Playing the Downturns

Which Downturn?

Over the weekend, I re-read an article called “Moving Upward in a Downturn,” an article by Darrell Rigby in the Harvard Business Review of June 2001.  (No, that’s not a typo, 2001 is correct.  Yes, we were in a downturn, even before 9/11/2001.)  The article contained three basic bits of advice -good advice in a prolonged economic slump.  I’ll try to translate this into restaurant sales logic. 

1 - Play to win where you are strongest: reinforce your core

 Face it, you do some things extremely well and you probably suck at others.  If you were good at everything, you wouldn’t be reading this.  Pay attention to your weak points.  If you serve great steaks and your service is weak, upgrade your service.  (There are thousands of books on service, my only advice on service is to read all of them and stay out of the dining room.  If your service sucks, it probably begins with your attitude which is very contagious.)  Work to minimize weak points; but don’t put too much focus on them. 

Focus on what you do well, -what other people think you are pretty good at, -not what you think you are pretty good at.  You only have to be the best in your market at 2 or 3 things – you can do that.  When you are sure what it is that you are good at, make some noise and promote those things.  There are so many opportunities to market inexpensively online.  Email to regulars an occasional coupon.  Make it good for something worth more than the gas to get them to your restaurant.  Make the coupon valid only on slow weeknights.  Don’t offer them the crap that you can’t give away; give them something good that they will want to return and buy. 

Let them know that you like doing business with them and appreciate it when they come.  Yes - continue to search for new opportunities, but remember where your core is.

2 - Treat your customers like fellow combatants who happen to be stuck in the same foxhole

 I like the way he worded that.  Sometimes we can feel like we are in a foxhole.  We are not alone.  I am sure that many of your customers feel the same way.  Most have felt the effects of the downturn as much as we have.  Let them know that you feel it too, but also that you know you are not the sole victim of a crazed economy.  Most will treat you and your staff with the same demeanor that you treat them with.  (You want to be smiled at: try smiling yourself …this ain’t rocket science.) 

Remember, anybody who eats food is a potential customer …so treat all food-eaters like good customers.☺ This is kind of like golden-rule stuff.  Funny how that rule keeps coming up.


3 - Shift smoothly into higher levels of growth 

 I’ve read the article a few times and I’m not sure that I understand all of the implications of higher levels of growth.  I have an idea and that is: maintain an unwavering focus on quality: quality time, quality service and products.  These qualities are the primary differentiators between your place and the competitor’s, whether it be Mickey D’s or Chateau d’C-note.  So be sure to keep systems in place to maintain your standards when you get busier.  No other type of business is more ruined by success.  How many restaurants started slowly, got busy because they did something well, and got ruined because they couldn’t do it well when traffic picked up?    

So thank you Darrell Rigby for the advice.  I’m sure that this advice was written with titans of industry in mind, but maybe we restaurant types can pick up a few granules of business savvy from the big guys. 

You really know all this stuff, most of it anyway; but sometimes it slips our mind when we are worried about no-show customers and no-show chefs and broken compressors and disappearing bar tabs and the sorts.  So just smile your way through the dining room, stroll over to the cook-tops, and keep stirring them frigg’n peas. 

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything. - John Maxwell

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