Too often over the years, when things get tough, cutting costs is the primary objective. The accountant or boss says "Cut costs in the restaurant by 3% next month."
The cost cutting often cheapens products and services which turns people off ... which then leads to "temporary price discounts" to attract the old customers back. The cycle continues.
Turn the focus on having a vision. This will keep the team inspired. Be contrary to the typical business and go on the offense with a strong message about your new service or product to keep people excited.
There are methods to reduce costs without reducing the quality and service.
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"Measure what you want to improve" - Remains true in the new world of technology. There are visual ways to help bring awareness to the restaurant team. One method is to use a garbage bin for all food waste. Measure the weight of the waste each shift or day and record it. Tracking and reporting waste, bringing attention to it influences each team member.
If your goal is to reduce cost of sales by 1% to 2% and you feel your controls are already maximized, consider how you might change the menu mix and take a look at waste.
If you have a sophisticated point of sale system with inventory and time card management, you may already have the tools you need. Tracking sales trends by the quarter hour and layering staff to arrive/depart by the quarter hour will help keep the operation smooth and trim a little labor cost.
Shift change is one of the most unproductive times in a restaurant. The team leaving says hello to the team arriving. This time is extended and the time clock ticks. When 10 employees are arriving departing, there is plenty to talk about. Once the earlier shift has clocked out and departed, the oncoming team does what they can to catch up.
Scheduling the employees by the quarter hour and layering time on based on trends reduces wasted time and helps them to stay focused.
Any costs that appear on the P&L you describe as "standard", it is time to question them one by one. "We can't eliminate that expense" needs a closer look. There are many stories about costs that appeared to be "standard" were in reality outrageous. Question everything... including water, garbage, unemployment, phone, uniforms... there is not a restaurant operation that does not have an opportunity to save thousands of dollars from "standard costs".
These costs are easy to overlook. They become part of your standard operating procedure and to be exceptional you need to look at them wish a fresh perspective.
Every piece of equipment has a potential for money leak. The costs creep up with repairs or inefficiencies. Poor equipment operation has a serious impact on employee productivity. The staff should be your eyes and ears and let you know where they waste time.
There are costs which are easily missed. Question everything.