This era has been one of the most challenging ones in history for restaurants. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge hurdles to even the most successful dining establishments, including well-established chains and QSRs.
In fact, 100,000 restaurant closures are expected this year.
Traffic is down and restaurants have had to invest in a variety of upgrades and modifications to comply with regulations.
Whether you’re a single location restaurant or part of a large multi-unit chain or franchise, you can take these four critical steps to ensure your business survives and thrives -- well into 2021 and beyond.
The Keys to Preventing Restaurant Closures are Innovation and Cost Management
Some types of restaurants have done better than others during the pandemic. For example, pizza chains are thriving. Wingstop has also posted impressive gains. Customers crave convenience, family-friendly options, and home delivery.
With the holiday season approaching, every restaurant needs to get creative on both the marketing and operations sides of their businesses in order to compete.
Although you may believe that you’ve taken every step imaginable to manage your cost base, reducing food and staffing costs, you may have overlooked some huge opportunities to control your cash flow.
Here are five must-examine areas to ensure your restaurant survives and thrives in the years ahead:
1. See the World Through the Eyes (and Stomachs) of Your Diners
Research into customer needs and trends has never been more important than it is today. Restaurants have kept their finger on the pulse of food tastes, but now people have more choices and access than ever before.
For example, sustainable and healthy options and make-at-home meals continue to be among food trends. As we enter the holiday season, people will be looking for festive alternatives that can be delivered or picked-up.2. Technology Solves Both Health and Cost Challenges
For many diners today, the decision of what and where to eat begins on a small screen -- a smart phone or tablet. Ensure that your local online listings (including hours and locations) are kept up-to-date, you are actively managing reviews and social media postings, and that your reservation system is user-friendly.
More than ever, consumers will be evaluating their dining experiences based on their sense of safety. Automation is booming in the restaurant industry. Customers are becoming used to using their own devices to view menus and robots are finding their way into both the front and back of the house.
Some chains are investing in an upgraded drive-through experience. For example, Chipotle is opening 150 new locations, of which about 100 will feature its newly-revamped Chipotlanes.
You may not have the resources or business model to adapt in the same way the multi-location chains are doing, but examine every aspect of your current customer-facing and back-of-the-house processes and find ways to automate aspects of the business. In the long run, this will lead to greater diner comfort, reduced staff costs, and potentially increased sales.
3. Save Energy to Save Thousands -- or Even Millions
The average restaurant spends about $3.00 per square foot on energy. Refrigeration, heating and cooling, equipment, outdoor signage, menu boards, and computer systems all drain energy -- and your wallet.
In some regions, lighting represents as much as 14 percent of overall energy spend. Lighting not only creates the right mood for your dining experience, but it can also have a huge impact on sales. Visibility from the road and safety and comfort of employees and diners are affected by lights. The right lights can even have a huge impact on health. Flickering lights or improperly-lit areas can create eye strain and discomfort.
Despite the restaurant’s industry’s focus on sustainability and health, 40 percent of businesses have not yet adopted LED lighting, a proven effective way to help the planet while saving money.
You may be thinking, “How can I possibly afford an upgrade in my location(s) when my business is down?” Some companies like FES will cover the entire cost of an LED retrofit and handle all aspects of the installation and maintenance. Restaurants who have converted to LED lighting have seen:
- $1,100 yearly maintenance savings
- $4,505 yearly energy cost savings
- $5,505 total yearly savings
- $82,575 total savings by partnering with FES
Here are other ways lighting upgrades can benefit your diners and your bottom line.
Start with a thorough energy audit to understand where every dollar is going.
4. Consult Experts
Look to those restaurants that are performing well and examine the steps they’ve taken to serve customer needs and manage expenses.
Although industry events and conferences are on hold, you can still learn from a wide range of online activities and thought leaders. Look outside your own industry too at solutions that retail and other brick-and-mortar businesses have adopted to attract customers and save money.
The Restaurant of the Future Can Be Yours
Although survival has been the keyword of 2020, thriving in 2021 will result from innovation, sustainability, and partnerships.
Look not only at what’s on your menu, but how people interact with your brand. Embrace technology and automation.
Keep your lights on -- literally. Most important, consider some of those less visible but highly important aspects of your operation that are draining energy and dollars. What’s above your cooking surface can be as important as what’s on it!