It’s here—a brand new year and a brand new chance for you to make your restaurant as successful as it can possibly be in 2015. One place to start is to take a good hard look at your costs and identify areas where you can pare back to keep more money in your pocket. We’ve broken some ideas for saving money at your restaurant into categories, so you can work to systematically implement small changes that add up to a big difference for your business.
1. Try a Digital Menu Board
Sometimes restaurants balk at the cost of new technology solutions. However, when the investment is made wisely and with an eye to the future, technology can often be a great way to cut costs. For example, a digital menu board is a big upfront purchase. But over the long-term you will make the money back by not having to change your sign every time a new item comes out or another one goes away. It gives you endless flexibility without continual costs.
2. Simplify Your Menu
Menus today often get to be quite long in an effort to give picky consumers a wide range of choices. However, oftentimes they get too long, to the point where customers get confused or overwhelmed by their choices. Slimming down your menu, as McDonald’s is experimenting with, can help you cut costs by eliminating those meals which are rarely ordered by customers. Preparing an item every once in a while with ingredients that are different from the rest of your menu can be a huge cost sink and isn’t worthwhile for most restaurants.
3. Standardize Portion Sizes
Here’s another thing fast food chains know that other restaurants could learn: portion sizes matter. Restaurant managers should also set and follow exacting guidelines around portion sizes. This ensures that the size of a meal doesn’t fluctuate, making it difficult to order the correct amount of inventory and to keep items profitable. Customers also appreciate the consistency, as it helps them know what to expect.
4. Rework Leftovers into a Daily Special
If you do occasionally find yourself with a significant amount of leftover food, make sure that you don’t let it go to waste. The best way to keep costs low is to turn the leftover food into a new product. Use your leftovers to create daily specials that are both exciting for customers and cost-saving for you since they reduce waste.
5. Buy Local
Beyond getting your portion sizes and menu contents under control, another area you can save money is in the cost of the food you purchase. While it may be more convenient to place a huge order with a major supplier, keep in mind that in some cases it is cheaper to buy items that come from nearby, such as seasonal produce or farm-raised meat. This has the added bonus of being environmentally friendly—and even something you can market to your customers.
6. Track Inventory in Real Time
Of course, it’s only possible to purchase the exact right amount and type of goods at any given time if you know exactly where your inventory stands. Some of the new POS systems that are now on the market make it possible to track purchases in real time, so managers can check in on inventory and get an accurate tally at any given time, whether they are in the restaurant or at home. This can help you make smart decisions about when to purchase more inventory, rather than relying on a regular schedule that may not actually conform to the realities of your business.
Compliance & Regulation
7. Switch to Digital Logbooks
Another area to look for cost savings is around compliance with rules and regulations of your industry, and a good place to start is with your logbooks. Many restaurants maintain logs for compliance, business intelligence and human resources purposes in physical notebooks, which can be misplaced easily and which are impossible to access remotely. Making the switch to digital logbooks will save employees and managers time and conserve costs over the long haul.
8. Measure Food Temperature
Another area where technology can make a big difference is in avoiding food-borne illness. Installing digital thermometers in your freezers and refrigerators can help ensure that you don’t lose any food to spoiling and also protect your diners from the all-too-common threat of food-borne illness.
9. Get PCI Compliant
A very important regulatory hurdle to surmount is PCI compliance. Ensuring you are PCI compliant protects your restaurant from legal risk in the event of a credit card breach, which, as we all learned in 2014, can happen to anyone. To ensure you are up to code when it comes to PCI DSS, check out their merchant info sheet here.
10. Use Labor Forecasting Tools
In addition to forecasting your inventory needs down to the last floret of broccoli, you should employ technologies that enable you to accurately track your labor usage and costs and draw predictions over time. Digital logbooks can be a very effective way to keep track of how many employees you had working on a given day or in a certain month. When combined with helpful context data such as weather, season and one-off events like the home team making it to the play-offs, this kind of information can serve as a valuable tool for predicting labor needs and thus saving costs.
11. Train Your Employees
While it may seem counterintuitive to regard employee training as a cost-cutting effort, the truth is that well-trained employees make fewer mistakes, are able to do their jobs more efficiently and are less likely to leave the company than those who receive little to no training. Take the the time to educate new employees on not just the layout of the dining room or the workflow in the kitchen but the values of your company and what you seek to achieve. This will help them to feel a part of your company and make them less likely to leave at the drop of a hat (Chipotle, for example, has done a great job with this).
12. Plan Ahead for Minimum Wage Increases
Perhaps one of the most important things you can do to cut costs is to make sure that you are not only following all current rules and regulations but planning ahead for ones that will be implemented on the near horizon. If you know that a certain law that has been recently passed will affect your restaurant, it’s never too early to start building a contingency plan. For example, many cities and states are now fighting to increase the minimum wage. Some have already voluntarily agreed to a $15 an hour minimum. Don’t wait until your local area decides to make a change; instead, plan ahead so you can avoid scrambling and last-minute unexpected costs.
13. Prepare Now for Healthcare Changes
Similarly, now is a good time to start planning ahead for when Obamacare will begin to affect your business. Even if you are not responsible for offering healthcare this year, you may be responsible for tracking various data points throughout the year. Take the time to read up on the new laws and understand how your business will be affected. You may consider implementing a small service fee on each diner’s bill or putting a percentage of their checks toward an employee healthcare fund, which some restaurants have already done with success. It’s much better to have a solid plan in place than to wait for them to affect you and then figure it out.
14. Conserve Energy
Another easy way to save money that is often still overlooked is energy consumption. Many restaurants don’t bother to unplug machines when they aren’t being used, turn off all lights and keep the thermostat down low when no one is in the building. Making some of these small changes can add up to big cost savings over the long term.
15. Take Your Marketing Online
Finally, one great way to save costs in 2015 is to focus your marketing efforts on the internet. There are more tools than ever before now that can help you connect with your customers, promote your restaurant and drive new business. Take advantage of the free and low-cost tools like Yelp and Twitter that may seem less splashy than a costly billboard but will pay back in spades.
Those are our top 15 tips for cutting costs in 2015. Did we miss any big ones? Let us know. Tweet us @GetSquadle and chat.