10 Rules for Restaurant Success that Will Reign in 2019

The year is quickly approaching the end. How time flies! If you haven’t started to make plans for next year, then now is the time to start!

Piss poor planning produces piss poor results. It’s not too early to get ahead of your competition. The outstanding restaurants are already making plans.

To get you on the path to an incredible year, here are 10 rules you will want to adopt into your plan for the next year. These are rules you need to put into action, they re not merely suggestions. You can either prepare for the upcoming restaurant storm (which in some markets is already here) or you can just keep doing what you are currently doing. Just be prepared to watch your market share get smaller each year if you do not take new action. One is a smarter mover and the other, well...not so much.

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1. Know your Numbers

Of all the sins in the restaurant business, this has to be one of the most common. Not knowing your numbers. Why? Because you haven’t decided to run a business yet. Of course not knowing your numbers is not a crime (it should be), it’s more psychological.

By not stepping up to be the true leader and becoming financially accountable for the P&L you are sending out the message that you don’t own (run) a business....you just have a hobby. A very expensive hobby. Hobbies don’t stay in business very long.

2. Recruit Constantly

If you thought this past year was bad for finding staff...just wait! You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Staffing is going to be an all-out battle in 2019. The good old days of placing a help wanted ad up either in the front window of your restaurant or on the internet are going to be gone soon.

It's time to stop waiting for people to apply and become a “talent scout”. That means getting out there every day and spending time looking for people that have the traits and strengths that would become an asset to your team.

Scout for personality and not just skills. In 2019, you are going to need to get creative with your recruiting by tapping into older generations and also the gig economy (a free market system in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements). The labor pool is going to get a major shakeup in the coming year...so be ready.

3. Onboard Better

When you look at the top reasons for high turnover it can usually be traced back (partially) from a poor on-boarding system. You got the new hire all excited about joining the team and then welcomed them like they were attending a funeral. Not good.

How you set the tone for the employee experience (yes, it’s a concept you need to have a solid strategy for) is critical to on-boarding success. Drop the ball on their first day and you’ll soon see them lose interest and enthusiasm for their new position rather quickly. Make sure you have a well planned and executed on-boarding process that delivers the same “wow” factor that you should be delivering to your guests. Always remember that you have two customers: external and internal. You must deliver an outstanding experience for both or risk losing them.

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4. Partner with Your Vendors

Stop being so damn mistrusting of your foodservice and beverage partners! Not all of them are unscrupulous salespeople trying to gouge you on prices. Most are transparent and open about their margins. If you commit to buying the majority of your products from one vendor you might be able to structure a deal called a prime vendor agreement where you can negotiate a percent above costs.

Most broadline distributors also have a wide range of support services to help you grow your business as well. Menu design, food cost software, culinary resources (chefs), and some even hire third-party restaurant consultants (hint hint) to work side by side with key accounts.

All of these services are usually complimentary for creating a long-term partnership with your vendor. Now, if you break your deal with them, don’t expect them to play nice and continue to give you their sweetheart deal. Scratch their back (give them orders) and they will go to bat getting you the creative resources to improve your brand.

5. Cultivate your Culture

Culture is like the air. You don’t want it, you need it. Sadly, it’s a concept that eludes many because they don’t know what it really is. A restaurant’s culture is a mashup of core values, long-term visions, working styles, beliefs, and habits.

People have a hard time describing culture because it’s more of a feeling and an abstract concept, then something tangible because you can’t really touch it. When people talk about culture, what they talk about is how it makes them feel.

For 2019, your culture is going to be more important than ever! It will become the brand beacon that attracts both guests and staff to you. It is pretty simple: a bad culture attracts bad people to it. Look hard at your culture and find out what feelings it elicits. Don’t be a wimp on this one, really exam what your culture is all about and what feelings arise when people think about your brand.

6. Adjust Faster to the Market

This coming year is going to be a roller coaster on so many fronts. From plant-based proteins, cannabis moving into food and drink, to how dining habits are changing (think delivery), it will be imperative to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry (I recommend subscribing to Foodable TV.) As things start to change in the market, you’ll want to be in a position to change quickly.

That is the No. 1 strength that an independent restaurant has over large chains, your ability to make adjustments fast! You need to use that advantage to stay a few steps ahead of the competition. It’s better to implement something sooner than the chains do. Once a trend has hit the major chains, it’s usually played out.

Delivery and online ordering are hot, hot, hot! Make it easier for your guests to get your food to them. Partner up with a company, create an app, offer curbside service, or get ultra creative. For example, there is a restaurant in Colorado that does delivery via snowmobile while drivers wear a cow suit.

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7. Stop Taking Advice from Non-Restaurant People

Yes, your friends mean well however they are not in the business and the idea to add pizza to your sushi concept might not be the best idea. It’s human nature to want to offer up solutions to other people’s problems. Don’t let the voices of others drown out the internal voice you have.

Your intuition is better than you think and it’s served you well to get this far in life. Listen to it and amplify its volume. Sometimes it’s those that are closest to us that try to “protect” us by offering up advice that is not in our best interest. This advice is most likely based on fear and as humans, we are wired to either fight or flight when fear is triggered.

In 2019, you will have many moments where fear is going to get in your face. Recognize fear for what it is...a protective response. Here’s the secret: respect fear for it’s trying to protect you, however, you don’t have to listen to fear nor do what it says. Write this down: Danger is real. Fear is a choice.

8. Market Smarter

That one or two Facebook posts you do each week is pretty much useless. Boosting one post each month for $10 is wasting $10. Stop playing small on the internet. Why? Because it’s bigger than you can imagine and you are not making an impact with random marketing (posting).

Get a real marketing plan together for this year. That means getting an old fashion calendar out and write out what holidays and events you want to market to. Once you have that done, then back up 90 days before each event. Now, have a three-step plan to market each one!

  • Get creative on your posts 90 days out. Please don’t be boring. Oh, don't forget to do some video! Video is the dragon slayer to the same stale posts that 95% of the industry still does!

  • Start teasing out your promotion about 60 days ahead. Remember that marketing is about brand awareness and staying top of mind...it’s not about a sale.

  • Two weeks before the event you need to go all in and commit to blasting your content each and every day (sometimes multiple times a day). Now, some marketing experts would say that’s too much. I say you never know what “too much” is until you start getting negative (a lot of) remarks. Until then, hit them often and hit them on multiple social platforms (yes, there is more than Facebook out there.)

9. Take Better Care of Yourself

All business problems are really people problems in disguise. A lot of those people problems would be better if you would just take better care of yourself. The restaurant industry is one where we give and give and give to others. How about you? If you don’t take time to recharge your internal battery you just end up burning out.

The industry is notorious for its very high turnover and here is the cold hard truth: Most do it to themselves. Burnout doesn’t just happen, you allow it to happen.

You have a duty to make sure you are at your best so you can provide the level of hospitality and leadership required by your guests and your team. To not take care of yourself is negligent and ignorant.

Better yet, get busy doing something’s that will reenergize you! Hit the gym, talk a walk, learn to play guitar, take that Improv class, read a book, listen to an audiobook, coach a kids sports team, go camping, catch a wave surfing, lay under the stars, meditate, or sing. Just do something that lights you up! You do you.

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10. Get Help if you Need it

We think we have to do it all and we have to do it alone. Not true. There is a world of mentors, retired business people, and coaches that can (and will) be there to offer advice. The biggest reason most don’t get the help or resources they need is due to foolish pride. Don’t be too stuck in your own drama that you fail to reach out.

We all need advice during our life. Yes, even high profile individuals like the late Steve Jobs had a coach. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant had many coaches. Fortune 100 CEOs have coaches. Why not you? Too proud? Too afraid? Too what? Whatever reason you have it is basically a story you created as to why you can’t have what you truly want. Drop the story and head for the truth.

Make a pledge not to settle for mediocrity.

Make a pact to get someone who can be a sounding board. When I opened my first restaurant, I knew how to run a restaurant. I did not know how to build a business or a brand. I found a mentor who was a very successful businessman (like worth $65M successful.) I was afraid to ask him for help at first. He was a very loyal guest at my first restaurant and I didn’t want him to see me as weak. If I would have allowed that foolish pride to keep me stuck, I would have surely failed. I swallowed that pride and I asked. He said, “Yes, I’d be glad to.” It was hands down one of the best business moves I have ever made. You should do the same. Ask and you shall receive.