Business challenges in restaurants - accept them or solve them?

by John Jones | Sep 28, 2022

Challenges. Ah yes, business challenges. They are the things which get in the way of progress or the hills to be climbed before we can reach the next peak. All businesses have them and - here's the important thing - without them running a business would be too easy and anyone could and would do it. But it is the innate ability of business owners to solve what problems they can which sets them apart from those that do, and those that dream.

The question is, though, are there some challenges which can't be solved and are simply characteristics of the business or industry concerned? The answer is a sort of vague "yes and no", because pretty much any challenge can be resolved depending on a number of factors, such as time, budget and whether the thing which caused the challenge in the first place can be removed altogether.

Let's take restaurants, our favourite subject, and pick on rowdy customers. We've all experienced the late-night revelers who crash their way into the restaurant just before the kitchen closes, clearly a litle worse for wear after a night on the own. They are loud, sometimes rude, occasionally just in enthusiastically high spirits but frequently just not what we want (although we want their money). At this point the restaurant has two choices - either accept that rowdy customers are a fixture of running a restaurant and therefore "just get on with it", or refuse to serve them and implement a blanket ban on any similar customers.

The point your FT author is making is that by eliminating the cause, the problem might go away but not be in the best interests of the business. We could, after all, make all customer-oriented challnges disappear by banning all customers but frankly we suspect such an approach wouldn't keep the business afloat for very long.

The same could be applied to, say, poor staff (sack 'em); unreliable suppliers (bin 'em off) or an ineffective oven (stop using it). All of the these approaches would make the problem go away, but not really be conducive to business continuity.

So do restaurants have to accept that certain challenges will always exist, however nightmarish, because they always have existed in the F&B sector and there is no solution? We'd give a slightly less wooly "no" to that one. Sure, there will always be endemic challenges but there are always solutions which help. It depends on the restaurateur's dedication to seeking them and implementing change.

The great news is that technology is advancing at such a pace that there is a company or product out there which can help. Some are fads; some are backed by companies which haven't a hope of surviving and are gone in thirty seconds and some are so niche as to be invisible. Then there are software products which are just nice-to-haves (app-controlled food waste disposal unit, anyone?) rather than those which tackle top-line strategic and operational issues.

But for most challenges, there are people and boffins who have seen your problem, mapped them out, and come up with a solution. So, how do you solve some of the most common challnges as a restaurateur? The key is to identify where the errors occur, and why. If the erroneous parts of a process can be eliminated and re-set in a water-tight structure then we're halfway there.

Let's take missing reservations, for example. With no structure, the likelihood of a customer arriving to find their booking doesn't exist is quite high. Throw in human error and various scraps of paper and its an odds-on certainty. However, the march of technology has long ago seen the introduction of online booking systems which operate in a world of digital ones and zeros, meaning there is no slippage, no ambiguity and no lost bookings - just a concrete path with sky high fences down which the booking travels until it lands, forever, in the restaurant management software system.

One challenge, however, reigns supreme in the restaurant sector and it is the one restaurateurs fear the most. No, we're not referring to the unexpected arrival of Gordan Ramsay or Alex Polizzi, we talking about something nearly as unpleasant - managing party bookings.

Non restaurant owners would be forgiven for thinking that the whole subject of taking party bookings is a wonderful thing. It's Christmas and party bookings help bring tidings of financial joy, right? Certainly a good Christmas and New Year season provides a great financial backstop for the coming year and it is always great to see those groups of families and co-workers enjoying great hospitality (as long as they behave themselves). But as any restaurateur will tell you, managing party and group bookings can be an absolute nightmare and one of the business's biggest challenges, period.

We don't have space in this blog to give a blow-by-blow account of why party and group bookings are so dreaded, but here's a taster: constant phone calls from the lead booker; never ending revisions to the booking; changed seating plans; changed menu choices (or no menu choices); discrepancies in cover numbers; late or missing deposits; last minute cancellations; wasted time; wasted food; angry chefs and intra-team bickering about whose fault it all is.

Sound like fun? Not really.

Now, we're a software company dedicated to finding solutions, so you will forgive us a shameful plug. But if any or all of the above sounds familiar to you, please do take a look at Favouritetable's Party Booking Module. Integrating with the system's reservations and online booking units, it is an all-in-one solution to the party booking challenge.

It works like this: The lead booker is allocated their own online portal, where they can see their party reservation and make changes themselves. In the portal they have full visibility of their guests, where they will be seated, and those guests' menu choices. They can see exactly the deadlines for obtaining guests' deposits/payments and when the restaurant expects to receive them before the booking is cancelled automatically. Oh, and the deposits and payments are made directly from the portal and sent straight to the restaurant's bank account.

Doesn't that sound like a genuine solution?

Wrapping Up

There will always be challenges in the restaurant sector, often caused by poor processes coupled with human error. Some will be permanent fixtures of operating a restaurant, others can be solved with the application of purpose-built technology.


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