Figuring out new ways to increase your restaurant sales is a big part of what it means to be a successful manager. Your team looks to you to direct their efforts. Your owner (if you are not one yourself) looks to you to increase their bottom line, but identifying profitable ideas that organically build on your existing brand isn’t always easy.
You never want to expand with new opportunities at the expense of your core business — or the relationship with your solid customer base. Finding a way to grow your market, not simply shift it to a larger pool temporarily, respects your success to date. And it will help you maintain trust with your existing diners and staff, too.
With that in mind, we have assembled seven ways to expand your restaurant profits — and thoughts on how to implement without undoing any of your hard work.
1. Limited-time offers
One of the easiest ways to introduce something new to your restaurant’s routine is the LTO — the limited time offer. Controlled in its scope, a successful LTO can be anything from a single dish to a full, additional menu, so long as it feels unique and fleeting. It’s not enough to just conceive of a new dish.
That FOMO (“fear of missing out”) sense of urgency your customer feels must be developed through advertising, whether external (signage, ads, window posters) or internal (upselling by staff, table tents, menu inserts). Otherwise, your LTO is just another menu item that could easily be overlooked.
Your LTO can be a discount opportunity, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply offering something that incorporates a new seasonal ingredient or combines two things your customers haven’t seen on your menu before can generate enough interest for success. Just be careful that your pricing covers any additional expense generated from going outside your usual repertoire, but still works for the market you service.
And who knows? If your LTO is profitable, it may earn a rotating place on your menu. If it isn’t, your commitment is as limited as the offer itself. But no matter what, stick to your guns with an end date. It’s part of what makes the opportunity special.
Adding a weekend brunch (or other special occasion) buffet can seem like a profit loser at first glance. All-you-can-eat is a frightening prospect when planning out prices and cost, not to mention ensuring that your prevailing brand doesn’t get diminished. That said, there’s a wide range of restaurants that host buffet-style serving, from casual to fine dining, and there’s a reason for it — buffets are profitable.
Your typical buffet offering works best when you keep a few key tactics in mind. Pre-cut sizes for proteins encourages smaller portions of your most expensive items. Customers will often self-police the amount of any one item they take — if for no other reason than to leave room for sampling as many different items as possible.
For the guest, buffets are an opportunity to experience everything you as a restaurant have to offer. For you, it’s an opportunity to offset a few high-cost food items with many more at a low cost (potatoes, breads, pasta) at a premium price for the experience. And even if your buffet price is in line with your normal menu, the opportunity to upsell high cost liquor in drinks not included like a mimosa or Bloody Mary can take your Sunday brunch from average to exceptional in sales.
3. Happy Hour
Increasing your restaurant sales can be as simple as identifying slow periods during your standard operating hours and finding something compelling to fill those seats back up. Happy Hour has long been considered one of the most recognizable ways to draw in more customers in the post-lunch, pre-dinner lull of early evening. Offering drink specials alone can definitely be a draw for your regular customers, but it also might tickle the fancy of an entirely different set of diners.
Just be careful that your state doesn’t prohibit limited-time alcohol deals. If it does, don’t panic, because a unique small plates menu offered only during certain hours can be as much incentive to stop in after work as the drink specials. And if you plan it carefully around ingredients you already stock, the cost for adding a small plate menu to your kitchen order should be minimal.
Another avenue for increasing restaurant profit apart from your normal restaurant experience is building out a catering menu and service. The opportunity to build your reputation through word of mouth and positive experiences both in and out of your restaurant is tempting. So too is the ability to prepare food with advance notice on a set budget and for a predetermined number of guests. But every profit also comes with a price.
Catering can be an intense burden on your existing staff and, as a manager, it falls on you to keep these two tracks of your business from disrupting each other. It also requires an investment in additional equipment, reliable transportation, and — quite possibly the most important part — a salesperson. Having a single person committed to each event, from initial appointment to contract review to execution, is critical.
But despite the upfront financial costs, adding catering to your restaurant’s repertoire can lead to better exposure for your restaurant and an additional steady stream of income, especially around holidays where you may see fall-off in your dining room service.
5. Party rooms
Speaking of holidays, one surefire way to increase your restaurant sales without disturbing your core customer experience is to host larger parties in a separate room. Investing in the physical build-out necessary for the room to feel private can be a large upfront cost, but the long-term profit you’ll see from the ability to manage events is considerable.
Private parties can be offered a limited service menu to order from, helping your kitchen control costs and limit being over-taxed with too many different orders that need to arrive simultaneously. Since party rooms are typically booked in advance, your chef will have advance warning about the amount of food they’ll need to stock and prepare, limiting unnecessary waste.
And hosting large parties in an enclosed space helps control staffing as well. Buffet or family-style serving will limit the number of servers necessary to keep these important guests happy. Since larger parties tend to be faster to manage than multiple tables of the same total number of guests, you’ll be able to handle more guests over the course of an evening shift. All that aside, party guests tend to consume more food and beverage than your typical impromptu guest, which can turn into more profit for you.
Of course, word of mouth recommendations from party-goers can be very positive for your reputation overall, and it’s easy to see how party-goers can turn into regular customers as well.
Do you have a salad dressing that your chef makes from scratch that gets consistent raves? Has your dessert chef come up with a hot fudge sauce customers come in just to try? If you have a special recipe like that, it might be worth jarring and selling part of your restaurant’s experience for customers to take home with them.
Packaging products for sale can be a big investment for your restaurant, but it’s important to remember that it’s ok to start small. A small shelf next to the cash register or Maître d’ station can be an easy start to product extension. The larger your vision, the more careful you’ll want to be about the resources you expend to support it. Your chef has a full time job already in managing your kitchen. Jarring dozens of house-made jams a day is likely not feasible.
Whatever you do, however, just make sure it stays on brand for your restaurant. Remember, it’s called “product extension” for a reason. What you sell should extend your reputation and your customers’ interest, not replace or diminish it.
Rewards Network program restaurant Davio’s started their product line by packaging their Philly Cheese Steak Spring Rolls and selling them in local grocery stores. Now the spring rolls are available in three varieties (original, plus Buffalo Chicken and Mac & Cheese) at 4,000 stores around the country.
7. Portion control and waste
Ultimately, one of the strongest ways to improve your profit margin as a restaurant may be in just doing what you already do — but better! Make sure your kitchen is minimizing waste, both in energy consumption and food preparation. Encourage your chef to think outside the box on nose-to-tail or stem-to-root preparations of ingredients they already have to buy, maximizing the amount of usable material your restaurant can get out of its expenses.
Make sure your kitchen is set up with clear directions for the line staff on portioning so that your eight-ounce steak doesn’t drift into nine or ten ounces, or your griddle doesn’t get more oil than it absolutely needs. Not only do these small things add up to big numbers over time, but they make your product more consistent and reliable for your restaurant guest. There’s no surer way to increase your sales than to maintain a high quality experience that keeps guests coming back for more.
Want to get started on one (or more) of these ideas, but need the cash to make it happen?