After you read the headline and my name, you may be thinking, “What does he know about the restaurant business?”
That is a reasonable question in light of my more than 40 years of working in the architecture, engineering, construction, development, media, publishing and events businesses.
But consider this fact — over the past 16 years I’ve taught at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, my “Small Enterprise Management” students have worked with about a thousand small businesses on a wide-ranging consulting project they have to do. Many were and are currently restaurant businesses. And I have many friends in the business.
So if I had a restaurant in Northwest Arkansas today, here is what I would be thinking — and doing.
- Expanding outdoor dining. It’s here to stay. Patios around here were all busy before COVID-19. Now they are much, much more desirable. Meet the needs of your patrons.
- Reducing menu complexity. Too many different menu items kill both quality and profits. Narrow the offerings. Look at Khana Indian Grill in Fayetteville for a great example of how to do it right. Their quality is entirely consistent, and they are always busy. Wright’s Barbecue in Johnson is another. Wow, they are really good at what they do.
- Reminding myself that differentiation rules. Too many restaurants are also similar. Be different. Plomo Quesadilla Bar on Dickson Street in Fayetteville made quesadillas seem unique by sprinkling cheese on them on the grille, cutting them up, and putting them in a cardboard cone. It’s genius.
Watching portion control. Your people will do too much and give too much, and they kill food costs. And we all don’t want a 3,000-calorie meal, at least we don’t every time we eat somewhere. So less can be more.
- Raising prices. Almost every restaurant could raise prices by 50 cents or $1, or even more on most items, and it would fall right to the profit line. Prices are too low for what you all have to do to please people.
- Making my indoor environment better. Open windows and doors when the weather and your local health department allow it. Kick up the ventilation, too.
- Having a decent website with a menu that works on a cellphone.
- Posting standard business hours (not weird ones that vary during the week) and be open on Monday. That’s how you get customers the rest of the week — from the closed places on Mondays.
- Developing an app for carryout/curbside/delivery (if we delivered, which I doubt I would want to do).
Restaurants not doing some or all of these things will fall behind and maybe fail to catch the wave of the boom times the industry is heading toward for at least two or three years to come.
Mark Zweig is the founder of two Fayetteville-based Inc. 500/5000 companies. He is also an executive in-residence teaching entrepreneurship in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.