Blue Orbit Hospitality Consulting

Half Year Resolutions

Ray Camillo – Founder & CEO, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

It’s that time of year! July…halfway through the year… the beginning of Q3. Somewhere in December most restaurateurs compile a list of things they want to accomplish for the year, vowing to use the “down time” after the holidays to regroup and get ready for Q2. Springtime is usually good to restaurants and this year (2021) has been no exception…but not without some PPP help from the fed, a vaccine-induced head start, and some extended cabin fever. Not that we’re back to normal but, at least here in Georgia, restaurants are booming, masks are mostly off, and the taps are pouring like hydrants.

But who really knew enough about vaccine efficacy or restriction lifting to bet what was left of their operating reserves on a comeback that might be yet another false start? After all, any restaurant that survived the pandemic surely had their bank accounts siphoned once or twice on overly optimistic “almost out of it!” projections. To capture a return to normalcy, restaurant owners had to take a leap of faith…leaving their stores open…burning cash on inventory and wages and rent and supplies…only to be told, “sorry folks, hunker down …it’s going to take a little longer”. By the second or third go-around, that cycle had wiped out thousands of restaurants across the US, never mind the world. New Year’s resolution? How about “survive”. That’d have been good enough… and those that weren’t fooled more than once were certainly not giddy to push their chips in for the spring of 2021 just because it felt like it was “time”.

At mid-year we can see the trajectory more clearly. Yes, interest rate hikes, inflation, impending minimum wage increases, increased commodities costs, and a brutal labor market are all making things more difficult, but at least we can SEE our enemies. Good things can come when we know what we’re fighting, but before we can rebuild, we must clean up the debris.

It doesn’t take much time sitting on a rock to realize that those who can get to – or back to – operating efficiency will be the winners. New investment money is pouring into the restaurant business but much of it is coming from investors whose primary vocation is not restaurant operations…so plan on a lot of bumbling and high attrition. The country is sympathetic to restaurant owners as the poster children for how awful a pandemic can be on a business. The new wave of restaurants will NOT all be Grubhub-friendly or have gobs of socially distanced outside seating. Truly, the demand for restaurants of yesterday is as high as ever…it’s just that they need to build a smart plan B in case of another pandemic. Yes, there is shift toward a “new normal” …but in the meantime, people want to forget COVID. Folks want to get out of the house as much (or more) than ever…and they want to drink, eat, mate, and celebrate…and DoorDash doesn’t deliver this.

Q3 is, for more restaurants than not, the doldrums – unless you’re in a summer seasonal area like Ogunquit or Cape May. For the rest of us, it’s time to get ready to win in Q4. Newbies are getting their bearings while incumbents are sharpening their knives…but make no mistake: surviving (and ultimately thriving) will be a function of:

  • offering a resonant brand and menu
  • systems that deliver consistent results (not just good people and constant supervision)
  • fiscal discipline and structure
  • scaling up (operating 2+ well-run concepts is more profitable than operating just one).

Over the past few months folks have come barreling out of their homes looking for the party. The sad holes in our communities where our favorite restaurants once stood are being gobbled up by entrepreneurially-minded optimists to capture this demand surge as fast as COVID forced them to vacate. July is the perfect time to tune up your existing restaurant OR to prepare for a Spring 2022 launch of a new concept. Either way, don’t wing it. Get some help…or your half year resolutions might end up as ambitious-but-unrealized as the ones you committed to on January 1.

 

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