If you own a restaurant, now is not the time to “just survive” and hope things get better. Rising costs of ingredients, product shortages, added transportation charges, smaller labor pools, less qualified candidates, and higher wages are all working against you. Holding out for things to course correct on their own may be a long wait and could drain your cash reserves, while also damaging your reputation. The current state of affairs is affecting individual restaurants in different ways, but all are being affected. COVID shutdowns may be gone, but they left us with a brand-new set of problems. As owners and operators, it is hard to work ON your business while working IN your business. You may have great ideas, but finding the time or resources to test and then implement those ideas is a lost cause as you focus on just getting through daily operations.
A few years ago, when restaurateurs asked our consulting team at Blue Orbit for help, it was pretty routine. Most of the time we found restaurants operating without systems or without financial controls. Operators had opened good restaurants without a plan and success had created all kinds of problems they had no experience in solving. Implementing systems and controls was almost always the answer. With a little repetition and consistency, the restaurants became well-oiled machines. Today, operators with well-thought-out plans and strong industry background are finding themselves encountering brand new problems that cannot be solved so easily. Implementing best practices may make a dent, but new ways of thinking are required.
If you are frustrated because you have always run your business well and now you find yourself no longer capable of solving your problems, it is time to ask for help. In the paragraphs that follow, we have outlined five reasons you should put your ego aside and get assistance.
1. You Have Problems… but you don’t know why… or you know why, but don’t know how to fix them… or you know how to fix them, but you don’t have time or resources.
First of all, what you perceive as the problem is very rarely the problem. Your thoughts are clouded by what worked in the past, along with emotions, pride, anger, and exhaustion. Identifying the true issue is a slow and methodical process of asking questions and stripping away layers of assumptions and biases. Yet, it is a process that needs to happen in order to reach solutions. Once you identify the issues and their root cause, the solutions involve a number of variables that are no longer behaving in a manner you are accustomed to. Old solutions must be discarded and replaced with innovative thinking. Chances are this is not a task you should take upon yourself. Seeking help from outside sources introduces the needed innovative thinkers who keep digging until the problems are clear. Assessing what is going wrong and how to fix it is like solving a puzzle for our team. We have spent the last two years all over the U.S. helping restaurateurs reinvent themselves and their businesses. We have tested new ideas and developed new resources that are all helping restaurants evolve to succeed under brand new circumstances. Perhaps the most important thing to note is there is no longer a one size fits all solution. Restaurants are all different, in neighborhoods that are all different, and operating with challenges that are all different. Solutions must be customized to the individual, tested, evaluated, and amended.
2. You Think Your Concept May No Longer Be the Right Concept
Are you in the right business, at the right time, and in the right place? This is a series of very legitimate questions. What worked beautifully for the last 5 years may suddenly be an undesirable concept. Deciding where to evolve and how to innovate requires research. We look at things like neighborhood demographics, restaurant trends, and competitive analyses to evaluate how the world around you has changed. We also look for holes – places where you can stand out and rule the market. Often you only need to make a few simple changes to regain your relevancy, attract new guests, and grow loyalty. Other times, you may need to change your concept completely and on rare occasions, you may need to move to a new location. With all these decisions, there are financial considerations. A qualified consulting team can do the research, show you your options and let you know what each will cost.
3. You Want to Grow Your Company
One unit is not the same as two units… and definitely not the same as ten units. Each growth phase requires changes in systems, controls, and support teams. Growing your company should be about developing efficiencies as you get larger. Instead, it often leads to increased costs and unnecessary salaries. If you are thinking of growing, first you should ensure your design is correct. Does it meet the needs of the current market, and will it be easy to evolve in the future? Is workflow and storage as efficient as it could be? Is the building the right size? Am I using the right equipment? Design drives efficiency. Efficiency, in turn, lowers costs. A collaboration between design and efficiency experts and operators with an understanding of real-life scenarios is the perfect partnership to create the perfect restaurant.
You may need to add some supervisory positions, but do you really need to create departments? Things like menu development and seasonal changes can be outsourced to consulting teams making it a one-time charge rather than the permanent salary of a corporate chef. Social media calendars and guidelines can be developed by consulting teams and taught to managers in each unit, rather than creating a social media salary. Every time you want to add a support position you should first ask yourself, “can this task be outsourced for a onetime charge?”
Finally, if you are planning to grow your company, you need to make sure your financials are in order. A qualified team should scour your Profit and Loss statements looking for opportunities for improvement. This team can make suggestions for saving money in numerous categories, eliminate the needs for individual line items, source new vendors, and bargain with your current vendors for better prices as your buying volume increases.
4. You Want to Sell Your Business
“I’m done, I’m selling” is something we hear over and over. Owners are tired and frustrated and just want out. Honestly, that is the worst time to sell. If you really want to sell your business, you should get help to make it better first. A frustrated owner with a business that has issues is a sure sign a bargain is to be had. A business for sale should be staffed with well trained employees and managers. It should have an online presence of positive reviews and at least a year of profit and loss statements showing sales growth and consistent profits. That is a business that will sell for a price that validates your years of hard work. If you own the building, you are in an even better position to sell the business, keep the building, and enjoy the rent income. A good consulting team can help you develop your business into one that operates with consistency and looks good on paper, guaranteeing you a higher selling price.
5. You’re Tired and You Want to Go Home
This may be the number one reason we get a phone call asking for help. Particularly now with all the labor market problems, owners find themselves working every day in the business. The don’t get days off, they can’t take vacations and they work open to close. Once you find yourself in that position, you are trapped. All the time you need to invest in doing the things that will allow you to walk away from the business is taken up by all the things you need to do to keep the business running. Consulting teams can do two things for you. First, we can perform some of those tasks you can’t get around to. Sometimes, it is as simple as taking over the hiring process and driving the training of new employees until you are fully staffed again. It might even mean working side by side with your chef to make them stronger and able to take on more responsibilities. The second thing we can do is evaluate your overall business looking for new ways to do things with fewer people. A fresh set of eyes can find all kinds of ways to make your business easier to run. We find ways to lower expenses, drive sales, and operate more efficiently, creating a path for you to step back and supervise rather than run your business.
Asking for help from people who can actually help is the smartest business move you can make. When you are presented with accurate and realistic solutions accompanied by clearly defined implementation steps and the option to engage qualified professionals to take on some of the work, often your desired outcome changes. Clients that want to change their concept often find that the concept was not the problem. Clients that want to sell sometimes decide to grow their business instead. Clients that want to grow their business sometimes realize that selling it and creating something new is a more exciting option.
Times are tough and they might get tougher. Today is the day you should ask for help and ensure that your future is a positive one.
Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting