Difficult times in business can never be addressed with complacency. This is the time to double your efforts rather than allow yourself to get caught up in the malaise. There is always opportunity beyond business survival for those who commit to moving forward. William Channing once wrote:
“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”
For the restaurant operator caught up in the current, somewhat bleak reality of the business environment we are living in – there is hope in knowing how resilient the business of food can be. History is only kind to those who put one foot in front of the other and face each day with a “can do” attitude. Giving in to the weight of challenge is never a suit of clothes that looks good on anyone – especially restaurateurs and chefs. Shake off the dust of complacency, press the wrinkles out of that chef coat, polish those shoes and face the challenges straight on. You can do this!
The first step is to open up that time-tested playbook and remind you how important the basics are. These foundations of business success are even more important when facing difficult business cycles – so here is a blueprint for setting a course towards renewal:
Your employees and your guests need to hang on to that business anchor that will keep them feeling safe and secure in the realization that you have a firm footing and will consistently be there to help them feel the same. This means that you are a beacon of strength and dependability. Find your hours of operation, your strength in concept, your commitment to keeping your eye on the details and don’t waver from the standards that you set. Show everyone that you intend to stay the course and be there when they need you.
As much as communication is always the number one criticism of those on the receiving end – it will be even more so during times of crisis. This is the time to up your game in this regard. Share everything that you can with your staff – right down to the nitty gritty of business finances – they deserve to know. Communicate profusely with your business guests – use all of the mediums available and make the communication positive and uplifting. Engage in social media even more than before – post positive info daily. Send out information about your current offerings and your future plans through effective email blasts. Ask your guests for advice and ideas that might help the business that they are a part of. Invest the time – this is very critical.
When I see a restaurant with a lackluster website or a Facebook page of sporadic posts with lengthy gaps in activity then I sense that the business has lost its energy. When I fail to see Instagram posts of great looking dishes coming from a restaurant kitchen then I sense that there is a culinary team without that spark that draws people in. Become obsessed with communication!
- CREATING A BUZZ
Remember all of those exciting things that you did to draw customers in when business was great? This is not the time to put that effort aside – this is the time to invest even more energy in creating that excitement that demonstrated a business that was alive. Everyone is engaged in take out or delivery – don’t settle for being everybody – make your engagement in this arena really exceptional. Social distancing is un-nerving in restaurant settings – how can you make it fun? Remember that guest chef program that you tried before – do it again with real gusto – hype it up – make it your signature. Don’t just sit there – do something unique and filled with excitement.
- HOSPITALITY FIRST
It seems that far too many restaurants when faced with the extraordinary challenges of the day are relegating their operations to utilitarian delivery of product and service. Where is the welcoming attitude, the willingness to go the extra mile for the guest, the smiles and laughter, the little touches that made you that preferred operation for guests? I know it’s hard, I know these are uncharted waters, I know it’s tough when you are wearing a mask and gloves – but, everyone is wearing a mask now – this is the common space we are living in. How do you make it come alive with hospitality? Work at it, train for it, stand behind it, and make a difference.
- FIND WAYS TO MAINTAIN THE EXPERIENCE
Look around you – the restaurants that are open at some level are not focused on creating experiences anymore. This is what the restaurant business has been about for decades now – where is the attempt to find ways of building a new experience that goes beyond providing food for a paying customer? I don’t know what that means for your operation but take an inventory and look for the sensual interaction with guests. What are the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes that you offer and how do they blend together to create something enticing and enjoyable? Is it ambience, music, plate presentations, great smells seeping out from the kitchen, the sound of frothing milk from the espresso machine, quality background music, fresh cut flowers, pots of herbs on the table, attractive logos and uniforms? All of this still counts! Don’t let your edge slip away.
- BE PRESENT
As owners, managers, and chefs – regardless of the hours that you invested in the job in the past, this is not the time to back off – this is the time to be even more present. In many cases the comfort and support that your guests have aligned with in the past were probably nurtured through the connections they built with you. You have been the rock of the business – the reason it exists – now is the time to renew those connections and be that friendly greeter when they give you a chance during these scary times to be out and about. YOU NEED TO BE PRESENT! Your guests will remember this effort when we move past the pandemic.
- KEEP THE SURPRISES COMING
Every few weeks add another twist to what you do – keep it exciting. Hold on to what works, but don’t let uncertain times keep you from being innovative. Whether it’s menu, special events, feature nights, or catchy pricing packages – do something that keeps people guessing and returning to your social media posts for more news.
- REMEMBER FRIENDS – MAKE NEW ONES
You know how important those return guests have been in the past – guess what, they are even more important now. These are the folks who give you lots of slack, forgive you when you make mistakes, encourage you when you get it right, and tell the world about their special place. Invest heavily in keeping these folks on your side. Offer special pricing for them, create a loyalty program, as them for advice on menu changes, invite them to new menu tastings before they are unveiled to the public, make sure you treat them well when they walk through the door, train your staff how to interact with those VIP’s – these folks work for you without pay – they want to tell the world about the place that treats them well.
- EMBRACE YOUR EMPLOYEES
Isn’t it ironic that with unemployment higher than it has been in decades – restaurants can’t seem to find employees right now? If you view your staff members as interchangeable parts then they will always look for a better opportunity somewhere else, or feel that unemployment insurance is a better option. Hire well, connect with them, train them exceptionally well, show some empathy for their personal situation, be fair and just, communicate, pay a fair wage, and embrace them as part of your family.
- QUALITY FIRST
The kiss of death for a restaurant is to cut corners when times are tough. Maintain your standards of excellence, continue to buy the best ingredients, ensure that your kitchen team treats those ingredients with respect, be consistent with your process of cooking and plating, and never, EVER sacrifice quality standards for the sake of a few extra pennies of profit. This is the time to up your game!
- INVEST IN TRAINING
I understand that money is very tight, in fact many restaurants are just hoping to have cash flow rates exceed outgoing bills until they can be in a position to reach for elusive profits; some, in fact, might be incurring losses during this time of limits to top line sales. This is not the time to cut back on training. Your employees, if well trained will help you through these tough times. They will provide that experience for guests, treat them as friends, provide that hospitality that is so important, watch your costs and help you control them, communicate as loyal ambassadors, and be there to problem solve through these challenging times. Help them to improve – invest in training even when it seems that you can’t afford it. You can’t afford not to train.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
We will get through this together
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