Throughout my 35 years in the restaurant business, I have experienced the best and the worst of times. Fortunately, there have been more peaks than valleys, but some important lessons have come from both. These best practices can help position you for success during a likely recession, as well as continue to help you build back your business after the pandemic.
If you cut your menu during the pandemic to help offset labor shortages, supply chain issues and increased costs, that same mindset will be helpful in a recession. Focus on your signature items, guest favorites and best-perceived value items. Value will drive traffic; your guests should feel you are looking out for them. Stick to the basics and execute them well.
We learned from the pandemic that we couldn’t fill positions, and a lot of restaurants continue to be short-staffed. When talent is available, find a spot for them. During a recession, the short-sighted will let good key people go. Keep them – and if you can afford it, consider adding spots for the future. Recessions will end and things will turn around. Your bench and team will be stronger and ready when that happens.
Just about everyone pivoted to add carryout during the pandemic – and some went further, to add family or group meals to fill the void of nights out with family and friends. Those same meals can be repurposed into “value meals” nightly, or during slower, earlier parts of the week. You could also only open for carryout during some shifts to tighten up the labor model.
Landlords were flexible during some of the worst times. They reduced or deferred rent. During a recession, you can renegotiate or ask for temporary relief. If you are in a high-traffic area or office complex experiencing a major decrease in traffic, it is not unheard of to ask for some relief.
In the last 10 years, technology has transformed the restaurant world for the better. Your digital world should always be up-to-date – but even more so during a recession, when you need constant contact with customers. Your social media needs to be on-point and relevant to what guests will be looking for; focus less on the excessive and more on value. Be sure your web page is clear and easily accessible for online ordering. You will save a lot on commissions if the customer orders directly from you, instead of through a third party.
Most restaurants that re-opened after pandemic-related closures changed their hours of operation, due to limited staffing and guests. During a recession, the same strategy can be used. Do you need to be open for lunch every day – or at all? Can you eliminate a few shifts that really won’t affect your overall sales? Can you only open five or six days a week and maximize sales in a limited amount of time?
Many restaurant groups experimented with pop-up concepts, a strategy that saw a jump in interest during the pandemic. Be prepared to run a few different concepts out of your one space to optimize that location.
Danny McGowan is the Chief Operating Officer for the eight concepts and 12 restaurants under the Cornerstone Restaurant Group.