View from the Kitchen

Embrace change or embrace failure

I am frequently asked to advise foodservice facilities on ways to improve their profits. Unfortunately, when I make my recommendations I am frequently bombarded with: “But we’ve always done it this way,” or the flip side of the same coin, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” It is my personal belief that these two reasons are a key contributor to the undeniable reality that most restaurants fail within a few years of opening. Unless your business is a nationally recognized icon (and there are very few of these) you must embrace change or you will embrace financial ruin and failure.

As they say in the movie The Lion King, “change is good, but it isn’t always easy.” I have heard hundreds of arguments on why changes can’t be made. Let me share a few of the most common, and my response:

1. “We can’t take this off the menu; it’s our best seller.” Every time I dig into this claim I find out from the POS that they only sell a few of these a month or, the reason it is a best seller is that it is horribly underpriced and they are losing money on each plate.

2. “The kitchen can’t handle it.” When I hear that I wonder what the kitchen can do. If it is just crank out the same dish, over and over, then maybe it’s time for a new kitchen staff.

3. “It won’t sell in my community.” When I hear this I point out that it is selling quite well down the block in another place. It truly amazes me how many owners and managers don’t have a clue what their competition is doing in terms of food, ambiance and sales.

4. “We will lose our customer base.” Not likely. But is that always such a bad thing? Before you freak out on me, think about why I would say this to a client. If the restaurant is underperforming and the ROI is subpar then all issues—including the current customer base—need to be reevaluated. To demonstrate this to a client I one time had a group of friends go into that restaurant. They each ordered only a cup of coffee and sat there for four hours, each getting many free coffee refills but nothing else. These people fit in so well the client didn’t even notice I had sent them. What made it worse was one of my friends said that when they arrived there was a group drinking coffee at the next table and that group was still there when they left.

5. “We can’t afford to remodel.” I always have two responses to this: Can you afford not to? Did you ever price out a remodel?

6. “Our suppliers don’t carry the products needed for a new menu.” Of course, they have neither asked the supplier nor looked at other suppliers.

7. “I’m working so much now that changes will just add more to my work load than I can handle.” Maybe, just maybe, you are working so hard because your systems are inefficient, you don’t delegate or you are not profitable because you haven’t embraced change.

8. “I didn’t need you to come in here to tell me to change. I needed you to improve my profits without making any changes.” I still don’t know how to respond to that one other than with a blank stare.

By now you should realize two things:

1. Frequently, at least once a year, you need to look at your menus, customers, systems and staff and see what should be tossed aside, what should be modified, what should be kept as is and what new things should be tried.

2. You can make all sorts of excuses, but the bottom line is that change is needed to keep the bottom line in the black.

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