Part of Chicago’s economic-development effort is encouraging entrepreneurs to enter the restaurant business. To facilitate the process, it recently invited industry veteran Bill Post, co-founder of Chicago-based Roti Mediterranean Grill, to sit down with prospective business owners last Friday at Chicago’s City Hall. Post brought in his experiences in the full-service arena as well as in the fast-casual realm to discuss what he identified as the keys to restaurant success. While he was speaking to a novice audience, Post’s tips for driving profits apply to even the most seasoned operator. Here are some of his suggestions for running a restaurant in today’s competitive market:
1. Design and lay out the menu for profitability
“The menu is the most ignored opportunity,” says Post. There’s a science and psychology to where to put things on the menu, he says, so it’s crucial to pay attention to where the eye drifts first. After all, most people don’t read the entire menu. Strategically place items—at the top of the page, for instance—that you want to sell more of or using bigger, bolder fonts or colors to draw attention.
2. “Be a player in social business, not a sideline observer”
Post suggests that operators monitor social-media sites and use it to their advantage. It’s the way the business is going, he points out. “Don’t avoid it. If you do, [your business] will die,” he says.
3. Include alcohol on your menu, if you can
Liquor can be highly profitable, says Post. But he did caution that it’s hard to generate alcohol sales in the fast-casual market. “It’s a hard [business] to penetrate for the fast-casual market,” he says, with his own concept Roti nixing beer and sangria after the first three years.
4. “The more limited a menu is, the better”
“But it can’t be too limited; there needs to be a little variety,” he adds. The reason he suggests a condensed menu: it requires an operator to keep less in inventory, and it allows the staff to focus on a limited number of items and make those great.
5. Be aware of the distinction between “healthy” and “health food”
Today’s consumers do not want health food, but they do want to be more healthy. It’s important to focus marketing efforts on the overall healthful, better-for-you lifestyle.
6. Manage by the numbers
Keep a monthly or quarterly scorecard that tracks your sales progress against your budget. While operators should monitor sales on a weekly basis, says Post, a quarterly analysis will identify how individual items are selling and help determine what menu items to keep versus cut. In order to have more people striving to reach or exceed its budget, Roti incentivizes all of its managers based on preset budgetary goals.