When Smokey Bones changed its name from “Barbeque & Grill” to “Bar & Fire Grill” in 2009, the rebranding didn’t stop with the signage. The 10-year old concept began remodeling its 67 restaurants to focus on the bar, making the area larger and installing TVs, high-tops and stools to encourage socializing. “We also extended our hours until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends and added more appetizers and shared platters,” says Pete Bell, VP of marketing. “The idea was to give guests more reason to come to Smokey Bones.” The redesigned units now draw a late-night crowd that has raised the average check by $1.
While adding a new daypart is a great strategy for boosting sales, it has its challenges. But if you can boost traffic and profits without boosting food and labor costs, it’s usually a no brainer.
Smokey Bones’ late-night menu doesn’t tax the kitchen or staff. “Smart scheduling allowed us to allocate our labor more efficiently, so we didn’t have to hire more employees,” Bell reports. And the menu’s Fire Starters—global appetizers like Crispy Shrimp Dunkers and Southwest Spring Rolls—use ingredients already on hand. “We didn’t have to bring in extra SKUs for this daypart and our food costs didn’t go up,” says Bell. Plus nightly drink specials have increased alcohol sales by 10 percent.
Virgil’s, a barbeque concept in Times Square, looked to morning for new business, adding a weekend breakfast last July. “We decided to serve a Texas-style breakfast featuring large portions and unique items at a good price,” says Director of Operations Michael Honea. Average check is less than $10.
“We tried to incorporate ingredients such as andouille sausage and smoked brisket from our lunch and dinner items,” explains Honea. “This helps keep food costs below 20 percent.” He’s had to add a few new products, like Jimmy Dean sausage—a Texas favorite—and admits that opening two hours earlier raised labor costs a bit, but Virgil’s still came out ahead. “It’s become a profitable daypart for us, especially when the hotels are full. Those customers are looking for value.”
For Christine Keff, chef-owner of Flying Fish in Seattle, the impetus to do lunch was a move to a new location. “We’re right in the middle of the business district and have a built-in clientele,” says Keff, who stopped serving lunch last year in her restaurant’s former residential area. In this spot, takeout abounds, but sit-down lunch places are scarce.
Keff put a lot of thought into menu development—she wanted customers to come for lunch even if they weren’t in the mood for a “seafood luncheon.” Although the wider-ranging menu lists a few Flying Fish classics like whole fried red snapper, it leans heavily toward the soup, sandwich and salad categories from which guests can mix and match combo meals. “I want to give mid-management workers an alternative to takeout; something a little nicer,” says Keff. She aims to keep the check average at $20, with food costs of 34 percent overall for lunch and dinner. An additional cook and two counter people should run about $1400 a week. However, Keff expects lunch sales to start off at $2000/day and eventually build to $750,000 annually.
As part of the move, Keff was offered the space next door rent-free for a year. She converted this into a retail shop called “On the Fly,” offering lunches and dinners to go. “I can cross-utilize ingredients from both the restaurant’s dinner menu and the takeout shop for lunch at Flying Fish. Desserts and wine will also cross over between the venues,” she notes. Even with extra employees, all this trading off minimizes spending and maximizes profits.
At Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, the a la carte brunch, added last fall, is a convenient and cost-effective way to cross-utilize many ingredients in stock. But that’s not the main motivation for chef-owner Michael Schwartz. “I wanted to do brunch since we opened three years ago, but we got busy so fast. Now the timing was right to give the restaurant a shot in the arm,” he says.
To inject excitement and variety into the extensive menu, Schwartz opted for a small plates format divided into Savory, Sweets, Eggs & Things, Breads, Meats and Snacks. Prices range from a low of $2 for a rosemary crumpet to $12 for crispy sweetbreads with house-smoked bacon and saffron aïoli. The single most popular choice is the Breakfast Pizza ($9). “The lower price per item encourages people to try lots of things,” says Schwartz. “And by changing it up every week [in tune with our inventory], we keep it fresh for both the cooks and the guests.” Innovative cocktails and house-squeezed fruit juices are added attractions—and profit centers. It’s a formula that works; Michael’s does 300 covers at brunch every Sunday.
Schwartz admits that his brunch is labor intensive and profit margins are not always as high as in other dayparts, but “brunch does very well for us. My intention from the beginning was to be creative and have fun,” he adds. “What makes it worthwhile is that we fill every seat and it fills the restaurant with great energy.”
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