Running a profitable restaurant is a bit like summiting Mount Everest: rewarding but difficult. However, the good news is that difficult doesn’t equal impossible. Despite there not being a magic formula for profitability, there are some sales forecasting hacks that will help give your restaurant the best chance of predicting long-lasting success and profitability.
Why forecast? Because it helps you predict your labor needs, which is something that is directly within your control and has a known, close relationship with profitability. When you know what your labor needs are, you can use your scheduling software to transform your forecast into a smooth, well-scheduled operation.
Before we dig into our list of restaurant demand drivers, a word on mindset: Savvy restaurateurs understand they aren’t the only hands controlling the purse strings. Even on days when they feel completely in command and convinced they have the exact right number of staff on duty, they know a strong wind can (literally and figuratively) swoop in and blow the whole thing over. Persistence in the face of a major profitability swing is what sets these restaurateurs apart: They observe, they learn, and they apply what they’ve learned moving forward.
Resilience and adaptability are key when it comes to profitability. Failure to accurately forecast your sales and labor (or deluding yourself into believing it’s a set-and-forget process) can wreak havoc on your bottom line. You might be scrambling to source last-minute help to manage an unexpected influx of customers, or you’ll have a surplus of staff standing around twiddling their thumbs while you shell out salary to stay compliant with predictive scheduling legislation.
To protect against either of these less-than-ideal scenarios, keep a watchful eye on the following:
1. Weather: Remember that strong wind? Weather is no joke. Rain or shine, temperatures impact traffic through your restaurant’s front doors, so it pays to pay attention to your weather apps.
2. Food delivery service promotions: Food delivery is on the rise—12 percent over the next five years, to be exact. If you’re signed on with a service provider like UberEats or DoorDash, look out for provider promotions. For example, most will offer a discount plus free delivery for new sign-ups, which put your food that much closer to their doorstep.
3. Viral Instagram photo: Your social media platforms are about more than posting pretty pictures; they’re powerful tools to improve brand awareness, extend reach, and stay top-of-mind when it’s time to choose a restaurant. If a post goes viral—whether the photo was taken by you or, more likely, a guest—it’s a safe bet customers will flock to your storefront.
4. Local events: Whether it’s a basketball game, tradeshow, or the fact that Metallica’s in town, events not only get locals out of the house, they also attract out-of-towners that you may not have accounted for in your forecast.
Make sure your staff is prepared for anything with our Restaurant Staff Management Guide.
5. Political climate: Not even the foodservice industry can escape politics. Political platforms, agendas, and conflicts are intimately tied to the economy. When the economy is doing well and jobs abound, people are more likely to have the money to treat themselves to dinner at a nice restaurant.
6. Food trends: If it’s not kale, it’s kimchi. Whatever the flavor of the week, restaurants who cater to the latest craze can expect an uptick in traffic and sales. While this doesn’t mean you necessarily need to reimagine your menu, it’s important to stay up to date on what’s hot and what’s not.
7. Attitudes towards food: Attitudes toward quick-service food and the value placed on clean, healthy eating can impact whether people decide to frequent your restaurant. Global chains like McDonald’s have felt the effects of this shift, responding in turn with healthier menu items and initiatives to fill vacant demand.
8. Fuel prices: Though it may seem like a stretch at first glance, rising gas prices impact the economy and, in turn, businesses. As fuel prices creep up, discretionary spending goes down. This means consumers will spend less on things like shopping and dining out, especially if your restaurant isn’t within walking distance.