Taking stock of your restaurant’s successes and shortfalls is never easy, particularly when there’s always another table service, shift, or week to get through before doing it all over again. It’s no wonder, with the constant chaos a restaurant can produce, that a lot of owner/operators just keep their staff doing whatever they are used to doing. It’s comfortable and it works.
Until it doesn’t. There comes a time when the idea of a restaurant renovation, or making another large scale change, will have to be put on the table. But how do you know what the right changes are? How do you get a more factual — rather than personal or emotional — sense of what kinds of improvements should be made to impact both the consumer experience and your bottom line?
How do you decide?
Do a competitive analysis.
One of the first (and easiest) steps to figuring out where to begin with your restaurant renovation is to simply go out and look at the competition. If another restaurant in your area is doing well — and features a similar feel as you (or not) — grab a table and see what they’re doing right. Pay attention to everything from the moment you walk through the door to when you finish paying the check. Ask yourself a few questions:
- What does the outside of the restaurant look like? Is it welcoming? What does the signage look like?
- When I walk inside, what are they doing to make me feel welcome?
- What feeling do I get from their decor? Is it positive?
- Is their menu easy to read? Why is that?
- Does service seem to flow efficiently? How are they making that happen?
- What kind of detail are they putting into the small stuff (plates, glassware, staff uniforms)?
- Are there things that bother me that also exist in my restaurant?
Repeat this process for as many local restaurants as you can, and don’t be afraid to take notes to help you keep it all straight. You’ll undoubtedly find more differences than similarities, but it will give you a feel for what resonates with you in a restaurant renovation — not as an owner, but as a customer.
Also, don’t forget to consider other types of food concepts in your comparisons, as well. Grocery markets that offer in-store food concepts, or “grocerants,” may not be offering the same kind of full-service experience you are, but their popularity with consumers means there’s definitely something to be learned from them in a restaurant renovation, even if it’s only reinforcing your unique value to your diners.
Get input from customers.
Seems pretty simple, right? Your customers are the ones giving you money for the experience you provide, so why not ask them what they want to see in a restaurant renovation? It’s no fun spending money on some fantastic trend only to realize the demand for it just wasn’t there.
Start by chatting up guests as they’re finishing their meal. They’ll appreciate the attention from a manager, owner, or chef, and you’ll pick up some valuable tidbits if you frame your questions correctly. Asking, “Is there anything we could be doing better?” doesn’t leave a bad impression. In fact, quite the opposite. Your customers will think of you as someone who cares about their experience, and will be much more likely to make a return visit.
But not all input from your customers needs to be acquired face-to-face. Assessing verified reviews from your diners —like those vetted and maintained by Rewards Network — is another way to get information about what merits a change in your restaurant or its offerings. Over time, we have all grown suspicious of unverified reviews, like those that pepper most restaurant review websites, so having access to comments from specific customers you know ate at your restaurant is invaluable. Sort the reviews based on time of day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and day of the week to get to the root of where improvements will have the most impact.
Host a walk-through.
Above all else, one of the most productive things you can do during the decision process for a restaurant renovation is invite someone you trust to do a walk-through. This is not someone who will just tell you what you want to hear. You need to find a highly critical, but discerning, professional who has made their career in the restaurant industry. Most importantly, you have to be able to count on them to be observant and tell the truth no matter what.
This is not going to be easy. No one likes to hear where their life’s work is falling short. But the more difficult the process, the more productive the results will be. Have your adviser start from their car and work their way across the parking lot to the door. Have them take notes or speak everything they see out loud while someone else takes notes. You just listen, silently. This is not the time to argue the merits of an opinion or debate needs. You can make those choices after you graciously thank your friend for their help and see them drive away, knowing they did you a solid.
If the walk-through was thorough, it will have started from the outside and worked all the way through the dining experience and into the kitchen. This is why it’s important to find someone who works in the industry to help you. They need to be able to discern the most minute issues that a customer might have in your front of house, as well as those an employee might have in your back of house. For example,
- Is there curb appeal? Is the parking lot easy to navigate? Are there cracks or weeds growing in the pavement?
- Does your door knob turn or door open the way one would expect?
- What is the first thing you see (and smell) when you walk through the door?
- Is there ever a logjam at the host station because of the space it occupies?
- Are your dishes free from cracks and scratches? Does all your silverware match?
- Are there unsightly marks or water damage on any surfaces of your dining room?
- Is your staff easily recognizable and presentable? How did they approach your table?
- Is it uncomfortable to sit at one of your tables for long periods of time?
- Is there a place in your kitchen where staff are constantly bumping into each other?
- Are there frequently used items stored far away from where they ultimately need to be utilized?
- Are your stress-relief mats all sized to the right dimensions, or are they a safety hazard? Could certain types of accidents be avoided with some big or small changes?
When determining the validity of a particular change or restaurant renovation, keep in mind that the front of house is all about the experience for your diner and the back of house is all about the efficiency of your staff. Ignoring either, or settling for “just OK,” could be costing you money in the long run. An investment today in your restaurant can reap long-term rewards, if you choose what to amend wisely.
Want to determine where you could be leaving money on the table during the renovation process? Download our free eBook “The Secret to Great Restaurant Design” today: