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How to ensure your restaurant is profitable all year round

The restaurant business can be tough. Labour costs are constantly on the rise, staff turnover is high, and governments keep hinting at minimum wage increases. On top of this, consumers are becoming more educated and competition is strengtheneing through online media. However, whether it be cuting food costs or communicating more effectively with your market, there are many ways to improve the profitability of your business and keep you ahead of the game.

Here are five ways to keep your restaurant profitable all year round:

Make use of outdoor seating space during the winter months

Image of outdoor setting

Dreary winter weather can have dire consequences to a restaurant’s success, particularly in venues with outdoor seating space. As a business owner, weather is the one aspect of the dining experience that is out of your control. It’s easy to forget that during quieter seasons, competition with nearby restaurants is much fiercer, especially in areas with lots of outdoor dining restaurants.

One way to draw crowds during these cold, uninviting months is to prepare for what is traditionally the quietest season of the year by making better use of your outdoor dining space. Offering live entertainment, sparking up your outdoor firepit and wheeling out the mulled wine trolley can transform an unappealing outdoor setting into a cosy entertaining space. Try lighting a few tea light candles and offering blankets and outdoor-only menus as an incentive for patrons to opt for an outdoor table.

Don’t limit your demographic

US-based hospitality software developers Eveve believes a large proportion of restaurants owe their success to giving the biggest spenders of all – the millennials - what they want, before they know they want it. “Some restaurateurs are just great at predicting new trends,” the business claims. They say spending some time in the countries of influential cuisines, like America, will give you an idea of what is to come. “See what is really clicking there, and the chances are, in a year or two it will be popular in your city too.”

Clint Brady, owner and operator of popular café Brades Burgers in New South Wales, says being aware of cultural food trends is important, but it shouldn’t solely dictate what food you serve at your café or restaurant. He says while it’s true that “if you don’t appeal to the millennial, you will remove that demographic from your customer base, restaurants should not directly limit the demographic that they trade and appeal to.”

Pigeonholing your market can have consequences. Menus that lack originality and versatility run the risk of becoming irrelevant in such a highly competitive industry. To ensure you’re not limiting your market, design and execute your menu to suit all demographics. Clint says the key to this is to “make simple, simply amazing.” He says, “we take the average cheeseburger and finesse the ingredients in it, so that every ingredient by itself is amazing – and then put it all together to work synergistically.” While it’s important to give your customers what they want, it needs to be “in moderation and on your terms, so it doesn’t impact your business model.”

Cook with quality ingredients

A picture of a burger and chips

There’s no denying the importance of quality ingredients, no matter how many boxes you tick to ensure your business thrives. Finding consistent and reliable suppliers can be a taxing task, but one shouldn’t rest until they’re happy with every element of a dish. Clint says, “we [Brades Burgers] have been through ten bakeries and six butchers to ensure we found the bun that was soft, fluffy and light, yet not dry and a mince blend that was tasty and fatty enough without seasoning to rely on the natural flavours from the beef to season it.”

While ingredients may be the first place chefs look to cut costs from, it might be a double-edged sword. In some cases, it pays to spend a little bit more for things like high-quality spices, meat products and bread. “In this day and age, the customer can tell what’s cheap and what’s not,” says Clint. Consumers appreciate quality and generally have more money to spend to ensure they get it.

Create an excellent concept

You might find that diluting your product offering to suit a wider demographic might detract the ‘you’ from your brand, but this isn’t always the case. The truth is, your business can still have a personality that people of all corners of your demographic will fall in love with, without you having to pander to customer demands.

A great restaurant concept is the building blocks to your brand and the tipping point for the success and profitability of your establishment. A great example of an impactful concept currently operating in Sydney’s dining scene is the prohibition-themed bar Palmer & Co. This underground, dimly lit pub takes patrons back to the years of prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s. In true prohibition style, the venue is invisible to those passing by on the busy city streets above and accessible only through a dark alleyway and inconspicuous door. An impressive concept like this can be beneficial for both patrons and business owners. This is because it ensures a cohesive, memorable and consistent experience for guests, but also streamlines operations, increases brand equity and gives your customers something to come back for.

Design and implement an effective marketing strategy

Developing a marketing strategy for a restaurant

You might serve tasty meals but if people don’t know who you are, where you’re located or if you even exist, those meals won’t be eaten. Having a strong marketing plan is essential in the hospitality industry to connect with loyal customers and gain new ones.

Without a doubt, digital marketing in particular, is widely considered the most effective form of marketing in the age of technology. Clint believes having an active social media portfolio is compulsory. Brades Burger specials, menu updates and other promotional news is posted on burger fanatic Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as their own almost daily as ‘clickbait’. Clint says, “if you scroll through Facebook and you see one of our mouth-watering burgers as hacked and photographed by Jesse ‘Food Coma’ Freeman [Aus’ No.1 Competitive Eater], it evokes hunger. Consumers will like that post and tag their friends. Their friends go on to do the same and before long, the chain reaction takes off and spreads through Facebook.”

More often than not, restaurant owners and managers will look to their menu first when their accounting books deliver an unfavourable result. But, a restaurant with great potential can do more than just reconsider their menu to see the dial in the green again. There are many factors that contribute to a thriving restaurant business outside of the food you put on your tables but increasing profitability is an ongoing process that requires careful consideration and long-term strategy. Be proactive with each element of your business model and you may start to see a shift in the numbers.