Tough Times Call for Smart Measures

11 Oct

An enormous number of restaurants around the country have been forced to learn on-the-fly how to endure through tough economic times. Different managers and owners handle this task in different ways, based on business philosophy and financial situation. However, a few essential rules stand out when it comes to guiding the business through rough waters. As much as anything in business, knowing what to do when times get tough involves knowing what not to do:

• Avoid knee-jerk reactions.
• Don’t overhaul the business.
• Don’t look like times are tough.
• Keep your eye on the big picture.

Sound easier said than done? Sure it is. But so is everything about the restaurant business. A few basic rules during the lean months makes is easier to come out of them like they never existed.

Demonstrate value, not discounts

The easiest way to convince your guests they’re getting a great deal by visiting your restaurant is not by issuing coupons. It’s through demonstrating value. That’s because the restaurant business is about the long haul, and discounts are about a solitary visit. Sure, they attract first-time clientele. But they also attract guests who wait until they receive the next discount.

Demonstrating value persists whether the customer is holding a coupon or not. Value is most often demonstrated through competitively low prices combined with excellent food and service, and these variables have to be maximized when times are tough. Slow times are when the front-of-the-house can most easily be revamped, the dining room can be most thoroughly cleaned, and the service staff can be most adequately coached up. Slow times are also for refining recipes, trying new fresh ingredients, and advertising low-cost specials. Combining these with price breaks, reduced cost menus or (gulp!) appetizer/dessert giveaways demonstrates value that will endure in the minds of clientle.

Shop Around

It’s easy to forget that food and beverage vendors feel tough economic times too. Instead of cutting corners, it’s worthwhile to stay on the phones, monitor commodity pricing, and avoid being married to individual vendors.

It’s also worth it to find ways to do it yourself whenever possible. It’s amazing how many restaurants never pare down item purchases during slow times. This includes:

• Making bacon bits instead of buying them.
• Making desserts and salad dressings instead of buying them whole.
• Making beef and chicken stocks overnight instead of buying powders or mixes.
• Sticking with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
• Avoiding out-of-season seafood.

Slow business leads to extra time that should be used wisely. Instead of cutting corners, get creative and choose to do it yourself.

Don’t Let Employees Go

It’s essential for operators to stay the course with respect to personnel. Letting employees go when times get difficult sends the wrong message to the rest of the staff. In many cases, it leaves the rest of your staff walking on eggshells, wondering who’ll be next.

Instead, cut back hours here and there and learn to live with a higher labor cost. This is when spending money to make money can get difficult. But the advantage of having an experienced staff who buys into to your mission and goals is worth a few extra bucks when it’s slow. It also contributes to happier employees, and tells guests that you run a thriving business, even when it’s a little less than thriving.

Don’t Let it Show

When the tough times run long, it’s easy to cut corners on front-of-the-house maintenance and cleaning. But shabby restaurants send the completely wrong message to your clientele, who will notice it subconsciously if they don’t mention it first-hand. Worn out booth seats, faulty toilets, and cracking tile contributes to low staff morale and undermines the experience you’re trying to create.

It’s important to remember the big picture, and the notion of do-it-yourself independence. This, again, can be easier said than done. But isn’t that the way of the world in the restaurant industry?

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

As hard as it can be to get outside your four walls when it’s busy, now is the time to get the message out about the value you’re working to demonstrate. Try something you’ve never tried before, such as.

• Special events: A well-planned charitable event or Ladies Night can galvanize your business.
• Special menus: Wine dinners and prix fixe menus convey new experiences and excitement to guests. When coupled with lower prices, they’re a great way to demonstrate value.
• Social marketing: Social marketing is not the end-all answer for life’s marketing answers. But it’s a great tool to augment traditional strategies, and it’s free. It often answers the question: How do my potential guests find me?
• Kick-ass lunches: At the mid-range and upscale level, a great lunch is more about putting people in the seats and less about margin. Have great prices and quality food, and watch your new lunch guests become hooked.

Success in this business is almost always about turning a restaurant around. Many of the best ideas in this industry sprung from necessity. Staying the course and being creative – while not always possible – are the best ways to keep a business on the right track.

How Your Kitchen Can Throw Away Nothing

Finding a way to use everything in a kitchen is a huge challenge for chefs and kitchen managers. If food costs are high, or if they could be lower, the first step might be to be more judicious about saving your product and using it wisely. A little organization and resourcefulness can maximize the earning potential of any kitchen, and make that food cost number look a little shinier.

There are many methods geared toward making sure your kitchen never throws anything away. But there’s only one proven answer and that’s vigilance. Watch over your food and your staff, make sure they’re following instructions, and have a plan for everything you bring into your building. And if those things don’t work, have a clearly placed waste sheet available to log everything you have to toss.


Coming up in Part 2 of How to Endure the Hard Times:

  • Be Organized
  • Use Social Media
  • When Inventory Grows Legs

And more!

Also, don’t forget that Destination Restaurant Consulting is here to do all of these things and more for your business, so if you need help, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-653-8575 or send us a message through the contact form at

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