For every restaurant, operations are vital to keeping the business afloat. The core of your operations comes from your restaurant’s mission, dictating everything from day-to-day actions to systems that keep your business running smoothly.
According to Jim Sullivan, CEO of Sullivision.com, the most effective marketing strategy for restaurants is consistency in operations. “If you’re not consistent in your operations, people will not come back,” said Sullivan at the 2015 National Restaurant Association Show. “What you do every day means a lot more than what you do every once in a while.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that your restaurant can never change. Restaurant operators need to be aware of industry trends to keep up with customer expectations, wants, and needs. Overarching culinary trends, cultural shifts in dining experiences, and even the ways customers make reservations are impacting restaurant operations now and in the future.
The Influence of Culinary Trends
The popularity of sriracha and ramen is on the rise in the restaurant industry, but there are certain culinary trends affecting every restaurant’s operations regardless of cuisine type. Now that molecular gastronomy is dead and farm-to-table is second nature, what’s next?
According to Chef Rick Bayless, owner of Frontera Restaurants, the current trend is exploring the new meaning of “authenticity.” In the past, authenticity meant that your ingredients and cooking techniques came directly from that particular cuisine’s roots. Today, chefs are using many different cultures as their inspiration rather than restricting themselves to only one concept, but still want to maintain that same authenticity in their operations.
“Now authenticity is having this experience with the culture and creating the food you want to eat based on that. It’s authentic to you more than authentic in that museum-quality approach to things,” said Bayless at the Google Lake FX Chicago Summit. “[Millennials] talk about authenticity as something that rings genuine, and I think that’s the kind of era we’re moving into no matter what kind of cuisine you’re doing.”
Another culinary trend influencing restaurant operations across segments and throughout the country is the emphasis on fresher, seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients. “What we’re talking about is a celebration of food,” said Foodservice Equipment & Supplies editorial director Joe Carbonara at the 2015 NRA Show. “We’re emphasizing better ingredients and we’re trying to up the quality of what we do.”
By using fresher ingredients, this means less use of canned or frozen foods and more use of ingredients that could be more costly and change more frequently. As a result, restaurant operators need to consider how equipment and kitchen space can be utilized more efficiently for these ingredients and factor more flexibility into their operations.
With the increasing use of local and seasonal ingredients has come more rotating menus and limited time offers in restaurants, which consumers are already responding to positively. “It allows you to come in and refresh your image in the eyes of your customers as you’re moving forward,” said Carbonara. “So I think you have to build in a little flexibility because what you’re doing today probably isn’t what you’re going to be doing in 6 months or even 2 years.”
New Customer Expectations
Customer expectations are also changing day-to-day restaurant operations. Whereas in the past, only restaurant reviewers and influential people received white glove treatment, today every customer, leveraging the power of social media and word of mouth, is expecting the very best at restaurants all the time.
“One lousy Yelp review, one bad experience [shared] on Twitter, a lousy picture of your food, or something along those lines can really impact the shift,” said Carbonara. “One bad shift can be a make-or-break conversation. Your margins are very tight, so you have to treat every customer as a VIP.”
Part of the way restaurants can make every customer feel like a VIP is to engage them more in the dining experience. At the Google Lake FX Chicago Summit, restauranteur Alpana Singh said that a greater concentration on personal interactions between the chef and the customer is helping to drive this change in the customer experience.
“As people are becoming a lot more knowledgeable about restaurants, they’re seeking that one-on-one experience that gives you that social currency you’re able to share with your friends,” said Singh. “People are craving these unique experiences.”
Carbonara also noted that many restaurant concepts are transitioning to allow more participation and customization, particularly in limited-service restaurants. This blends that expectation of customers wanting the VIP treatment with the desire for a more unique experience, but also greatly impacts restaurant operations.
Inspired by the simple concept of customized sandwich building at Subway or picking from a number of options for your wrap or bowl at Chipotle, restaurants nationwide are developing ways to make their customers feel like they’re participating in creating their meal and are able to customize their order to make it more special.
Reservations of the Future
When looking at improving your operations, it’s important to look at the whole customer experience, starting before they even set foot in your restaurant. For many restaurants, especially those in larger metro areas, customer behavioral trends are impacting how reservations can be made and accepted.
At the Google Lake FX Chicago Summit, Brendan Sodikoff, owner of 11 restaurants, said that in areas like New York, no-shows are becoming an issue. Customers are making reservations at multiple restaurants but then only showing up at one. Because of this trend, Sodikoff said requiring customers to purchase tickets rather than make reservations makes operational sense.
“Reserving those tables, especially for smaller restaurants, can be a huge concern,” said Sodikoff. “If you have 20 tables in your space and three of those are booked with the chance of someone going somewhere else, all it really does over the long term is affect the guest in a negative way.”
Most importantly, ticketing reservation systems protect restaurants from the revenue loss of no-shows. Chicago restaurateur Michael Kornick, also at the Google Lake FX Chicago Summit, noted that restaurants are behind other industries in this aspect.
“If we believe restaurants are entertainers, especially in fine dining because we can’t replace those tables with walk-ins, [the restaurant industry] is the only thing you can make back up plans for,” said Kornick. “You can’t go to a Bulls game or the movies without a ticket.”