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Gifts to make next year merrier for restaurateurs

santa dump truck

Dear Santa,
Really, Fat Man? You’re turning the sleigh into an Uber ride? And did you honestly tell Arby’s that Blitzen would make a great venison sandwich?

Sure, business is tough, especially with your model. Shooting for zero revenues and negative profits is a dicey move, Bearded One. And it’s not as if you can change locations to bring down the rent.

Actually, the gift business is sounding a lot like running restaurants these days. Customers want something for nothing, the elves are angling for more overtime and it’s all about delivery.

The industry could surely use some cheer this holiday season. So let me climb aboard that beanbag spread you call a lap and reel off what should be in your bag this year for restaurants.
Love potion. The business needs something to make consumers fall back in love with dining out. They’ve been forsaking restaurants for supermarkets, c-stores, meal kits or even—who’d have ever thought it?—cooking for themselves. Operators had blamed the election for the drop-off in traffic. Now, that is over. Will diners flock back? You can make sure it happens.

A break. For a quick recap of the pummeling restaurants have taken this year from third parties, run through the starred items on your Really Nasty list.  Politicians have decided to double the minimum wage in the weathervane states of California and New York. Five cities are jacking up soft drink prices with new taxes intended to hurt sales or profits. Regulators have set in motion a near-vertical climb in what many managers will be paid next year. And unions have bad-mouthed the business as if it consisted of puppy kickers and people who won’t answer the door on Halloween.

We’re likely to start on a wild political ride next month that may or may not yield considerable relief. In the meantime, could restaurateurs just get a break from the nonstop walloping?

A free hand on scheduling. A sleeper threat is the movement to limit restaurants’ scheduling flexibility. San Francisco and Seattle have already passed laws that mandate shifts be set two weeks in advance. If bad weather or a water main break should suddenly change prospects for one night, a restaurant couldn’t adjust its work schedules without paying a penalty. Even more worrisome is a provision to prohibit restaurants from hiring new people without increasing the hours of people already on the payroll.

It’s the new cause for unions, and politicians are paying attention. More scheduling proposals are under consideration in New York City and Oregon, with plenty of other jurisdictions likely to add more momentum.

A restaurant plague. While the industry awaits a positive turn in consumer behavior, the next best thing would be an elimination of all the marginal restaurants that siphon off business by virtue of location or loss-leader prices. The best thing that could happen to places of strength would be a business pandemic of “Walking Dead” caliber.  It’s a shame every place with a menu and kitchen can’t thrive, but that’s not the case, Bunky. So the next best option would be seeing the deserving places benefiting and the others throwing in the napkin.

A good 2017. The industry would even be delighted with a decent one (hey, flat is the new up). Make empty seats a rarity. Bring back what the financial geeks call lapsed users. Dial back the interest in near giveaways and rekindle interest in higher-quality (and bigger-ticket) dishes. Make this holiday a happy one and the start of a lucrative year—something we at Restaurant Business hope for everyone.

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