By Katie Schenkel
It’s strange to think about the lifecycle of a restaurant, specifically that restaurants can stagnate simply by not changing. For many restaurant owners, making changes to anything from management styles to the kitchen equipment to the menu comes only when it’s absolutely necessary. After all, if things are working well for you now, you should keep doing them, right? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But consider another possibility – that the things you’re doing aren’t working quite as well as you think they are. Your brand could be getting stale, and the reason you’re not seeing the places for improvement is because you’ve got your head down. Running your business day in and day out without keeping an eye on the rest of the industry could be hurting you.
A lot of this can come by being too comfortable in your own skin. Family restaurants particularly can fall into this problem because they’re steeped in tradition and many owners don’t want to lose that traditional touch.
But ask yourself this – what have you changed, tweaked, or updated in the last two years in business? If you haven’t done anything differently, you probably aren’t improving. The same way you take care of your body by adjusting your lifestyle to be more efficient and beneficial to what you want to get out of it can be applied to how you improve your business.
Equipment and suppliesSome of these issues you’re fixing can be quite literally the aging of the physical aspects of your restaurant. Equipment is a big one here, but so are plates, linens, your flooring, and more.
Is your equipment so old that it’s breaking down regularly even with regular maintenance? Are you plates getting chipped, or do they look like they would have last been in style 30 years ago? Are your linens stained or just outdated? Do the tablecloths you rent with your cloth napkins make your restaurant look chic, or just old fashioned? Customers notice when those aspects of your restaurant don’t look fresh; if you haven’t kept up your front of the house, will your guests trust that you’ve kept up the kitchen?
BrandingThere’s also a matter of your overall brand. Because yes, even the most initially intriguing brand can get stale if you give it enough time. Think about the big restaurant brands who haven’t updated their interior designs, their POS system, or their marketing for years and years. Not only is it unappealing to the modern diner, but it could also send the message that you haven’t changed your menu up in years and years, either.
Staff ProcedureThink about your employees, too. When was the last time you chose to review and update your training policies? Are you teaching your workers the most efficient and easy-to-replicate ways to do their jobs? When was the last time you revamped their uniforms? You’d be surprised what a confidence booster it can be for servers to wear something that looks sharp (and professional) and fits nicely.
TechnologyLook at the technology in your restaurant. Can you upgrade your POS system? What’s your technology for the back of the house like? Think about the functionality for both your records and for your employees on a day to day basis. New technology helping them do their job more efficiently can be a huge moral boost (just make sure you properly train them so they’re confident in using it during any given shift).
Your FoodDon’t forget about the menu. When was the last time you took a look at your entire menu and made sure it was where it needed to be? Are you being creative, looking at recent food trends that fit your restaurant and applying them to specials? Are you trying out seasonal menu choices? Do you have healthier or dietary restriction-friendly options? With your menu, consider updating your plating. Does your plating look fresh, or does it look like you’re still cooking in 1986? Especially beware the big spruce of parsley as a garnish — it could be making your food look drastically dated.
That’s not to say you should drop everything about your restaurant and jump on trendiness alone. But if you’re only keeping things the way they are because it’s always the way you’ve looked or done it, then you could be keeping yourself from the fresh and new updates with the potential to bring your restaurant to the next level.
What next?So, how do you keep up with what’s up and coming in the food industry? Consider subscribing to industry publications. Bookmark and regularly read restaurant business blogs. Occasionally dine at your competitors and see what they’re doing to keep themselves fresh on modern.
Make a point to go to industry conventions and talks throughout the year (for instance, the NRA Show in Chicago). Take copious notes not only on the showroom floor products you might want to invest in, but also on the panels that go on throughout these events. The panels in particular have great advice from professionals in many different sectors of the industry, and you might have a eureka moment simply by sitting in on a few.
The big thing is evolution, not revolution; keep an eye on what’s new and innovative while still staying on brand. Be honest with yourself and remember that what was revolutionary and new when you first opened your restaurant just might not apply to your business today.
Catch up on my current posts along with industry articles