Chef Jon Butler on ‘How Restaurants Need to Adapt in 2018’

08/01/2018 - 07:00
'How Restaurants Need to Adapt in 2018' by Jon Butler, founder of Outsauced Hospitality Consultancy and award winning chef

We are only a few days into the New Year, and already we are hearing in the news about restaurants closing down or struggling because of difficult trading conditions. In the 27 years, I have been involved in the hospitality industry this has been the norm, it’s always easy to point the blame to difficult trading conditions, rising costs, increased competition etc. But the fact is some restaurants are thriving while others aren’t, and that naturally comes down to the ones that are succeeding are adapting, they have management that understands the environment in which they operate, and give their customers the experience they expect.

So what do you need to do in 2018 to adapt to your customer's needs?

Invest in your employees

Your employees are your number one asset, in my opinion, they are more important than your customers because if you invest in them correctly, they will look after your customers, build your brand reputation and consequently grow your business. Over the last few years, many restaurants and hospitality-based enterprises have struggled to find and retain their employees. It is, therefore, more critical than ever to focus your attention on this element of your business than before.

You need to ensure your employees are part of your brand; they should be involved with how your brand is focused and developed. As they are at the coalface of your business, they can provide a valuable insight into what you are doing right and wrong as a business as they are able to communicate directly with your customers.

Having an in-depth training and development scheme within your restaurant is a must, but so many businesses fail on this primary function. You cannot just expect your new employees to get your brand and how you do things in your business, they need to be trained and nurtured to deliver your brand values, quality and service every day.

The hospitality industry has a reputation for low wages and poor working conditions, why is this? It has this reputation because restaurateurs and hospitality business owners allow it. They pay poorly and don’t treat the very people they should with the respect they deserve. This dated attitude needs addressing; otherwise, the industry will continue to be dogged by these problems. In the long-run, it will cost your business more to fill vacancies with agency employees or pay recruitment companies to find suitable candidates for you. It will cost you more to retrain new employees as well as cost your business potential losses through inconsistency in quality and service of your product.

Paying higher salaries or hourly wages is potentially good for business. If you work with your team to be more efficient and productive, it can cost your company less than you expect. But it isn’t just about what you pay your employees; you can incentivise your team in other ways with simple benefits. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box and every so often reward members of your team with a meal out, tickets to the cinema or even a voucher, Sometimes your employees just want to feel appreciated and that can go a long way.

Focus on improving your customer experience

This may seem obvious, but many hospitality businesses don’t think about how their customers ‘experience’ their business. Take the time to map out how customers interact with your business at every stage of their journey from before they contact you to after they have engaged with you. Your restaurant or hospitality business can be in many places, especially online, so you have to look at every website direct and indirect that displays your company. Then analyse it and make sure it is giving the right message, it conforms to your brand and most important has up-to-date and relevant information.

As mentioned previously by investing in your employees, they will invest in your customers, which is a big step forward in improving your overall customer experience. I am sure we have all at some point been served by a disgruntled employee, and we know it doesn’t shine a positive light on the business, so don’t have this situation in your business.

Work with your employees to find out how your customers feel about your business and take the time to ask your customers for constructive feedback. But most important action the feedback, don’t just ignore it. Review sites and social media is also a great place to interact with customers. I see many businesses though only focusing on the positive reviews and comments and ignoring the negative, brushing them aside does not make these issues go away. Engage these comments and take action.

If you focus on improving your customer experience in 2018 your business and reputation will thrive.

Use Social Media advertising

The first question many people ask is why do I need to advertise on social media? Why can’t I just put posts on my page? Organic posts, meaning a standard none paid for post, only reach 4% of your actual fan base, never mind the thousands of other potential customers who don’t know who you are yet. So the answer is, yes, you need to advertise on social media if you are using it as a platform, and if you’re not, then you need to get on it immediately.

In 2017 we saw social media advertising increase by 20% for restaurants. The opportunity presented by this medium is phenomenal and provides restaurants, hotels and hospitality businesses with a way to connect with even more precision to their target market and customer than ever before. Social media advertising can be very cheap with excellent returns on your investment; however, a word of caution, it is still a relatively new advertising platform and if not managed wisely can cost your business a lot as well.

Social media is an excellent platform for restaurants as it is visual, you can interact directly with your customers and change and adapt your content very quickly. It is essential to grow your social media presence, engage with your customers and they will naturally spread the word for you.

Visual posts are great, and if you want to really up to your game, then you should also be posting videos. Make your posts relevant and exciting as well as real. The benefit of social media is that it is real-time so you can be very creative with your content. I see many restaurants just posting the same content each week, such as a picture of their new weekly menu or specials. Why not post a short video of the chef creating one of the dishes or explaining what’s on the menu this week and why.

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