Let’s say you’re running consistent profit margins each month and seats are usually full. Business is good. But maybe your bar or restaurant concept seems a little stuck. It’s not growing anymore, and you’re not quite sure how to get that momentum going again.
Hovering at a standstill and not being able to understand why is a terrible feeling. You know something about your restaurant isn’t working—you’re just not sure what it might be.
There are several reasons why businesses get stuck in these stagnant periods. And, when you’ve worked with restaurants long enough (like I have), you start to see patterns: patterns of success, and patterns of failure.
Sometimes you just need better quality questions to identify these challenges and give you the spark you need to get back on track.
Here are five common challenges that often send bars and restaurants down the wrong path.
Does your menu reflect and enhance your brand?
In this industry, most people tend to be on the creative side. Having a team of staff like this can be both a blessing and a curse—especially when creativity gets out of hand. Creating new menu items is the fun part, but making sure you’re not just being creative for the sake of being creative is the challenge.
Your menu is one of your best marketing tools. It’s one of the first things a guest sees on your website, and it sends a message about who you are, what you do and how you do it.
Your menu’s message must be clear, concise and consistent. Some restaurant owners might think their food and drink menu is eclectic, but to many guests, its wide and strange variety is communicating a lack of focus and theme. Let’s face the facts: If you don’t know what you’re selling, how will your guest know?
Generally, it’s far better to be outstanding with a smaller, more focused menu than to be average with a large variety menu. Guests today expect good food and drinks. Good is the average, and if you want to succeed, you have to be better than that.
Are you marketing effectively, or serving up the same old stuff?
Go on Facebook and take a look at some of the posts published by other restaurants in your market. Do any of them stand out? Do they grab your attention? Some establishments are producing some impressive and attractive stuff online, but most restaurant marketing is pretty stale.
The majority of restaurants tend to post the same thing: An advertisement of their latest special or featured menu item. They often project an “all about me” mentality, which isn’t the right way to interact with customers online or face-to-face.
If your restaurant or bar is in a large market, think about all that noise being generated on social media. People become desensitized to the standard posts that talk about whatever food or drink specials are going on today.
To market effectively, you need to first understand the ground rules of social media. It’s all about communication, which is not a one-way street. There has to be dialogue, an exchange or even banter. Communicate with your guest, not at them. So, back off the relentless sales pitch every time you post. Mix it up, and show the human side of your brand. Be funny, edgy, charitable or educational.
Are you using inventory to maximize profits?
It is truly shocking how many bars and restaurants don’t conduct a regular and thorough food and beverage inventory. This is hospitality management 101. You must take inventory of your products if you want to maximize profitability—there’s no way around it. Inventory is not a should-do, it’s a must-do.
Not only do you have to count your food products, either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, you must take liquor inventory, too. Inventory counts are crucial to running a profitable beverage program, to being able to compare your usage to the products that were actually sold, and to identify things like product popularity and shrinkage. Without the inventory counts, the rest of your bar’s numbers won’t represent the whole picture.
Today, bar management software companies make inventory pretty easy, so you really have no excuse why you shouldn’t be conducting inventory on a regular basis.
Is your staff focused on the guest?
This might be better phrased as “do you focus on the guest?” In any business, great culture is created by the owners and management; it flows down, not up. Culture is a living thing you must nurture and tend to like a garden. You also need to be aware when the weeds pop up, or before you know it, they’ll take over.
Your team will model your behavior. Are you setting an example of the standards for your guest’s experience? Are you effectively teaching your staff what this means at your establishment? Do you ever talk or complain about the guest in front of your team? Are you teaching a lesson of what to do, or more of what not to do?
And also, are you hiring people who are capable of a hospitality mindset, or are you just trying to fill the schedule? Always hire for personality over skill. You can train skill, but it’s hard to change someone’s personality.
Someone asked me the other day, “That restaurant always has the friendliest servers and bartenders. I wonder what their secret is?” Do you want to know their secret? They hire friendly people. There’s no real secret to hiring. Sure, you might ask some behavioral-based interview questions that go beyond the standard ones most managers and owners use, but in the end, you just need to hire the right people. It’s hard to turn a lamb into a lion, or to force an outgoing personality onto an introvert.
You must ensure you’ve developed sufficient training programs to empower these employees to properly serve your guests.
Are you the leader or the boss?
Owning and operating a bar isn’t easy. It’s not just walking around, organizing your staff and talking to a few tables now and then. Oh, if only it were that easy.
Anyone can be the boss, and poor ownership and management skills might work in the short term, but everyone has a breaking point, and sooner or later you’ll start seeing your staff leave one by one.
Leadership is where it’s at. Leaders inspire. Leaders challenge. Leaders build trust, and trust builds teams. It’s impossible to build a team with the boss mindset. It’s only when you evolve into an authentic leadership role that teamwork will begin to form.
If you want to own a better restaurant or bar, if you want to overcome these challenges every day, you need to ask yourself better quality questions. Instead of “what can my staff and guests do for me?” you need to reframe that and ask, “what can I do for them today?” Remember that your business is a reflection of you.