Friday, July 29, 2016

Restaurant Consulting NYC | The Dog Days of Summer How to Manage During a Downturn in Business | 4Q Consulting, LLC

The Dog Days of Summer
How to Manage During a Downturn in Business

Summer in the NY Metro Region is often a slow period for area restaurants – as the temperature and humidity rise while kids are out of school, customers escape the heat to take vacations and many leave for weekends.  Being able to nimbly anticipate these slow weeks and make changes to your operation will allow you to survive the dog days of summer without taking a financial hit.

As we discussed in our last blog, The Value of A Good Business Plan, a restaurant is a living breathing entity that requires constant reevaluation. Now restaurateurs must understand the value of being flexible when the thermostat rises and business levels fall off as people escape the heat.

Here are four key things to help manage your restaurant in a short downturn:

Adjust Your Cash Flow Management – Many restaurants fail not because they are unprofitable, but because they ultimately become insolvent. The single most important step for survival of your restaurant when business slows is to rigorously manage your cash. Calculate what your cash flow needs will be based on both your estimated fixed and variable expenses.  Know what your break-even point is, as sometimes a viable cash management strategy is to close the business for the slowest portion of the slower season.  And lastly, adjust the way you operate to further reduce your variable expenses.

Adjust Your Variable Expenses Variable expenses are those expenses that change based on your level of business – the largest controllable categories being food and labor costs.  From Where Oh Where Has My Margin Gone?, we know that labor is a restaurant’s largest variable expense and is only becoming more costly.  Planning for this fall-off in business is key in being able to scale back schedules in advance, rotate out vacations among the staff and utilize staff that has been cross-trained – increasing productivity per work hour.   If you have staff standing around staring at the walls, you have too much staff on hand.  Lowering total payroll also lowers payroll taxes and payroll processing fees.  Other controllable variable expenses can include paper goods, any merchandise, some utilities and maintenance.

Adjust Your Menu Offerings – Changing your menu can also impact food, beverage and labor costs. Consider replacing some menu offerings with less expensive items using seasonal and local ingredients. Consider lightening your menu to offer more salads and refreshing cold options.  You don’t want potential customers not to consider coming to your restaurant on a hot, sticky day because your menu is too heavy.  Furthermore, less labor-intensive preparations allow you to work with less staff.  Guests, by nature, tend to eat less and lighter fare when the thermostat rises.  Cooking with what is locally in season is always less costly than using out-of-season imported items.  

Adjust Your Purchasing and Inventory Management – When items are not flying out of your walk-in or your stock room, you should look at what you are buying and how you are buying it.  Intelligently reducing the overall number of offerings on your menu can increase your product cross-utilization allowing you to carry a smaller inventory – both in number of inventory items and quantity of each item you stock.  Analyze what is selling, at the best profit margin, and either remove the non-selling items or find creative ways to reinvent them.  By sitting on non-moving inventory, especially alcoholic beverages, you are just tying up your cash flow.

Being aware and flexible about managing your business in the Dog Days of Summer can help keep your bottom line from melting away.

Email us today for a free business consultation at  We help restaurants be profitable, from Start-ups to existing restaurants looking for a fresh set of eyes.  4Q Consulting, LLC can develop customized plans and operational guidelines to survive a slow period of business!

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2016-2017. 
Noelle E. Ifshin, President, 4Q Consulting, LLC 
244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001  
(212) 340-1137

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Restaurant Consulting NYC | The Value of A Good Business Plan Your Restaurant’s GPS - Gastronomic Positioning System | 4Q Consulting, LLC

The Value of A Good Business Plan
Your Restaurant’s GPS - Gastronomic Positioning System

For many, opening a restaurant is often a romantic idea, until reality sets in of just how difficult it actually is.  We advise clients that developing a detailed business plan is the first step.  A great business plan becomes your navigation system (your GPS) for everything from raising funds, to fleshing out a concept, to getting open.   In its simplest form a business plan is a guide for your business that outlines your goals and details how to achieve them.

A good business plan should include: a summary of your concept, mission and company goals; a market analysis of where you plan to open – including a competitive analysis; a detailed description of your product and how you plan to execute that product; a labor model; several sets of financial models and an exit strategy – in the event that your concept doesn’t work.

Before and after opening your restaurant, a business plan can:

Be a pre-investment gut check - Investing in the development of a business plan before doing anything else can save you money, time and often heartbreak. The plan gives you an opportunity to flesh out your concept and to investigate whether it can be profitable in the marketplace.  You might just discover that what you thought was a great idea won’t work:  the demographics of the area may be wrong; the rents may be too high or the financial models don’t work for your concept.  Better to know in advance than risk losing many thousands of dollars after the fact.

Help you source start-up capital and financing – Many independent restaurants that try to self fund their start-up, are often under capitalized and fail within the first year.  A detailed plan, with several detailed sets of financial models, allows restaurateurs to secure outside monies with various types of lenders and/or through alternative sources.  Your plan must be able to answer the following questions for lenders and investors: 1) how and how soon do you plan to have a positive cash flow in order to be able to repay a loan or pay out investors? And 2) what is the unique selling proposition for your restaurant – for example, why will customers come to your restaurant versus the others in the neighborhood?

Help you manage cash flow- Careful management of cash flow is a fundamental requirement for all restaurants. The reason is quite simple: many restaurants fail not because they are unprofitable, but because they ultimately become insolvent.  Most restaurants' cash flow can fluctuate dramatically from week to week primarily because of the timing of payments like payroll, sales tax, and rent combined with on-going operating expenses. Unexpected costs, such as emergency repairs, only amplify this fluctuation. Knowing your business cycle (e.g. busy season/ slow season) will help you be proactive in your cash flow management. The only thing worse than having a cash shortage, is having a cash shortage that was a total surprise.

Be used as an on-going road map to your success and should be updated often.  By continuing to review and update your plan, you can understand and develop changes to, and the growth strategy for, your business. Regularly checking your planned performance versus your actual results allows you to make the necessary changes to get you back on track.  This is a living breathing document, not a book that is thrown in a drawer and never looked at again.

We see restaurants that did not start with a formal business plan struggle to be successful - they figured their passion and optimism were enough to build a successful company. Operating without a plan can prove to be more time-consuming and costly in the long run – like driving somewhere without directions and just hoping you get there.

Don’t know where to begin?  Do you know how to write a great  business plan with appropriate financial models? can develop business plans to meet your needs. 

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2016-2017. 
4Q Consulting, LLC 
244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001  
(212) 340-1137

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Are You Being Penny Wise and Pound Foolish? How to Consider Managing Your Restaurant’s Big Purchases | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Are You Being Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?
How to Consider Managing Your Restaurant’s Big Purchases

If you are putting off upgrading your aging restaurant equipment or are not investing in equipment that makes you the most productive, you could be harming your business while trying to save money.  As discussed in our last blog, Where Oh Where Have My Margins Gone, the current financial challenges in the restaurant business are on the rise with increasing labor regulations, higher wages and market pressures. Many restaurateurs are thinking that with rising costs there is no way they could possibly spend for new, expensive equipment, technology or software.

Before “cutting off your nose to spite your face”, analyze how you can monetize a capital investment by growing your sales, cutting your costs and delivering a consistent, quality product.

The purchase price might be a big number, but if you use the 4Q Approach, it shouldn’t be that scary:

Quantify Your Purchase.  To quantify this big spend, you need to fully understand your business and the economies of the purchase.  If you are buying a rotisserie for your restaurant, do you buy the small manual unit or the larger capacity, automated unit?  To answer this, you need to calculate how many more chickens you need to sell to recoup the cost of the larger unit.  If you can increase output – to sell more, and create a more consistent (better) product with little added labor - the increase in cost from one unit to another is easy to overcome.  Additionally, you can profit by the flexibility a larger unit affords, offering a wider range of rotisserie menu items.

Qualify Your Purchase.  Very often restaurants put off installing new or upgraded equipment due to sticker shock.  Upgraded equipment can often lower your ever-increasing variable costs, optimize work flow, or offer up solutions to operational challenges. This can lead to improved product quality and, in turn, repeat business. More efficient equipment can possibly replace part or all of your labor cost by lowering the number of man hours needed to monitor product produced on old, inefficient equipment.  Think about an older rotisserie that most be continuously monitored to prevent burnt or unevenly cooked chickens – in this example both your labor and food costs can be impacted.  Additionally, modern equipment can lower energy costs and replace the cost of constantly repairing older units.  

Quantitative Analysis of Your Purchase.  Most large equipment or software expenditures can be financed in some way, so you don't have to lay out a large chunk of money all at once.  When investing in your business, don’t go part way: buy the equipment you need to improve efficiency, and grow your business.  When you decide to buy a new car, to replace the Junker that is constantly in for repairs, you buy the entire car - you wouldn’t buy the tires one month, the engine the following month and the chassis the third month.  Instead, you would finance your large expenditure to make the price palatable.  You must analyze the impact buying new equipment has on your restaurant operations.  What you can potentially save in your cash flow, by being more efficient, can be used to finance your new purchase. Sometimes, new equipment “pays for itself”.

Query about Your Purchase – Before making a large capital expenditure is it always a good idea to speak to your accountant or financial adviser.  Make sure you understand the depreciation and tax benefit implications of a capital investment in advance.    Additionally, there are often state rebates and incentives for installing new, more energy efficient kitchen equipment that can help offset the purchase price.

Making smart, planned decisions on your large capital expenditures can often help you grow, and streamline your business for the long term.  

Don’t know where to begin?  Do you know how to and procedures in place to be as successful as possible? can develop customized operational guidelines to meet your needs. 

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2016-2017. 

Noelle E. Ifshin
4Q Consulting, LLC 
244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001  
(212) 340-1137

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Where Oh Where Has My Margin Gone? The Changing Labor Environment and How It Affects Restaurants | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Where Oh Where Has My Margin Gone?
The Changing Labor Environment and How It Affects Restaurants 

People outside the restaurant industry are often surprised by how small restaurant profit margins actually are.  To say margins are razor-thin would be an understatement, as the average profit margin of a restaurant is 3-5% of total revenue.  Labor expenses are a restaurant’s largest expense and the external forces on labor are keeping many restaurateurs up at night.  

Labor-related issues will be the biggest challenges facing the restaurant industry in 2016 and beyond. Restaurants will need to rethink their business models to handle the changes that are coming.  Here are four items that we are advising our clients to watch carefully:

Tightening of the Job Market - Finding top talent is becoming increasingly difficult for restaurant operators.  With the improved economy, the growth of the restaurant industry and the continued low labor participation rate, finding quality staff is challenging.  According to federal data, the restaurant industry alone added 40,000 jobs, or 16% of all workers to the US economy in February 2016.  With increased competition for talent, the cost of recruiting and hiring new employees has become more and more expensive. Moving forward, employee retention will be a cost saving imperative and restaurants must work to slow the revolving door of employee turnover. Conversely, working short staffed has its own costs associated with overtime pay, poor product quality and customer service.

Higher Minimum Wages – Minimum wage increases disproportionately affect restaurants as the food service industry employs close to half of all the people in minimum wage jobs.  It is therefore no wonder that operators are worried about where the minimum wage issue is going.  Many states and municipalities – such as California, Seattle and most recently New York City and New York State – have passed accelerated, higher minimum wage laws that are forcing operators to rethink their labor and compensation models. 

New Regulations Governing Hourly Employees – Paid sick leave, spread-of-hours rules and healthcare insurance are additional changes to the landscape that operators must prepare for now and in the near future.  Ensure that you are fully versed in all the laws and regulations that affect your restaurant, so you can plan for any economic impact of these in advance.  If you need help in understanding these very important rules, get it. Not planning can put your restaurant at risk for a lawsuit.

Changes to the Federal Overtime Laws – The U.S. Department of Labor is working towards changes in defining who is an “exempt” vs. “non-exempt” employee. This will have a major impact throughout the restaurant industry.  Traditionally, salaried employees - such as restaurant and bar managers, chefs and sous chefs - perform manual tasks throughout their day while managing their staff.  New regulations may re-categorize these positions as “non-exempt” based on the job functions and entitle them to overtime pay if their salaries are below a certain amount.  Should this happen, operators will be required to rewrite their manager job functions and descriptions due to the potential economic impact of these changes.

With these big labor challenges, it will be crucial for operators to become more and more efficient to preserve their bottom lines – especially for smaller mom & pop operators.  As discussed in Between the Lines - Operational Challenges That Can Make or Break Your Restaurant:

         “Restaurant success depends on many things, but it can all boil down to 
          one question:  Where does the money go? Having a handle on your 
          operations is a key to answering this question. Have processes and 
          procedures to reduce economic drains, train your staff to follow them and 
          hold them accountable.” 

Not adapting and hiding your head in the sand will lead to poor management and poor fiscal controls – which can make those margins evaporate faster than a sauté pan of boiling water. 

Don’t know where to begin?  Do you know how to put policies and procedures in place to be as successful as possible? can develop customized operational guidelines to meet your needs. 

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2016-2017
Noelle E. Ifshin, President, 4Q Consulting, LLC 
244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001  
(212) 340-1137

Monday, February 29, 2016

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Can You Hear Me Now? Ensuring your Brand Message is Heard | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Can You Hear Me Now?
Ensuring your Brand Message is Heard

Often when we review a new client’s existing marketing and branding, we find an unclear and confused message.  In order for any marketing to be successful, it must find continuity and fluidity across all platforms; the message must be Clear, Concise, Consistent and Communicable.  If customers can easily understand who you are, it clears one obstacle in improving your top line sales. Remember, a customer’s experience with your restaurant starts long before they walk in the door. 

Here are four basics to consider in ensuring customers hear your brand message: 

Know who you are.  The reality of your restaurant has to meet the expectations you are putting out in your marketing.  As we discussed in Restaurants Know Thyself, you can't be all things to all people.  Know who you are, embrace it, and include it in all of your marketing. If you run a Mediterranean restaurant in name, design and decor, you should not have an Irish Pub menu.  Remember, marketing your brand is not just about paid advertising, it also includes items such as menus, signage, uniforms, and scripted server approaches at the table.

Be Consistent. 4Q preaches consistency a lot, in all aspects of restaurant operations. You’d be surprised how many times we see inconsistencies in basic information – such as hours of operation and menus – in different places where a restaurant promotes itself.  Are the hours of operation on your door the same as on the printed take out menu?  Are they the same on your website, Facebook Page, Google listing, online ordering portals, etc.? Additionally, does all of your media reflect a consistent message and communicate who you are (see above)?  If customers don’t get consistent information and messaging about your restaurant, they will become confused, get frustrated and turn elsewhere to restaurants that care to get it right. 

Get your message online and keep it in line. Restaurants don’t always embrace their digital strategy in this day and age of 24/7 connectedness.  Before the Internet, restaurant marketing was static: it consisted mainly of newspaper, magazine, radio, TV and the yellow pages ads.   Today, marketing a brand message has become dynamic.  There is so much noise out there in the digital/social media world with paid ads, social media pages, customer reviews, etc. that  vie for customers’ attention. You have to actively manage your image with a consistent message by:  producing and posting relevant content that draws new customers and keeps existing customers engaged; responding properly to complaints in a public setting; answering questions; and utilizing “Calls-to-Action”.   Keeping a clear, focused message in all your online interactions, can help you stand out in all this digital noise.

Teach the message.  Employees are your walking, living, breathing billboards inside and outside of your restaurant; but are they putting out “The Message”?   You must inject a clear, concise, and consistent message into your employees, and hold them accountable to communicating it.  If your message is that you are a farm-to-table restaurant, your employees must be able to explain that to any and all customers and potential customers. Additionally, as we discussed in Employees are Your First Customers, “In social situations, often the first question asked is ‘What do you do?’ or ‘Where do you work?’”  Each time your employee answers that question, is an opportunity to communicate your message.

Small or large, independent or chain, no restaurant can ignore how their marketing message is heard. Certain advertising campaigns still resonate in our culture, and are long remembered because they are clear, concise, consistent and communicable – you can still sing that 30 year old jingle.  All of the pieces noted in this blog must work together in concert:  like a choir everyone must be singing the same song, in the same key, or the audience will leave!

Don’t know where to begin?  Do you know how to put policies and procedures in place to be as successful as possible? can develop customized operational guidelines to meet your needs. 

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2015-2016. 

Noelle E. Ifshin, 
President, 4Q Consulting, LLC 
244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001  
(212) 340-1137

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Restaurant Consulting NYC | You and Me and Restaurant Makes Three | 4Q Consulting, LLC

You and Me and Restaurant Makes Three
Husband and Wife Restaurant Owners

As discussed in The Family Owned Restaurant, family business are the bedrock of the U.S. economy. Family businesses often start with a husband and wife team trying to make a better life for their families.  In many cases, the marriages and the businesses become so intertwined that it becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.  Starting and running a successful restaurant can be more demanding than having a baby, and often couples do not survive the birth of a restaurant.  

In order to ensure both the restaurant and your marriage survive, here are four important items to keep in mind when opening or running a restaurant with your spouse:

Treat the business like a business, not an extension of the home.  Draw a distinction and leave work in the business. If both husband and wife are to be partners in the restaurant, having a written partnership agreement is recommended – especially if you plan on having additional business partners. By the time you realize you need an agreement, due to a dispute, it is often too late.  You should have a written agreement that includes: the division of ownership; an outline of the amount of, and stipulations for, taking salaries; and how to handle any profits or losses.

Don't assume that the role in the personal relationship translates to the roles in a work relationship. Just as you want to define the partnership agreement, it is advised that couples decide in advance the work roles within the business – which spouse is going to do what.  For example, the person who balances your personal checkbook at home might not be the best one to reconcile purchase orders and inventory.  And, when defining job roles, if there’s something neither is good at, delegate it to someone else!

Couples we work with find that the key to their success as both a married couple and business partners is to continually communicate their roles and how they can help each other in those roles.  In that regard:  

Standard operating procedures (SOP’S) should be agreed upon, set and followed. Understanding the task expectations of each role and adhering to the agreed upon SOP’S that meet them, removes the possibility of misunderstandings with couple business owners.  Even the small tasks matter: agreeing upon how receipts are filed and the books are balanced; when cash is taken to the bank and who does it; who orders food and beverages and what levels of inventory you plan to keep; and who handles staff scheduling and how are changes to the schedule made are all examples of key items to agree upon in advance.

Support each other and be unified.  Present a united front to your employees at all times.  As basic as it sounds, do not bicker, fight or have large disagreements in front of your staff.  Like another other business partner relationships, you will have disagreements on how to run the business. Remain professional at all times and take those arguments off-site or behind closed doors.

Even though you are spending a lot of time together in the restaurant, you still need to make time for each other.  Find a way to have a night together away from the restaurant – even if you end up discussing restaurant business, being in a different environment changes the conversation.  And most importantly, try not to go to bed angry.  Fighting couples don’t work well together and can have a huge impact on how the business functions.

Remember why you decided to open a restaurant in the first place.  You want to plan ahead to be as successful as possible, while ensuring that demands of the restaurant don’t pull apart your marriage!

Don’t know where to begin?  Do you know how to put policies and procedures in place to be as successful as possible? can develop customized operational guidelines to meet your needs. 

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2015-2016. 

Noelle E. Ifshin
4Q Consulting, LLC 
244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001  
(212) 340-1137

Monday, December 7, 2015

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Restaurant Industry Changes to Face in 2016 | 4Q Consulting, LLC

Restaurant Industry Changes to Face in 2016

As we ring in 2016, there are some big changes facing the restaurant industry.
Restaurants must prepare to face these changes in the year ahead to mitigate disruption to business operations, reduce costs and maximize customer satisfaction. 

There is good news on the horizon, as industry analysts point to a strong outlook for restaurants relative to the US economy for 2016.  The bad news is the restaurant business isn’t getting any easier.  Restaurants, which already operate on razor-thin margins, now face rising wages and commodity costs, increasing government regulations, and additional security and safety concerns.  

Operators should focus on the following four items to move their business forward in 2016:

The Pressure of Rising Wages, High Employee Turnover and the Reduction in the Labor Force will require operators to think strategically about their HR in relation to their overall operation.   The economic shift from the customer to the employer to cover a living wage – increasing minimum wages and a move away from a tipping model – compels operators to reduce employee turnover and hold on to their best employees.  We have discussed the cost of turnover before, but now more than ever restaurants cannot be a revolving door of hourly staff.  The cost to onboard a new employee is too high and constant turnover can make it hard to maintain your desired level of product and service quality.  Additionally, as the economy continues to recover, there are, and will continue to be, fewer qualified, skilled candidates to fill critical positions.

Technology can and should be leveraged in all aspects of your restaurant from enhancing the customer experience, to managing products and staff, and even monitoring food and beverage storage and usage.  The right investment in technology can help you be more flexible and nimble, which in turn allows you to manage what impacts your bottom line in a timely fashion.  The right technology can enable you to change menus sooner to combat rising costs, launch and track promotions, and ensure that your reservation interface is in-line with what your customers want.  Operationally, new technologies can improve scheduling to reduce labor costs, and increase table turnover to increase sales. Administratively, new technologies can help small businesses with their bookkeeping, payroll and sales tax processing.  Lastly, you must stay compliant in all Federal, State and local technology regulations that keep your customers’ personal and payment information safe from data breeches – which can be a costly mistake.

Caring For and Knowing Your Customer is crucial for your restaurant’s survival. According to a recent report by Morgan Stanley, Millennial’s’ dining habits are drastically different their parents’. Millennial’s eat out more often, view “Healthy” foods differently (they don’t count calories as previous generations), demand food from ethical sources, do not want traditional “Fast Food” and prefer Fast Casual Concepts. Millennial spending habits are expected to peak in the next 3-5 years to become one of the largest growing restaurant demographics in the United States.  You must know who your customer is to be able to provide them what they want, to reach them in your marketing and keep them engaged.

In light of what we discussed above - the challenges in the changing labor market, maintaining razor thin margins, trying to keep up with technology – Consistency must become your central goal.  As we discussed in 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.” When things go wrong, the first instinct is to completely change your operation.  However, as discussed in Restaurants Know Thyself, staying the course and perfecting your operations will dampen down the volatility of the challenges faced.

Modification and flexibility are critical for restaurants to survive in this day and age. However, adapting to the times does not necessarily mean an overhaul of your entire concept.  An overreaction to big changes can often be an over correction! 

Don’t know where to begin?  Do you know how to adapt to industry changes in a timely manner so you can be as profitable as possible? can develop customized operational guidelines to meet your needs. 

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2015-2016.
Noelle E. Ifshin, President, 4Q Consulting, LLC