The changing of seasons can be a great joy and the feeling of a fresh start. Change brings about new perspective. As much as we love the changing of seasons, this change impacts the business in your restaurant. The issue of seasonality is a constant challenge for the restaurant industry. For instance, recent studies show that 60% of restaurants experience a decline in diners during the holiday seasons. Many prefer to stay home during these times.
Restaurants need to be able to adjust menus throughout the year. Diners tastes and desires change through different seasons of the year. In addition, availability of ingredients at different times of the year. Just like at home, restaurant expenses vary from heating bills in the winter compared to air conditioning bills in the summer.
The common trend: the only thing that will not change is that there is always change. Therefore, we always need to keep one eye ahead to the next season and plan ahead to ensure restaurant success. Be prepared is a great motto for Boy Scouts, and also for restaurant owners.
Preparation means going the extra mile and getting ahead before the high busy season begins. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to be sure you hire at enough capacity to meet the needs of your busiest season. Further, hire early, beginning at least 3-4 months ahead of your busiest season. In reality you must plan for attrition in the first few weeks of the season.
If your restaurant is susceptible to seasonality, you may need to hire temporary employees to work through the busy season but reduce staff in the slow season. If this is something you need to do, you need to be honest and upfront with your employees. They need to understand the concept of seasonality and how it relates to employment. To put it another way, if you hire someone knowing that they will be temporary, be sure they understand that. On the other hand, if you realize you are going to need to cut back on staff members or even just reduce hours, be sure to give as much notice as possible.
Be sure those you hire are well trained and ready for the rush. Hiring early offers you time to train and prepare them to use the restaurant equipment before the high season is upon them. When you think they have been trained enough, train more. In the meantime, while you have the extra time before your busy season take advantage of trying soft openings. For example, invite family friends to come in on a midweek night to allow your trainees a chance to experience your restaurant at full capacity.
The point of sale in many restaurants is a huge hurdle. POS systems are not always user friendly, intuitive, and can be clunky and slow. Invest in a POS system that you have thoroughly screened for ease of use. Your old system may seem easy to your veteran employees. But if it is hard to learn for new employees, it can really slow down business in the high season. It may cost a bit more to get the best POS system. However, think of it as an investment that will offer you returns.
Technology in the restaurant industry has made leaps and bounds in recent years. Seasonality affects restaurants. When you are experiencing a busy season need to be able to improve table turnaround time and decrease lines and wait times to capture every bit of revenue. That includes the kitchen equipment. Pre-programmed grills and Broaster pressure fryers both save food preparation time.
Many new tech features include tabletop screens for ordering and paying the bill, kiosk orders for fast causal restaurants, and online ordering. The more ways you can capture a customer’s order, the better. The more orders made, the more income!
Once the order is placed, technology kicks in to get that information to right people as soon as possible. The kitchen gets the orders immediately, and correctly. Writing orders on paper leave more room for error or miscommunication with diners! This provides faster turnaround time for the meals to get to the diners and offers for more table turnover which means more business.
Marketing for Seasonality
As you are preparing for the busy season, be sure to prepare your customers as well. One example is to hire a professional to come in and take a series of photos. Get them to your social media manager to start sharing the content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Showcase new menu items and new features. Introduce new staff. Post once or twice a week and then increase posting as you are coming closer to the high season. Use seasonality to your benefit highlighting news and new menu items that go right along with the weather and time of year.
One of the most stressful parts of managing seasonality in your restaurant is to manage cash flow. In the slow season, your cash is beginning to dwindle from the previous high. This is also the time you have expenses for hiring new talent, growing inventory, and making investments in your space. How can you make this happen? One option is to acquire a line of credit.
Many restaurants fear taking on a line of credit. It certainly can be a bit scary. However, if you have kept clear records and you know your business trends, you can predict what your income will be in both the highest season and the lowest season. You can take a line of credit to help cover expenses in the low season, being prepared to cover those bills in the high season. Banks are also going to be more willing to lend you the money, and offer you better terms, when you have these clear records.
The Busy Season
No matter how much you prepare, the busy season will be, well…busy! Early mornings and late nights. Stressful customers and hot kitchens. This time is about maximizing every ounce of your space and team. No matter how well you train your team, there will be some newcomers on the team that are less ready than your veterans. Create mixed teams of veterans and newcomers for every shift in order to maintain balance. Also, think your teams through, and where their strengths and weaknesses are. If you have someone who excellent relating to diners and someone who is a wiz with the POS might pair up well together.
The Slow Season
Even before the high season is over, it is time to start planning for the change. Historical reports of sales and labor are key. You can tell when you can start cutting back on staff and ordering, and when to start ramping it up again. You can tell when you need to order more from your vendors and when you can cut back. You do not want to get stuck with unneeded inventory, especially food inventory that will not save for the next busy season.
As you approach the slow season and are coming down off the chaos of the high season, you may be tired and not thinking about doing it all again next year. However, this is a key time to show real effort to appreciate your staff. Give gifts, offer swag, throw a party, or even just a thank you note. These gestures go a long way to helping your employees feel valued and respected. They will want to come back and work for you again for your next high season.
In the slow season, it is time to wear multiple hats. Staff should be cross trained so that everyone is using the hours you are paying for efficiently. Look for year-round staff that enjoy changing roles and experiencing more sides of the business in the off season.
Restaurants that work through seasonality cannot forget your local customers. No matter how many tourists come through in the high season, it is the locals that will keep your business going year-round. If you don’t already have a loyalty program in place, you should. You can also change menus frequently to keep the locals interested during the slow season. Consider giving back to the community by offering your space for use, offering volunteer hours from your employees, or even donations. Don’t forget that these loyal local customers not only sustain your business through the year, they care also one of your biggest marketing tools when they talk you up to their friends and family to come visit in the busy season.
Many successful seasonal restaurants take advantage of shifting their space through the year. In the high season the entire area may be used for a dining room. While in the off season, maybe half of that is closed off . The other half could be used as a meeting space for the community or for special events such as music nights or game nights.
With a little planning and preparation, you can ensure that your restaurant is successful, even through the ups and downs of seasonality. Our job at Taylor Freezer of Michigan is to provide you with products, parts, and services to make your business a success. Call us today at 734-219-9969 to learn more about our ice cream, Broaster foods, coffee, or juicers.
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