When compared to retail stores, landscaping companies or professional service firms, restaurants have their own set of unique challenges. However, there are a variety of restaurant management strategies that owners can implement to help satisfy their customers, chefs and bank accounts alike.
The biggest challenge, says Mark Cupolo, chef/owner of Rocco in Rochester, New York, is managing perishable products. Rocco is an Italian restaurant best known for its marinara sauce and octopus. To help ensure freshness and optimum flavor in these offerings, much of what Cupolo purchases has a limited shelf life. Cupolo creates the menu, cooks the food and manages the people, but managing the food is perhaps the most important aspect, he says.
A Perishable Inventory
"I buy meat and seafood from specialty houses, produce from vendors and farms, and little items that I find that are of the best quality that I'll use that day," says Cupolo. When he runs out of something unexpectedly, he relies on the strong relationships he's built with his sales reps and suppliers to send over more of what he's missing. But that rarely happens, fortunately. "It's one of my pet peeves; a good restaurant shouldn't run out of anything."
One limiting factor that many businesses have to contend with is storage space. After all, the amount of space within a restaurant's coolers, freezers and shelves partly determines how much it can buy at one time.
Steady cash flow allows a business to buy inventory to resell to customers. The smaller your profit margin, the more frequently you buy smaller quantities. If you can amass enough profit to buy in bulk, you can take advantage of quantity discounts to help boost profits. In the restaurant business, being able to afford and store larger quantities of product, particularly wine and liquor, can yield substantial discounts, explains Cupolo.
Another area where restaurants sometimes differ from other types of businesses is in marketing. Rocco doesn't advertise, says Cupolo.
"Word-of-mouth is what we've built our business on," says Cupolo. "People are talking about restaurants today more than ever," he observes, which can make generating word-of-mouth referrals easier, as long as the customer experience is a positive one.
While he recognizes the rising importance of social media in restaurant management strategies, Cupolo views it as more of a short-term tool to bring in business that night at Rocco. "We might post that we have soft-shelled crabs on the menu tonight and a get a run of customers for that," he says. But that type of sharing generates a more immediate reaction to an online post or tweet, rather than having a long-term impact.
To stay in tune with the types of experiences his customers are having and help improve the odds of positive social reviews, Cupolo spends time "on the floor" talking to his guests. He feels that making sure diners leave his restaurant well-fed and happy with how they spent their evening is his responsibility.
"It's an exciting time for restaurants," says Cupolo.
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