As restaurants look for new ways to boost guest loyalty and ensure steady traffic in 2022, subscription offers have become more commonplace. Brands including Panera, Pret A Manager and Taco Bell have all extended subscription offers to guests – and now Sweetgreen is testing a $10 subscription offer that allows guests to get $3 off their orders within 30 days of their subscription purchase. Forbes reports that the offer is the latest phase of Sweetgreen’s initial loyalty program, launched over five years ago, which rewarded customers with $9 in credit for every $99 they spent in restaurants or on the app -- a program more akin to the punch-card loyalty programs of the past. Subscription offers are worth considering because they may keep a brand more front-of-mind for guests at a time when restaurants need the assurance of steady traffic. Each month, the guest is reminded that there is value in returning to you. At the same time, each of their return visits can yield helpful data that allows your business to craft future offers to that guest – data you would not have if you simply issue a blanket discount after the guest reaches a purchasing threshold not connected to details about their past purchasing behavior. What items on your menu tend to bring customers back? Does your coffee attract people on their morning commute? Does your soup-and-sandwich combo generate reliable lunchtime traffic? Or perhaps there are profitable parts of your menu that you’d like guests to support more steadily. These could all be areas worth testing with a subscription offer.
So much can feel out of control right now with regard to the supplies you need to run your business. One supply (among many) that has been climbing in price and scarcity in recent months is natural gas. In September, CNBC reported that prices had climbed 99 percent higher on a year-to-date basis due to escalating demand and concerns around supply. But unlike the many other items in short supply right now, natural gas consumption is something you can take active steps to reduce in your business without a significant downside. If you experience an especially cold winter or simply broad fluctuations in the traffic coming to you, being more efficient with your natural gas usage in cooking, washing and heating could generate significant savings. The Rail suggests that when cooking, aim to avoid overusing appliances – so limit the time you spend preheating, avoid using a larger oven when a smaller one will do, precook foods in a steamer prior to frying, limit use of the range top and schedule your cooking to ensure you are making most efficient use of ovens and cooktops. When washing, wait to use your dishwasher until it is full, turn off water heaters when the restaurant is closed, and ensure that water tanks and pipes are well insulated. When heating, use smart thermostats and set them to align with the business schedule and occupancy. Finally, keeping appliances maintained, clean, and free of buildup – whether grease, limescale or dust – can help ensure you’re not overusing energy.
Amid supply shortages, rising food prices and wages, and inflation increasing at the highest rate since 1982, restaurant operators have had no choice but to pass some of their costs on to customers. Accordingly, menu price inflation hit a 39-year high in November. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that prices for limited-service restaurants, which have been hit especially hard by labor shortfalls, have increased nearly 8 percent in the past year, while prices for full-service restaurants have increased 6 percent. While the environment continues to pose challenges to restaurants, there are steps operators can take to strengthen their position. In the back of the house, it’s more important than ever to have a keen grasp of menu costs and to use forecasting tools for inventory and sales in order to minimize waste and find suitable substitutes for ingredients that aren’t available. In the front of the house, it’s crucial to show customers that you provide an experience worth paying for – and one that many of them continue to crave as the pandemic keeps people at home. Consider how to make your offerings special – by elevating the dining experience in-house and developing creative menus that guests wouldn’t prepare for themselves at home. Finally, while you don’t necessarily want to draw guests’ attention to price increases, you can share the efforts you are making to contain costs and source quality ingredients. After all, consumers are paying more at the grocery store now too – so a higher bill at their favorite restaurant shouldn’t come as a shock.
As Covid-weary diners flock to dining rooms and short-staffed restaurants struggle to meet the demand, some operators are shutting off less profitable streams of service (like delivery) during periods when they couldn’t otherwise manage all of them at once. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Applebee’s, Olive Garden and IHOP were among the restaurants choosing to shut off online orders at specific times. This capability, if you don’t have it already, is one to consider implementing this year as part of your tech toolbox. Going forward, there may well be times when you need to scale up and scale down order streams at the flip of a switch. Being able to handle those transitions smoothly – and also marrying those actions with corresponding offers designed to attract guests to your other service areas – can help ensure a steadier flow of business.
At the time of this writing, retail vacancy rates were forecast to rise to 19.2 percent for the end of 2021, surpassing the previous high of 17.6 percent in 2010, according to Moody’s Analytics. But what sounds like bad news for the state of the industry could actually be good news for restaurant operators looking to negotiate and renegotiate contracts with landlords. Landlords want to keep their good tenants operating, and according to Amy Eskola, a partner with the law firm Messner Reeves who specializes in real estate transactions and contract negotiation, there is a lot of opportunity for operators to secure more beneficial terms right now. During a recent podcast interview with Elliot Maras of Kiosk Marketplace, Eskola said operators are (often successfully) seeking to adjust their contract terms in a wide variety of ways right now, including rent adjustment, abatement or deferment; basing rent on a percentage of sales, and for new locations, negotiating longer buildout periods, arranging to have rent commence at the time of permitting or opening, or securing a lower rent for the first year of operation. Anything is possible if you can present a solid, thoughtful case for it. Before approaching your landlord, conduct some market research so you have a clear sense of what terms similar businesses in your area are getting. If you’re seeking an agreement that hinges on your sales, also ensure you can present clear and organized financial statements that demonstrate your plans to manage expenses and build the business over the long term.