Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Restaurants: Know Thyself | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Restaurants: Know Thyself

We have all heard the expression: “Jack of all trades, master of none” as it applies to individual people.  The same expression can be applied to your restaurant.  Your guests should not have to guess what you are trying to master or what your brand represents.  Restaurants need to decide, well in advance of product delivery, what they stand for, what their product is and what their message will be to the public. This becomes their brand’s value proposition.

Knowing what your value proposition is early on, and making that the base on which you build, is a key to presenting a unified message of who you are. It is essential not to dilute that value proposition trying to be everything to everyone: You would not offer barbeque, no matter how good, at a fine seafood restaurant; this is why well-known restaurateurs may own several restaurants, each representing a different concept or value proposition that they wanted to create.  A cohesive, singular message, as we talked about in Consistency is King, allows your guests to understand your restaurant.  If your brand message is confusing, your guests will be confused, might not return and move on to another restaurant.

Here are four brand values to help guide restaurants in finding out what their message and value proposition is:

Product Innovation – A restaurant that values being a leader in product innovation tends to be on the culinary cutting edge.  Your restaurant is continually seeking to push the envelope and the boundaries of food, beverage and service.  Whether it is exploring molecular gastronomy, sous vide cooking, rare hybrid ingredients or a new delivery system, you and your management team are never satisfied with the status quo. 

This value proposition attracts the type of customers who want to take this wild ride with you. This type of customer looks forward to your ever-changing menus and new ingredients, and likes to learn about new foods.  They come to expect this constant flux, and are disappointed if this level of innovation and product exploration stops.

Operational Excellence – When you think of large, fast casual chains and franchises like Chipotle and McDonald’s, you envision a restaurant that is a well-oiled machine.  Being consistent at what you do, from product quality and service to cleanliness, is the core value of this type of establishment. In restaurants where operational excellence is the main value, change is deliberate, well thought out and measured.  

Customers who value operational excellence expect a certain level of product and service every time, whether it is a taco at a taco stand or foie gras in a fining dining restaurant. These types of customers do not like surprises; in this type of restaurant, customers know what they’re going to get. 

Customer Intimacy – Customer intimacy is often found in smaller neighborhood restaurants, “joints”, diners, or coffee shops, where the staff comes to know the customers well.  In valuing customer intimacy, the restaurant can cater to customer needs and desires in a way that makes them feel special. A server who remembers your usual order and is able to anticipate your dining needs, creates an intimacy that attracts a loyal following in customers who value this – not all customers do.

These customers anticipate food at fair prices, knowing that it may not be the best (it still needs to be good!). The draw to this type of restaurant is that it is full of familiar faces, and has accommodating service. These customers seek a comfortable experience where “everybody knows your name”.

The Sweet Spot – It is a rarefied place when all of the above branding values intersect, creating “The Sweet Spot”. These are restaurants that have harnessed their creativity, worked out the kinks in their operation and fostered an atmosphere that is inviting.  It is important that you as an owner/operator understand your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to being able to hit this mark, as poorly implementing a core value can negatively impact the one(s) you are able to do well. Many successful restaurants achieve only one or two of these brand values - this is what they become known for and what their guests love about them.  

Product innovation, operational excellence, customer intimacy, and even “The Sweet Spot”, can be achieved at any level, from fine dining to fast food.   

When you have determined your value proposition, it should become the central tenet of your restaurant and be the basis on which you build your company culture. When everything you do is focused on your value proposition, your branding message will be clearly communicated to your customers. If your guests have to work to understand what your value proposition is, they will choose to go to another restaurant that has already figured it out.

Don’t know where to begin?  Ask yourself, do you have the proper branding values in place to help you be as profitable as possible?  4Q Consulting can develop customized branding and marketing plans, and operational guidelines to meet your needs.  Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2014-2015. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Location, Location, Location...| 4Q Consulting, LLC

Location, Location, Location...

Everyone has heard the expression: “Location, Location, Location”. A restaurant's site selection is as crucial to its success as great food and service. However, many restaurants that open in “great locations”, fail because they don’t adjust their business model to the particularities of that location.  

Choosing a location involves more than picking a place and signing a lease. Your location selection will influence many parts of your business plans and operations. 

It is highly recommended to work with a licensed real estate broker who knows your local market as well as an attorney who specializes in real estate. They will best be able to guide you to appropriate properties, and to negotiate the best possible deal on your behalf; be patient as this process takes time.  If you already have a certain location in mind, you shouldn’t become too attached until you know it meets your needs.

Before you create a business plan, write a menu, or dash off to the bank to apply for a loan, here are 4 essential elements of a location to consider:

Population Base/ Demographics/ Foot Traffic – There needs to be enough people who live or work in, or pass through, the area on a regular basis to keep your restaurant busy.  The population base and the different types of traffic will dictate some of your operating procedures. For example, if you are in a thriving downtown commercial area, you might only open for breakfast and lunch but close for dinner, as there is not enough foot traffic to stay open. Your location, and its demographics, may influence your menu design, as well.

To analyze the population base of a particular area fully, you can commission a site study. A reputable local real estate broker or the local chamber of commerce can also provide some of this basic information. 

Financial Realities – Rent is usually your largest fixed expense, and you will probably have significant capital investment to prepare the space to be operational, therefore your business plan must account for covering and recuperating these expenses.  In building your business plan, you will have to budget several scenarios to determine how many guests you will have to serve, at a specific check average to be profitable at a given rent; you will also need to determine if the plan is sustainable over time, to meet your financial obligations. 

Buying real estate might be cheaper in the long run than renting space in major markets where rent is high.  By purchasing real estate you might be able to: create a rental income stream; realize large tax deductions on your property taxes; and take deductions for your mortgage interest payments.  Purchasing works well for those with investors or large capital reserves that are not needed to run the day-to-day business operations. Consult with your attorney and accountant.

Accessibility – There is a reason that major restaurant chains are often located near main intersections or highway and freeway exits. Most successful restaurants, whether in urban or suburban areas, are easy to find.  Your restaurant should be street-facing and not tucked away in a building or set back. 
How your customers get to you is also a consideration. A parking lot, easy public or street parking, and nearby public transit all improve accessibility; alternately you might offer valet service. The bottom line is that your customers need to be able to find you, and should be able to get to you - make it easy for them!

Operational Restrictions – A space that does not immediately accommodate or restricts your operational needs is not a bad space, it may in fact be a very good space; it just changes your operational and financial plans. A few examples of restrictions on property that can affect the capital investment or the targeted cash flow of your business:  Many office buildings do not allow cooking in the attached retail spaces, as they do not want smells permeating the building; if they do allow it, you may have to build out proper ventilation.   Ensure the space is ADA compliant, and meets local public safety codes; if it is not, you will have to alter the space to adhere to regulations. The zoning of a location is vital; some municipalities may limit sidewalk or outside seating, or may not issue liquor licenses if you are located near a school or house of worship. 

Additionally, many leases contain conditions, covenants and restrictions (CC&R’s) issued by the landlord.  Know what these are before signing a lease, as these CC&R’s can affect your business just as much as public zoning regulations and can cost you precious capital.

Do your due diligence. By understanding each of these elements, and how they may affect your business plan, you can better choose the right location for your new restaurant.

4Q can provide restaurant site selection consulting services and works with New York’s best commercial real estate brokers to find a location that meets your every need. 

Don’t know where to begin?  Ask yourself, do you have the proper business plan in place to help you be as profitable as possible?  4Q Consulting can develop customized business plans, and operational guidelines to meet your needs.  Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2014-2015

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Restaurant Consulting NYC | The Value of An A on Your Next Health Inspection | 4Q Consulting, LLC

The Value of an A on Your Next Health Inspection

Many operators view the health inspection process as a burden, however it is a big part of owning and running a restaurant.  Inspections tend to be broad, intrusive and include many aspects of your business. Inspections review your physical plant (i.e. plumbing, equipment and flooring); licenses, permits and paperwork; food handling including delivery, storing, cooking, holding, serving and discarding; and finally, cleanliness.  

Successful operators have always spent time and money to incorporate food safety and sanitation programs into their daily operations to avoid the monetary fines, legal fees and bad public relations that can result from critical violations.

Additionally, we now live in the age of the educated consumer who has more information at their fingertips than ever before.  Often in major cities there are websites and mobile apps that allow consumers to look up health inspection results before making their dining choices; not having an A grade can dissuade potential customers from visiting your restaurant.

Here are 4 basic steps to institute a food safety and sanitation program in your restaurant:

Know the Code – The food safety and sanitation code is set at the federal level by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is usually updated every three years. The FDA codes are then interpreted and regulations are set at the state and municipal level.  These local regulations are often more strict than the federal guidelines and can change frequently.  Also, local health departments tend to focus on hot-button issues such as recent Trans fat bans, ice as food and consumer allergy notifications.  It is your obligation as a restaurant owner to know the most current regulations in your county or town, and remain in compliance.  

Work with your Local Health Department – Ignoring your local health department won’t make them go away or make your life any easier.  Quite the opposite – fighting with the health department can make your life miserable.  Actively work with your local health department to ensure you are in compliance from the start, which can save time and money during construction or renovation.  If your local health department provides training and audit programs, take advantage of these offerings. 

During your inspections, do not be adversarial or belligerent with the inspector – they are just doing their job and following objective standards.  If they cite you for a violation, fix it immediately, in front of them if possible. If you do not understand why something is a violation, ask.  The inspectors should be able to give a full explanation to you and your staff as to why a certain action has the potential to make a guest sick.

Train, Train and Retrain Your Staff – As we have discussed many times before, proper staff training is the key to any restaurant’s success; food safety and sanitation training is no different.  While some critical violations can come from your physical plant, the vast majority of violations result from employees’ improper actions.  Though it is not necessary for everyone on your staff to hold a food handler’s license, your entire team from dishwasher to bartender is responsible for food safety and sanitation in your restaurant.

A strong food safety and sanitation module during employee on-boarding is crucial to reduce behaviors that result in critical violations. Additionally, restaurants should be incorporating daily food safety and sanitation reminders into regular meetings, pre-service meetings and debriefings after every shift. 

Hold Your Staff Accountable - Create a culture of accountability in relation to food safety and sanitation in your restaurant. Daily checks and walk-through’s by managers keep this important issue top of mind for everyone.  As unsexy as food safety and sanitation is, repetition is the only way to make changes in behavior stick.  Repeatedly explaining to employees why an action or inaction can make a guest sick will eventually change their behavior and allow them to know when to take self-corrective action.  Incorporating food safety and sanitation into opening and closing duties, job responsibilities and performance reviews holds everyone accountable.

Passing your health inspection with flying colors takes hard work and dedication. The return on your investment is worth every minute and penny, as we see a direct correlation between great health inspection scores and an increase in restaurant sales.  Don’t let something that you can directly control be the downfall of your restaurant.   The bad public relations of a health department violation or shut down, often highlighted in your local newspaper, are nearly impossible to recover from.

If you are doing all of these steps, but still struggling with food safety and sanitation, consider hiring an outside consultant.  A consultant can often see through the emotional drama of your business to find the root cause of your problem.  Consultants can also perform regular sanitation evaluations or walk-through’s to get you ready so your inspections aren't a surprise.

Don’t know where to begin?  4Q Consulting can develop customized business and operational guidelines to help you start and run your business.  Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com.

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2014-2015. 

Noelle E. Ifshin, President, 4Q Consulting, LLC        244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001   

Friday, January 10, 2014

Restaurant Consulting NYC | The Big Chill | 4Q Consulting, LLC

The Big Chill

The coldest air in almost 20 years has swept the nation this week with 90% of the country being issued freeze warnings.  Combine record snow falls from Storm Hercules last week, a vicious cold snap and the Farmer’s Almanac’s 2014 forecast for a colder and snowier winter than the average, and we have a recipe for rising commodity prices now and well into the spring.

Food and commodity prices are driven by basic supply and demand and tend to be inelastic – once they rise, they are slow to fall below the increased level.  This means that prices continue to go up, driving up operating costs.

These price increases can and will affect all aspects of the restaurant business, and operators must pay close attention to commodity prices and availability.  Now is the time to start planning for your spring menus and pricing levels, so as not to be caught off guard. 

Here are 4 possible increases to watch out for:

Meat Prices – According to Bloomberg, “Cattle futures reached $1.371 a pound this week, the highest since Chicago trading began in 1964.” This increase in futures pricing is due to several factors, most of which is uncertainty in yield levels at slaughter houses. In colder months, and in harsh weather, livestock need more feed to keep warm, increasing livestock farmers’ operating costs. Since livestock use more of their energy to stay warm in these conditions, they do not gain as much weight, resulting in a decrease in supply.

Dairy Prices – Dairy cattle, like beef cattle, will also use more energy to stay warm and have lower weights.  Lower weight dairy cattle produce less milk, which in turn lowers supply and raises prices.  Additionally, the on-going debate in the US Congress over the Dairy Policy portion, of the yet-to-be passed Farm Bill, is causing more uncertainty in the dairy market.  Unless a new Farm Bill is passed before March 1, 2014, the odds are dairy prices will fluctuate significantly until the un-subsidized dairy market can settle into normal supply and demand patterns.

Produce and Grain Prices – A deep freeze obviously harms produce crops.  Usually, these disruptions in the planting and growing seasons are contained in a few specific regions of the U.S.  This week all 50 states issued an unprecedented number of freeze warnings, affecting all regions of the U.S.  In Florida, the world’s second largest citrus-producing region after Brazil, this week’s freeze potentially harmed up to 15% of the citrus plants. This can have resounding impact for pricing going forward.

Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade climbed as much as 1.2% this week, Bloomberg reports: “ 'As much as 15% of winter-wheat plants in the Great Plains face damage’, as stated by Kyle Tapley, a senior agricultural meteorologist at MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland.” This has implications for all grain-based products well into the spring and summer months.  Expect increases in raw cereals and flours and possible increases from your Bakery and Bread suppliers.

Energy Prices – Energy prices are on the rise due to demand and scarcity.  When the temperatures drop, demand for energy increases as we turn up the thermostat, while production of gas, oil and coal slows and can even stop, driving up prices.  Increased energy prices affect all other commodity prices, as it is more expensive to bring those products to market.  Additionally, increased energy costs affect restaurants by increasing the costs of product delivery and fuel surcharges, heating your restaurant space, heating your hot water and using your kitchen appliances.

During a cycle of limited energy supply and increased energy prices, farmers who grow corn may get a better price for their limited crop selling it for Ethanol production rather than feed. This in turn can drive up the price of feed and the cost of raising farm animals, pushing meat and dairy prices up, as well as cutting the supply of grain on the market with the price impact there as well  . . .  It is all connected.

As a business owner, you must be aware of all of the external economic forces that affect your business and be able to plan for them. As we head into this very cold and snowy winter, keeping an eye on costs and energy usage, and appropriately adjusting your menu and offerings, to maintain your quality and profitability will be a must for operators.
Don’t know where to begin? 4Q Consulting can develop customized operational guidelines to help you manage your costs through all stages of your business.  Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2013-2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Happy Holidays! | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 

a New Year filled with 

Health, Peace and Spectacular Success 

Noelle E. Ifshin

Copyright © 2013-2014 4Q Consulting, LLC, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
4Q Consulting, LLC
244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430
New YorkNY 10001

Add us to your address book

Monday, December 16, 2013

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Consistency is King | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Consistency is King 

Customers should not have to spin the roulette wheel each time they visit your restaurant; they should experience the same quality of food and service every time.  It should not matter which chef or server is working on any given day, the customer experience should never be a surprise.  It is one of the reasons McDonald’s is the number one restaurant in the world – you know what you’re going to get whether in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

Consistency is the key to establishing regular clientele, and regular clients are the most important customers to have.    Maintaining regular clientele is a critical factor in establishing a solid reputation that will attract newcomers.  

Assuming you have hired the right employees and trained them properly, here are 4 points to focus on to ensure consistency:

Consistent Messaging - Your food isn't the only thing you provide your guests; you also give them an experience.  A lack of consistent messaging can turn customers off and stop them from coming back. Your brand’s message has to extend to every single aspect of your restaurant, from the persona of your servers, uniforms, type of music playing in the dining room to the logo on your napkins.  Also, all of your advertising, marketing and social media campaigns must be aligned to accurately depict what your restaurant is.  Customers trust you to deliver on your promise and they want to know what to expect.

Consistent Food – Beyond reducing waste, as referenced in Measure by Measure, consistency produces the same appetizer, entrĂ©e and cocktail every time.  For this reason, written recipes and standardized kitchen and bar procedures are essential.   You want your signature Salmon entrĂ©e to taste the same on Monday night as it does on Friday night.  Additionally, establishing correct production levels ensures menu items are available when your guests want them.

Consistent Service - Whether you are fine dining, casual table service, or a neighborhood dive bar, guests have certain expectations as to the service they want to receive. How guests are greeted at the door and at the table, when and how their orders are taken, how they are served and treated, are all essential “Steps of Service”.  By having these service steps codified, and adhered to, in conjunction with your brand image, ensures a uniform delivery of your product. Great service is achieved by knowing the basic steps of service that guests expect and being able to repeat them time and time again.

Consistent Vigilance – You and your manager’s daily vigilance to the standards you set are crucial in order to ward off possible problems. This can be done by getting ahead of any potential issues through proper planning, training, and constant communication. All employees must know their roles, how to execute them and what to do should they run into problems.  As discussed in our previous Blog, Are Your Pre-Service Meetings a Waste of Time?, pre service meetings are the appropriate time to reinforce your expectations and standards with your staff. 
As an owner, you should know what’s really going on in your restaurant from the guests’ point of view.  Consider using trained mystery shoppers from firms specializing in this service, or recruit your own shopper from your pool of friends, acquaintances and even regular customers. 

Monitor and engage in on line review and social media sites, such as Yelp, Trip Advisor and Facebook to see what your guests are saying about you.  These observations can serve as a way to identify where improvements need to be made and can be used to retrain, tweak and change as needed.

Great dining experiences can be easily cancelled out by one bad experience and one bad experience will cause a customer serious hesitation when deciding whether or not to return to an establishment. You have thoughtfully created a product and image for your restaurant.  It is imperative that you preserve that identity.   Consistently providing the same quality product can determine the success or failure of your restaurant. This does not mean that your product must be high end or gourmet; it just has to be the same product day in and day out.

Don’t know where to begin?  4Q Consulting can develop customized business and operational guidelines to help you start and run your business.  Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com.

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2013-2014. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Restaurant Consulting, NYC | Harassment – It’s Not Just For Supervisors Anymore! | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Harassment – It’s Not Just For Supervisors Anymore!

From time immemorial, the restaurateur has held to the adage that the customer is always right. But what if the customer is wrong by grossly misbehaving toward your employees?  Employees always have to be polite and helpful to customers, but they don’t have to tolerate unwelcome flirtation, verbal abuse or physical injury.  Most business owners are familiar with the idea of eliminating harassment between supervisors and subordinates in the workplace; however, it is important to protect your employees from harassment in all its forms, which can come from anyone with whom they interact while performing their work duties. In a restaurant setting, once you throw alcohol into the mix with harassing customers, difficult situations can escalate quickly.

Deciding when a particular customer’s behavior crosses the line and makes for a hostile work environment may be a judgment call; however: "Once an employer is put on notice that any of its employees are being subjected to sexual harassment, it must take prompt corrective action to stop it," according to Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney of the EEOC's Charlotte District Office, whose jurisdiction includes the state of Virginia.  "This is true regardless of whether the harasser is a co-worker, there [sic] supervisor or a third party.”1   Ms. Barnes made this comment summarizing the 2012 ruling of EEOC v. Southwest Virginia Community Health System, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which awarded $30,000 to a receptionist who complained of sexual harassment by a patient.

Other EEOC lawsuits have been decided that all forms of harassment (sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) in the workplace can be committed not just by supervisors and coworkers, but by third parties such as customers, vendors, delivery people, or repair workers, and the employer can be held liable. Harassment can even happen outside the workplace while work duties are being performed – think about your delivery people.

These lawsuits can be costly to defend and the awarded damages can be a huge financial burden, enough to put you out of business.

Here are 4 ways to keep your employees safe from the threat of third party harassment and protect you from lawsuits:

Formal Written Policy – As discussed in 4 Reasons Why Your Restaurant Needs an Employee Handbook, “having a well written manual in place can protect your business from potential labor disputes and costly legal fees, which can destroy your business.”  Your manual must have a section that addresses harassment, both within the organization and from third parties, and how to deal with it.  It must include clear guidelines outlining: how an employee can escalate a situation to a manager, supervisor and/or the owner; what steps will be take once a complaint is made; and a non-retaliation clause.

Train Employees on How to Handle Situation – Once you have a written policy, this policy must be included in your employee training for all positions.  Train your staff on how to stay safe from aggressive or harassing customers. Often situations get out of control quickly and your staff must be able to remain calm throughout.  Have safety systems and protocols in place should these situations escalate. Additionally, your managers and supervisors need a higher level of training than your front-line staff to be able to deal with these types of complaints. Managers should be sensitive to situations that they can diffuse before they become reportable problems, or aware of situations that employees do not report.

Safety Systems and Protocols Protecting Employees – Have safety systems and protocols in place should these situations escalate. Regardless of how management learns about the harassment, you should immediately re-assign an upset employee, so as not to have to deal with or talk to a particular offending individual.  Then the manager must address this with the offending person. This can be a difficult conversation, but no customer, vendor or repair person is more important than the legal rights of your employees. 

Consider these additional steps: having an employee buddy system for closing, so no one person closes alone late at night; putting notification of unacceptable employee behavior on your website, on POS computer ‘pop up’ messages; and including a term in all contracts with third party vendors and service suppliers notifying them of your policy on harassment and requiring them to adhere to it.

Remove or Ban the Individual from your Establishment - If the behavior doesn't stop, the owner or manager needs to take such action as removing and possibly banning a customer, vendor or repair person from the restaurant. Many Restaurant owners do not want to take such a drastic step and lose a customer, but the cost of losing a customer is much less than the cost of an EEOC lawsuit.

Like many other issues we have addressed in our blogs, the keys to protecting your employees are: training, communication and vigilance.  It is important that your employees can feel safe in reporting a situation to management and know that you and your team “have their back”. Keeping a comfortable work environment allows your employees to do their best, provide the best service and keep your customers happy. 

The people whom you hire can be your biggest asset. It is easy to forget that Employees are Your First Customers, if you do not take care of their well-being, they will not be beneficial to your business.

Don’t know where to begin?  4Q Consulting can develop customized business and operational guidelines to help you start and run your business.  Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com.

1.   http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-6-12b.cfm

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2013-2014.