permits

When you were first opening your restaurant, you had to get a variety of permits and licenses from all sorts of local and county departments like the health, fire, and building departments, state liquor authority, comptroller, and more.

Right around your 1-year mark, many of those permits will need to be renewed. And they’ll probably have to be renewed annually for as long as your restaurant is operating. Failure to stay on top of this tedious (but vital) administrative work can result in fines or could even get you shut down.

Make absolutely sure that you are tracking all permit and license expiration dates!

One free method is to create a special Google or Outlook calendar just for permits, and schedule all expiration dates with reminders 60 and 30 days out. When you get your 60-day reminder, you can file the proper paperwork and schedule any necessary inspections to keep your restaurant in compliance. At the 30-day mark, double check that everything has been received by the corresponding city or county department.

Another option is to use software like Renewal Tracker to manage renewal dates, reminders, costs, and supporting documentation all in one place.

And make sure all managers know where the permits are posted in the restaurant so they’re easy to find if you’re not around.

Mistake #6 — Not planning for the worst

When you created your business plan, you made assumptions (aka guesses) about expected sales and revenue. You did your research and tried to be pragmatic, but you still had no real way of knowing what those numbers would be.


Once you open your doors, you’ll find out how accurate your guesses were. It may take time — months, or even years — for your restaurant to perform the way that you hoped.

Don’t forget that you have to cover food, labor, rent, utilities, taxes, and loan payments, no matter how much money you’re bringing in. It some time to build a devoted customer base, so make sure to reserve some of your startup capital. It’s vital to have some cash on hand if things get off to a slow start.

Keep an eye on your cash reserves, and always try to keep in mind how many months you could continue to operate if you don’t see an improvement in sales. This will help you to know when you need to start looking for outside capital. Make sure you come up with a strategy well in advance of having to choose between making payroll and paying the electric bill. Remember, the best time to look for cash is when you don’t need it.

The restaurant business can be fun and rewarding, but it’s still a business. Hiring a great team, creating the best possible product, and keeping a cautious eye on your income and expenses can all help to ensure that your first year isn’t also your last.

How to Handle Difficult Restaurant Employees

How to Handle Difficult Restaurant Employees - Waiter in a Restaurant

We all have to deal with difficult employees in the restaurant industry. Let’s take a look at how we can manage negative behavior and create a positive work environment for everyone.

Look, the restaurant business is often challenging and the pressure to perform can go from zero to sixty in 4.6 seconds. We count on our staff to perform and improvise solutions at the drop of a hat. The importance of being on time, showing up with a winning attitude, and being able focus on tasks is a huge factor in determining the success of a shift. Yet — some people can’t seem to get it together. Always late; creates negative energy; section falling apart. Often times that’s only the tip of the iceberg. When tempers flare, frustrations mount and check/tip averages drop — the warm fuzzy feeling at staff meal have all but disappeared.

So, how do we deal with a problem employee? Is it possible to create a workplace that is positive, productive, and fun? Here are some tips and strategies for handling employees that perform poorly:

Use positive language You learn a lot about a person by observing their body language. Do they seem frustrated? Indifferent? Hostile? Many times we can gauge a person’s mood by watching how they enter the door and begin their shift. Take a moment to say hi. Ask about their day or weekend. You’d be surprised how this ‘small’ gesture can have a calming effect if they seem stressed or frazzled. You start off on a good note and help set the tone for the shift. On the flip side, it can cheer someone up if they seem depressed, fatigued, or low on energy. Restaurants are often tight-knit families. Take a minute or two out of your busy day to pass on a kind word. Show a genuine interest in their world outside of work. Sometimes the negative behavior displayed at work is carried over from the world outside those walls. The same approach can work when they are in the weeds and got triple sat on a busy Friday night. Keep a calm, friendly tone. Keep it light. Choose your words with care and make them count. You will be surprised at the amount of confidence you can build in your server/busser/bartender with a simple, “you got this but I’m here to jump in if you need anything.”

Fair, firm, and understanding Many people have poor time management skills. They make every attempt to show up on time, but — stuff happens. Traffic really does suck. The babysitter really is late… all the time. A raccoon really did eat their radiator belt (one allowance only for this excuse). It’s a hectic world. Be compassionate. But also let them know that being on time or keeping a neat station is important. Help them to understand: this is a team effort and an orchestrated dance. You will be surprised to find out how many people simply don’t understand the relevance of being prompt and punctual. Break it down for them in simple, easy terms. When you let an employee or coworker know that a certain action is valuable to the entire effort, they feel important. Everyone likes to feel important.

Be proactive Does your employee lack motivation? Find out what sparks their interest. Is it music? Fashion? Movies? When you establish a connection with hard to handle employees you build trust. We all understand the importance of trust and how it can lead to an overall improvement in attitude, performance, and workplace cohesiveness. Observe the behavior or habits that need to be corrected and address them early on — before they become a larger problem. Help them to discover better alternatives by walking through ‘mock scenarios’ during pre-shift. It’s possible that their section is always a disaster because no one has ever taught them how to work smarter by consolidating steps. Perhaps previous jobs did not emphasize orderliness and cleanliness. We can’t assume that previous employers have given everyone on your team the small nuggets of wisdom that make tasks easier and build reliable skill sets. You have to be that person. This is what distinguishes a leader from a manager.

Lead by example Let your team see that you care: you will never ask them to perform a task that you wouldn’t do yourself. When they see that you care deeply about the success of the business — they will adopt your habits. Difficult team members notice when you hop behind the bar, run orders, bus and reset tables when the team is in the weeds. And they will reciprocate. A team that feels you are involved with them throughout the shift will be more likely to step up their game. They become empowered and make fewer mistakes . When morale is high, your team members will go the extra mile to meet your vision. Teams that works together and observe strong leadership traits will be able to hold it together during the rough patches — the real nitty-gritty. They understand your expectations and adopt them as their own. They encourage coworkers that are not performing to do better.

The compliment sandwich We all know how delicious this sandwich can be if it’s served at the right temperature. Served cold — not so tasty. Throwing a couple of half-assed compliments on a plate and pouring some criticism gravy over the entire dish is not an effective management technique. It leaves a struggling employee confused and less receptive to feedback. The goal is to take negative behavior/habits and turn them into positive ones. Be sincere and genuine in your compliments — restaurant workers can spot b.s. a mile away. Suggest ways to fix the problem; ask for suggestions; listen to feedback and absorb their responses. As a manager and leader your tone should say, “I will try my hardest to help you.” Criticism is easy to dish out. Often vague, harsh and counterproductive — the result is rarely pleasant or informative. An effective leader will seek a favorable outcome and help to carry out effective solutions. Identify the specific actions you would like to change and give a clear and insightful path to meet those goals.

Employees are your best resource Your strongest assets are waiting to be cultivated. A healthy and positive work environment creates a sense of purpose and translates to an increase in sales, productivity, and happiness.

How to Handle Difficult Restaurant Employees - Pinterest Graphic