Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting
You may feel all alone in an empty dining room but take comfort in the fact that almost every restaurant suffers the September Slump. For the most part no matter how much you promote your business or how big a discount you offer, it really doesn’t drive people through the doors. Last minute vacations, back to school obligations, and “Christmas is Coming” fears become the primary focus of most people. Instead of crying over lost sales, it is best to budget minimal profits for September and use this down time to ensure maximum sales and profits for the rest of the year. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Plan for the Holidays.
Money flows freely from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day and sadly a lot of operators don’t grab for their fair share. September is a great time to plan large party menus, contact last year’s parties, cold call new clients, and create holiday party promotional materials. It is also a perfect opportunity to adjust upcoming reservation sheets to maximize table turns on busy days and to make decisions on extending hours of operations for peak days. And don’t forget to plan your gift card sales contest with great prizes for your team. Gift cards create sales for the slower first quarter of the new year and drive new customers to try your restaurant. Most gift card users spend more money than the card is worth and about one third of receivers never redeem their cards making the entire sale all profit.
2) Turn Your Team into a Sales Machine.
The term Sales Machine sounds so bad to most people, but the ability to sell is a key requirement of good restaurant employees. Never does a server walk up to a table, ask “may I help you?” and get the answer “nope I’m just looking.” A restaurant seat is a sure sale, it just takes the skill of the salesman to help the buyer find what they are looking for. Crafting memorable meals is a skill that must constantly be revisited. Slower months are great times to conduct sales classes, roleplay situations, and share best practices. Not only will this drive future sales, it also helps put a few more dollars into September bank deposits.
3) Court Your Regulars.
Keep and constantly update a customer database. Know the names of your regulars and use September to show your appreciation. You can simply send out letters and emails thanking them for their loyalty or go all out and roll back prices for a day for all your loyal guests. Offer them first choice for holiday reservations or invite them in to try new menu items before anyone else gets a chance. September Slump lends you the flexibility to reward your most loyal guests and help you to maintain that loyalty.
4) Implement Seasonal Menu Changes.
September just happens to be the doorway into the Fall & Winter season which makes it the perfect time to test new seasonal food and beverage menu items. It is also the perfect time because slower meal periods allow you to perfect cooking techniques and presentation details. Managers have the time to talk to all guests trying new items and gain their valuable feedback. By the time you are back on an hour wait, the production of all these new items will be simple daily tasks.
5) Invest in Knowledge.
We have talked about using down time to teach your team how to sell, but this is also a good time to invest and upgrade the overall knowledge of the entire team. Use it to talk about wine, spirits, new food trends, etc. Take field trips to distilleries, markets, farms and bakeries. Send trainers to classes on how to teach to the individual and send managers to classes on how to conduct a great evaluation. Far too many Septembers are spent moaning about how bad times are and demotivating the team, when they could be used to renew, refresh, and reinvigorate. Helping your team to see the light at the end of the tunnel by using this down time to invest in their growth and development is one of the best uses of September.
6) Clean and Repair.
Forget Spring cleaning, Fall cleaning is the way to go. September is the best time to paint, patch, repair, remodel, scrape and scrub. Walk through your building, make a list of all those little projects that you could never get to and get them done. This is just one more thing that helps to keep energy in the building and keep a team proud of where they work. Your guests will notice the difference as well.
7) Be Visible.
Use this time to put all your social media promotions on a calendar and execute accordingly. Take pictures of food and drinks, list employee accomplishments, and graphically treat new menus. Then open up your apps and flood the world with news about your restaurant. Remember you are not looking for immediate results, you are just planting seeds, maintaining relationships with followers and creating new ones. Seek out opportunities to cook on local T.V. shows, drop off food at radio stations, sell concessions at high school football games, make sure your team wears their restaurant t-shirts everywhere, volunteer for charities. It doesn’t matter what you do, just be seen while every other restaurant is in hiding and focused on cutting to one server and giving poor service. Chances are these are all things you have been wanting to do anyway.
Ok, there I said it. September is not the end of the world; it is instead the opportunity build a glorious new one. Glorious may be a little over the top but you get what I mean. The bottom line is as restaurateurs it is crucial to see every negative as an opportunity to be better and seize that opportunity. You will find that the rest of your team is eager to follow.
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