At the time of this writing, it had just been announced that Congress would not be replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as part of the omnibus spending bill, which would have given about 200,000 foodservice businesses a critical lifeline to help manage the ongoing challenges the industry continues to face. So what now? Stephani Robson, an emeritus professor at Cornell University who studies the restaurant industry, recently said the pandemic’s biggest lesson for restaurants has been to “be lean.” Surely you’re already doing a lot of that, or aiming for it, but can more be done? To be sure, technology can help in the effort, but only if implemented in ways that make life easier and faster for guest and staff alike, and can be scaled up, scaled back or otherwise adapted when the operation needs to change. Does your technology ensure you don’t have too many staff working a shift? That you don’t accumulate food waste before a dish ever reaches a guest? That you can make incremental adjustments with ease when you’re short on a key ingredient and you need to incentivize guests to try another dish? If you can follow the waste in your operation – whether in food, time, staff or other resources – you may find some practices that can be improved and made leaner. Ask Team Four for help in uncovering them.
Ghost kitchens: Do the numbers work for you? Ghost kitchens are continuing their climb: By 2030, they are predicted to hold a 50 percent share of the drive-thru and takeaway foodservice markets, respectively, according to Statista. As restaurant operators think about the best ways to serve existing customers and tap into new markets, ghost kitchens could be an important part of a business strategy. Perhaps you had to close a brick-and-mortar location before or during the pandemic – or you want to enter a new market that sounds like a good match for your brand. You could open a small brick-and-mortar location in a high-traffic area to collect information. But you may be able to gain the same – or better – insights with a ghost kitchen operating with a much smaller real estate footprint in a less-expensive area. Ghost kitchens’ ability to help brands test market viability in a low-risk way is exactly why brands like Famous Dave’s consider them to be important to their business model. As Al Hank, COO of Famous Dave’s parent company BBQ Holdings Inc., said in an interview with 1851 Franchise: “That is typically a multi-million-dollar test, and you never know what the outcome is going to be, but ghost kitchens allow you to do it in a much more cost-effective manner.” So exactly how cost-effective might a ghost kitchen be for you? Dan Fleischmann of the restaurant equity investor Kitchen Fund developed a ghost kitchen calculator, available at Restaurant Dive, to help concepts get an initial sense of whether a ghost-kitchen concept might make financial sense. You plug in some key data about the business, cost structure and volume assumptions, then the calculator projects the resulting profit or loss, as well as the return on invested capital.
The value menu looks a lot different nowadays at a wide range of quick-service and fast-casual brands. McDonald’s, Denny’s, Burger King and Domino’s are among the companies that are skinnying down their most economical meals. The changes have included decreasing the number of chicken nuggets from 10 to eight, removing price caps on value-menu items and raising the prices of individual items across the menu, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. Consumers are noticing the changes and facing a decision: Is this restaurant meal worth a few extra dollars (or a little less food) if I can find something less expensive at the grocery store? For some restaurants, this may mean recasting menu items as something special vs. a means of saving money. Understanding your menu cost has become more important than ever in the midst of inflation and supply shortages. Last year, restaurant prices increased 6 percent, the highest jump in nearly 40 years. But just as important as pricing could be how you’re presenting your menu items and promotions to your guests. Mine your data to better understand the dishes your guests love and when they are ordering them. What drives them to order from you? Is it convenience? An end-of-the-work-week treat? Tapping into what motivates them can help you frame your menu in a way that makes the decision to place an order an easier one for them – even if the bill is a little higher right now.
In a recent legislative update from Washington, Sean Kennedy, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of public affairs, said the restaurant industry had lost 45,000 jobs at the end of August. Further, new vaccine and testing mandates at businesses with a certain threshold of employees on staff could also make already-challenging staffing conditions even more difficult. To be sure, this is not exactly the Covid-19 recovery that restaurant operators had in mind – but there are efforts underway to try and change that. Industry advocates are urging lawmakers to continue to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), though Kennedy says it appears that members of Congress don’t want to add any Covid-recovery measures to the $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending plan in process, which is focused largely on climate initiatives, paid leave, childcare, education and healthcare. Because funding the spending plan will impact businesses in the restaurant industry, however, Kennedy is urging operators to add their names to Restaurants Act, a grassroots organization for the restaurant industry that is looking to generate broad support from the restaurant industry in order to urge lawmakers to continue to fund the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. (The fund closed to new applicants in May and according to a recent announcement from the Independent Restaurant Coalition, 82 percent of independent restaurants are concerned they may close permanently if the fund is not replenished.) You can join or learn more about the effort to refill the fund at Restaurantsact.com.
As the supply chain is being impacted by factors including labor shortages, extreme weather, gaps in the availability of raw ingredients, and a spike in demand from consumers returning to foodservice outlets, businesses at every link in the supply chain are feeling the stress. At a time when some foodservice operators have been completely dropped by their distributor(s), the strength of your partnerships is paramount. At the time of this writing, the average fill-rate from manufacturers to distributors was running below 85 percent. But the service level for Premier Value 4 members is considerably higher than this average. That is due to the work our distribution partner, US Foods, is doing to rebalance inventory to provide our members with the best possible service. In recent quarterly earnings releases, US Foods and Sysco disclosed their food cost inflation rates: 8.2 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively. To keep this in context, a normal food cost inflation would be in the 2-3 percent range. Value 4 members have protection against this inflation with contracted manufacturer agreements (CMA). CMA’s give access to 350 vendors covering 105,000 products. Over the past 15 years, inflation on CMA products has been half of the inflation of non-CMA products. Our CMA contracts are firmly in place and while we will not know if that 50 percent “savings” rate is less or more until the current hyper-inflationary period has settled, we are confident that using CMA products is your best protection against inflation – and will offer extra security until we return to conditions that feel closer to normal. If you do not have these protections from your suppliers and partners, consider calling Value 4 to see if you qualify for our programs.
The pandemic has forced even well-established restaurant operators across the industry to think and act like scrappy, new entrepreneurs: flexing to new challenges, doing as much as possible with few resources, keeping overhead low, being willing to reinvent when the circumstances call for it, and even flexing work around other commitments at home. As a result, we’ve seen a rise in ghost kitchens, as well as more home-grown, chef-driven meal-delivery concepts springing up on Instagram. Much like how many employees who have spent the past year telecommuting from home are now resistant to working from an office building full-time, the restaurant industry may emerge differently from the pandemic too. Dining rooms may take time to fill and it may be even more difficult to keep people on staff than it was before. Can you find ways to take the best lessons learned in the past year and apply them in the new environment? At your foundation, minimize the resources you need, including ingredients, real estate and staff. Harness technology to monitor waste in areas as diverse as your inventory, ordering, energy use and labor. Take another look at your pre-pandemic service model and assess whether that is realistic now. Embrace multiple revenue streams and look for new ones that could help you adapt more easily to challenges going forward. Finally, think about how you can continue to act at a grassroots level to keep customers engaged with your menu and brand – from creating rotating dinner subscriptions that you promote on social media to offering meal bundles for delivery to different neighborhoods.
In recent months, consumers have ordered restaurant meals via third-party delivery companies in increasing numbers: Marketwatch reports that throughout the course of the pandemic, food-delivery apps’ business has more than doubled. Restaurants have long regarded these apps warily, weighing the benefits of being able to serve convenience-loving customers against the risks of having a delivery app’s fees dissolve their profits. Those fees aren’t likely to come down anytime soon, but what if other restaurant operating expenses can? Ghost kitchens are helping to make that possible by removing expensive overhead – like décor, prime real estate and large dining rooms – and freeing up revenue for delivery expenses. To be sure, the experience of dining in a restaurant is appealing to consumers (and something they will want to return to post-pandemic), but your food is at the core of people’s desire to order from you. Stripping your business down to its key ingredients – quality food and people who enjoy it – is about having space to prepare it and a means of connecting customers to it. That means locating a professional kitchen (minus the pricey real estate), setting up a technology platform through which people can place orders smoothly, and having a partnership with a vendor who can ensure your food arrives promptly and safely. The pandemic has made ghost kitchens a key growth engine for the restaurant industry at a time when few others exist. Businesses that already have strong brand awareness and delivery customers may find that a ghost kitchen can help them turn a more stable profit. Consider a ghost kitchen an opportunity to test a new concept for minimal investment, or to shift an existing concept to a delivery-only mode for minimal investment (especially if the kitchen is shared by multiple businesses). These kitchens aren’t likely to go away after COVID-19 is behind us – consumers have had too much time to get used to their convenience – so they may be one of many lasting changes to emerge from it. There are many ways to approach them. If you want to discuss whether a ghost kitchen could be right for your operation, contact Team Four.
At the time of this writing, the National Restaurant Association had just announced that more than 110,000 restaurants around the country – representing one in six dining establishments – had closed either long term or permanently due to the pandemic. If you’re reading this, your business has likely already developed strong survival strategies, but the winter months are likely to test them yet again as the country manages winter illness spikes and more potential lockdowns. Is your restaurant as ready as it can be? In a recent Restaurant Dive article, several attorneys from the global law firm Goodwin’s financial restructuring group offered guidance to help restaurants weather the challenges of the next few months. Specifically, they said restaurants have two critical capabilities now: their ability to identify and implement practices to enhance revenue and reduce expenses, as well as their ability to connect with stakeholders and create a mutually agreed-upon restructuring plan that maximizes the value of the business and develops a business model that is sustainable in the current environment. As part of this, restaurant operators will need to conduct a thorough analysis of their operations, including calculating all assets and liabilities, and consider potential opportunities for getting concessions from landlords and suppliers, as well as securing external sources of funding. While there are sure to be more restaurant closures ahead before this crisis is over, there will also be opportunities available. Savvy businesses that have a precise understanding of their operation, as well as contingency plans in place to provide help in various scenarios, will be in the best position to seize those opportunities.
Do you remember what your marketing plan looked like from last year at this time? Chances are if you reviewed it today, it would look pretty quaint, considering the countless ways operators have had to reinvent business this year. While the development of a vaccine has provided signs of hope for 2021, the winter season will still require operators to rethink the ways they appeal to their customers. Your breakfast and lunch menus may hold some untapped potential here. For many people this winter, dining out in the evening could be a non-starter if eating outside is their only option. At the same time, the pandemic has also changed lunch from being a quick break in the day to a welcome chance to reconnect with colleagues and get out of the house – particularly for the large swaths of people who continue to work from home. How can you rethink your winter promotions to help capitalize on those changes in our habits? Can you draw people out for a hot lunch outside or entice loyal customers with a lunch delivery subscription? Could you offer a special menu of specialty coffees, breakfast burritos or grab-and-go breakfast items a person could collect following their morning run or school drop-off? Even snack times have new potential this year. The increased numbers of people working from home – and experiencing more blurred boundaries between work and life – may result in guests being more open to picking up a late lunch or meeting a friend for a late-afternoon appetizer. How have the habits of your most loyal guests changed this year? Keep them in mind as you plan for what could be another few unpredictable months ahead.
COVID-19 is not done with us yet, as recent virus spikes and tightening local restrictions around the country have demonstrated. While everyone wants to avoid a repeat of this past spring’s restrictions, if you were suddenly faced another four- to six-week lockdown this winter, could you power through? What would your top concern be? The restaurant industry management platform Restaurant365 asked this question recently in a large survey of operators that included independent restaurants, restaurant groups, fine-dining and quick-service establishments, and full-service franchisees and franchise brands. The top concern – for nearly 26 percent of respondents – was generating enough revenue to break even. So what can you do now to fortify your operation and make sure the items you are offering are generating the largest-possible profits for you? Are there profits lurking on your menu that you could promote a bit better? Now is the time to identify which items give back to your restaurant. Sure, you might be able to tell right away that your bar menu and desserts are money-makers. Can you reinvent those items for take-away? There are likely other items that may not seem profitable on the surface but save you money because they minimize preparation time and ingredients. The app Eat says high-profit menu items that are often overlooked include, among others, low-prep dishes, nose-to-tail items, foods that minimize waste, and foods perceived as value items.