5 Things Restaurants Need to Think About for Their 2015 Strategic Planning

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It’s October, which means it’s already time for restaurant district managers to start thinking about and planning ahead for 2015.

How you strategize now can have a big impact on how successful you are in the coming year. With many aspects of running restaurants and restaurant chains changing rapidly, there are plenty of considerations that you should take into account as you begin making decisions for 2015 and beyond.

Among the areas to focus on include:

  • Employee compensation
  • Regulations
  • Food safety
  • Restaurant compliance reporting.

Below, we list out five major considerations for restaurant district managers and explain how you can incorporate them into your strategic plans for next year.

1) How to Effectively Plan Your Menus Around Food Trends

It’s important to continually educate yourself about food trends as they evolve. When it comes time to plan your menu strategy for 2015, take into account what is popular right now and keep yourself up-to-date so that you can change your menu as needed to accommodate your customers’ tastes.

There are many ways to keep current with food trends, but trade magazines and websites can be a great place to start.

Restaurant Hospitality, for example, has an entire section devoted to food trends. Here they highlight popular ingredients, dishes and even ethnic cuisines as they move into the spotlight. While not all every trend that comes along will have a place in your restaurants, it’s good to know what is hot at any given time and figure out which of the trends makes sense to incorporate into your menu.

Other good places to immerse yourself in food culture include Pinterest, cooking magazines like Bon Appetit and the food sections of major newspapers like the New York Times.

2) How to Be More Allergy-Conscious

More than 15 million Americans have food allergies today, and reactions can range from hives and itchiness to anaphylaxis and even death, so it’s nothing to be taken lightly.

In addition, many people have food sensitivities, dietary restrictions or aversions that can make dining out difficult. While these can sometimes be frustrating to work around, if you understand what your customers want and need and deliver a menu that can cater to their preferences, you will have a leg up over your competition.

It’s also important to understand how to set up your kitchen and dining room such that any potential allergy-related disasters can be averted.

Luckily, there are lots of resources available online now that can help you navigate these challenges, including websites like FoodAllergy.org, which provides useful guides such as this guide to welcoming guests with food allergies.

Another strategy to consider is becoming certified as an allergy-aware restaurant through SafeFARE or a similar program. This will not only give you a host of tactics that you and your restaurants can employ to avoid allergy-related issues, but will also certify you and make it easier for diners to select your restaurant based on your track record and commitment to protecting diners.

3) How to Deal with Minimum Wage Increases

The national minimum wage as of 2009 is $7.25, and the majority of states either uphold this number or have a higher minimum wage. President Obama has called for it to be raised further, but so far this has not come to pass.

However, minimum wage has increased in several states around the country and some cities like Seattle have adopted aggressive legislation. Seattle's minimum wage is set to be steadily increased to $15 over the course of the next seven years. For restaurants with workers who are paid primarily in tips, the minimum wage is $2.13, but workers must be paid a total of $7.25 an hour. If tips do not add up to that amount, as you know, the employer is responsible for the difference.

While minimum wage varies quite a bit from state to state (you can see a full chart here), what’s true across the board is that restaurants need to take both legality and employee satisfaction into account when they determine how much to pay their workers.

QSR Magazine provides 10 tips for dealing with minimum wage increases without cutting into the bottom line. For example, they suggest pre-portioning and pre-packing food ahead of time to minimize the amount of staff needed during busy hours. They also recommend spending time examining how long it takes to complete any given task and identifying potential inefficiencies.

Software such as Squadle’s HQ can be a big help in tracking certain tasks accurately and unleashing business intelligence that you can use to manage your overall labor costs wisely. In addition, task lists can help with onboarding and training costs for new employees by reinforcing the procedures reviewed during training.

4) How to Deal With New Healthcare Legislation

Obamacare mandates that all businesses above a certain size are required to offer health insurance to their employees. While this is a benefit for workers, it can definitely add significant cost to the running of your restaurants.

In order to deal with this challenge, it’s important to clearly understand what is required of you. Here are the details:

  • Restaurants and chains with more than 50 full-time employees are required to provide health insurance (or subsidize employees’ coverage.)
  • Small businesses with 50-99 employees need to start insuring their workers by 2016.
  • Those with 100 or more employees must provide health benefits to a 70 percent of their employees by 2015 (and to 95 percent by 2016.)

You can get the full details on employer mandates here, but the bottom line is that the best way to avoid surprises later is to begin budgeting for these new laws now -- even if they won’t affect you until 2016. You should also look into tax credits which can help offset these costs for smaller businesses.

5) How to Use Data More Effectively

One of the great things about being a restaurant district manager today is that technology can help you perform your job function far more efficiently and successfully. Data can help you track everything from operations to marketing to sales and make better-informed decisions that improve the health of your company. Of course, to realize these benefits, you need to identify the gadgets and software tools that will help you gather this data, sort through it and analyze it for important patterns.

One area where it’s particularly important to be data-driven is restaurant compliance reporting. A metrics-focused mindset can ensure that nothing slips through the cracks and that your restaurant is never in danger of falling out of compliance.

Tools like our HQ and Hub products can make it easy to track compliance data using a rugged tablet and to unearth important business insights from that data using powerful analytics tools that are relatively hands-off for district managers.

Using data more effectively means adopting a mindset that values rational, numbers-based decision making over guessing and anecdotal evidence. It can be a tough shift to make, but it’s well worth it.

What kind of strategic planning are you focused on for 2015? Tweet us @GetSquadle and let us know in the comments.