You can still celebrate your best customers without feeling the need to give away more items than what you can afford.

In the heart of the COVID pandemic, there was a national call of support for the restaurant community. Diners were buying gift cards and putting an emphasis on spending money at their favorite eateries, regardless of whether the service was for in-person, delivery and carry-out dining. Consumers seemed to understand that this helped the businesses within their local community while also supporting the overall economy.

While consumers continue to spend money at restaurants, even during the current Delta variant, restaurant operators still feel the effects of COVID on their bottom lines. This means that gone are the days of free condiments, free refills and the all-you-can-eat bread before an entrée. These days, restaurant operators cannot afford to throw away their nickels and dimes.

As restaurant owners/operators continue to battle surging inflation, their restaurant menu is one of the few areas they have left to control. Besides pandemic proofing their menus, restaurant operators have had to find solutions—and in many scenarios are still searching for them—in the areas of rising costs, labor shortages, unpredictable availability of supplies, and overwhelming demand.

As a restaurant operator, it can be discouraging at best to deny customers their once-favorite freebie; however, there are ways operators can still provide hospitality without losing profitability. Restaurant ownership is not simple and comes with an incredible challenge right now to maintain a fiscally profitable business. So be kind to yourself as an operator and understand that this, too, shall pass.

While it’s important that some things—such as straws—continue to be provided at no cost to guests, there are other items that can be given away for an extra fee. For example, you can add an extra 50 cents onto the price of extra condiment(s), just make sure the increase gets communicated to your guest. And if you’re adding on an extra charge for a second cup of coffee, or an extra ice cream scoop for small children, keep in mind there are ways you can do it without sacrificing your customer.

For example, sell a second cup of coffee for $1, rather than the typical $2.50, in order to keep costs reasonable. Or add a kids’ cone to your menu for 50 cents. The new charges don’t have to be huge; but they should help you cover a few extra expenses in terms of supply. If your guests want extra sauce or condiments with their orders, it’s OK to add on a small charge for those, too. Keep in mind, customers will understand the necessary changes that are having to be made; however, restaurant operators must do their part in clearly communicating what will change and what will stay the same.

Then, work hard to make sure your customers still feel noticed and appreciated.

Did a loyal guest bring someone new into your restaurant? If so, offer them a chance to be featured on your social media pages. Or, start a customer wall of appreciation and hang photos or include their name on a wall in a way that best fits your brand. Overall, you can still celebrate your best customers without feeling the need to give away more items than what you can afford.

Use technology

Finding areas where you can save money without customers noticing is also key to making it through these challenging times. Take advantage of rebate programs and implement the right technology tools to maximize those programs.

Reach out to your distributors and suppliers to see who might have rebates on a product similar to what you use. You can do this successfully and without sacrificing menu quality through communication with your supply chain team. Odds are, there will be areas where you can and should save money through rebate program and technology.

Apps such as FoodBAM cross-check products across an entire system of distributors, and then calculates where you will receive the most savings. Find the app that’s right for you and your team, and put its technology to work.

You’re still in the business to make money so don’t be discouraged if a few changes need to take place in order to continue to support your employees and family. It can difficult as restaurant operators to reign-in on those impulses of hospitality and generosity—two characteristics that make people who work within the industry so compelling. However, it can be done in ways that protect both you and your business, and that keep your customers happy, too. 

Melissa Evans is the Content Marketing Manager for Buyers Edge Platform and its associated brands including Dining Alliance, Consolidated Concepts, and others. Buyers Edge Platform is the leading Software and Analytics company providing data-driven insights and technology to the foodservice industry. Buyers Edge Platform’s mission is to drive the foodservice industry from manual to automated with programs that benefit all stakeholders across the supply chain.

Expert Takes, Feature