Future-proofing your F&B business

Future-proofing your F&B business

A successful opening is undoubtedly something to celebrate, but as anyone in the restaurant business knows, maintaining your spot in a competitive market is much more challenging. Extensive planning in the pre-opening phase and keeping on top of the basics afterward are among the steps that will help restaurateurs dodge the common pitfalls. Gebran Bekhazi, managing director of The Food Studio, shares his tips for long-term hospitality success.

Pre-opening: preparation is key

Before opening, it’s vital to create a comprehensive business plan, which should include every element of your strategy, from your broad goals and target market to your financial projections, marketing tactics and operational details.

From strategies to concept development
Securing funding is a key step in the preparation phase. This should involve not only determining startup costs, but also exploring various funding options, whether that’s personal investment, loans or partnerships.
At the concept development phase, your focus needs to be on your target market. Who are you looking to attract? It’s vital you understand the preferences, demographics and dining trends of your potential customers.
At the same time, you need to ensure that your concept stands out from the crowd. Pre-opening is the ideal time to think about how you plan to differentiate yourself from competitors and offer something distinctive, such as a specific cuisine or unusual atmosphere. Your menu should be well curated and align with your concept, as should the surroundings.
Your location will play an important role in attracting customers. Give weight to factors like foot traffic, visibility, parking availability and proximity to your target market. When it comes to layout, think about how you plan to optimize the space for efficiency, functionality and ambiance, while ensuring it reflects your concept.
Choose an interior designer or architect that has F&B service or hospitality experience and make sure they know what you’re looking to achieve in your concept. Sharing those messages far and wide
will also be key to success, so, similarly, hire a branding agency that knows the dynamics of the F&B industry and work closely with them to design your brand so that, together with your designers, you come up with a robust concept and well-articulated space and place.

Legalities and good practices
This is also the time to obtain the necessary licenses and permits for all aspects of your business, from food service and alcohol, if applicable, to health and safety compliance, and labor laws.
Having the right people in place will also play a key part in ensuring a successful launch. Recruit chefs, servers, bartenders and other staff members who are not only skilled in their field, but align with your concept, and provide comprehensive training. Make sure they understand the importance of the elements that will determine success, such as consistency in quality of food and ‘unreasonable hospitality’ (the remarkable power of giving people more than they expect, as explained in the book of this title by Will Guidara). This includes personalized actions and resolving issues promptly.
As the pre-opening elements come together, you should be developing a marketing strategy, utilizing a mix of online and offline initiatives to reach your target audience.
This is also the time to implement sound financial practices. From the outset, monitor and control costs, manage inventory efficiently and establish effective bookkeeping and accounting systems. By doing so, you’ll be putting in place good practices that will set the scene for regularly reviewing financial performance, making it easier to identify areas for improvement and adjust strategies accordingly.

Post-opening: stay ahead of the game

Once your business is up and running, it’s important to stay vigilant and address potential problems quickly that could contribute to its downfall.

No room for complacency
The restaurant scene is characterized by changing trends and shifts in customer demand, so staying up to date with what’s making waves is pivotal. Continuously monitor the market, customer preferences and emerging industry trends, with a view to adapting menus, offerings and strategies as needed. Adopting this approach brings with it the opportunity to foster innovation and encourage creativity within your culinary team to produce new dishes, seasonal specials and unique experiences.
Busy schedules and hectic services mean it’s easy to loosen the financial reins, but maintaining a solid budget and cost controls is critical, especially in the developmental phase. By creating a detailed financial plan that includes revenue projections, operating expenses and contingency funds, you’ll have a vital reference point. It’s also imperative to ensure you regularly analyze expenses, negotiate with suppliers, manage inventory efficiently and minimize waste. Keep a close eye on your cash flow to ensure you have enough working capital to cover expenses and unforeseen circumstances.

Building loyalty
Once open for business, it’s crucial to continue attracting new customers, but to also secure repeat business. Providing consistently high-quality food and excellent customer service will help you to garner a loyal following. Ensure ongoing training covers standard operating procedures for everything from processes for ingredient storage to cleaning, including cross-training to help with issues like staff shortages and absences. By offering opportunities for career growth and a positive work environment, you’re also more likely to retain talent.
Pre-launch marketing is vital but so is staying visible and relevant, from ongoing promotions through various marketing channels to engaging with the community. Encouraging a customer-centric culture by taking note of and responding to feedback will also help to produce customer loyalty. Use the insights to make necessary adjustments and improvements.

Technological solutions: a must
Technology has become an essential part of everyday life and should be utilized wherever possible to support your operations. Restaurant management software is ideal for tasks like reservation management, inventory control and point-of-sale systems to improve accuracy and efficiency. Analytics, meanwhile, can provide information on customer preferences and track sales performance which in turn, is useful for menu planning. Similarly, tracking historical purchasing patterns and demand through data will support accurate forecasting, while mapping tools can help visualize your supply chain. New technological innovations are constantly disrupting our lives and it’s important to keep up to date with what’s coming onstream and how it might be useful to your business.
Outsourcing certain aspects of production is also worth considering as a way of helping to reduce costs and outlays in some areas and enabling you to focus on core competencies. Importantly, a contingency plan is a must for risks and ensuring business continuity. At the same time, building strong relationships with reliable suppliers will help you to negotiate favorable terms and minimize disruptions.
Finally, there’s no substitute for experience. Industry experts can provide valuable insights and help you navigate the challenges of operating a restaurant effectively, so it’s well worth seeking them out for advice. Remember, too, that running a restaurant is a dynamic and challenging endeavor. Staying proactive, being prepared to adapt and making data-driven decisions will increase your chances of long-term success.

Gebran N. Bekhazi,
Managing partner of The Food Studio

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