Smarter Forecasting to Boost Restaurant Sales & Stop Cost Blowouts

With smart ‘future-watching’, you can adjust staff and purchasing to reflect expected business much more accurately.

Caterers work with 100% certainty for much of the time – they get low food and wage costs because they work with exact numbers, not guesswork. So how can a café, restaurant or bar also forecast more accurately?

  • Keep daily logbooks & diaries: record customer numbers, weather, special events, the pattern of customer visit etc. Logbooks are more informative than a blank diary page. The immediate past is often a good guide for the coming weeks or months – use a printed diary or online system – many available.
  • Make sure staff understand the numbers you talk about. For example, how many more customers to expect if the bar will be 10% busier than last week, or 20% down on last month? Rephrase this as a number – ‘we’re expecting 120 people instead of the usual 90-100’ so everyone gets it.
  • Predict the effect of TV and sporting events. Your staff TV and sports fan can monitor these – some events mean more trade, some mean less. If you know football means a hit in trade, organise an event for ‘everyone else’ eg a wine dinner. What about Married at First Site or The Bachelor – good for trade or not?
  • Watch for local events that will boost business. Adjust your opening times accordingly, eg popular concerts and local festivals. This can be a great time to open especially and catch the crowds. The local tourist information office and internet will have information – subscribe to relevant newsletters.
  • Use a good weather app and track regularly eg Yahoo Weather, and TV weather channels will show up to 7 days in advance. Will you need extra staff for the weekend?
  • Track the effect of changes in temperature, snow and rainfall. Many bakers adjust the cooking of hot snack items like pies to the temperature and have become quite exact with it as a money-making exercise. What’s your equivalent product?
  • Develop more flexible staff schedules and rostering systems. Explain how changes are decided, so it’s not ‘unfair’ when shifts are increased or decreased. If you are developing a new workplace agreement, take this into account. Online rostering systems allow you to put out urgent calls for more people – make sure everyone knows how this works.
  • Develop a staff standby system. If someone is on-call, pay them an agreed allowance to be available, and also pay it if they are called in. You will build staff loyalty and overall your costs will be lower, even if you occasionally pay someone for just being home and watching TV.
  • Reduce ‘just-in-case’ over-staffing. Prepare your Plan B for an unexpected rush – it may be more profitable to maintain normal staffing levels but institute a smarter queuing system and ways to turn over customers more quickly.
  • Work out the ‘strike rate’ for product demand. For example, if 100 people dine out of 500 visitors to your club or bar, you have a strike rate of 20%. This will be a guide for when you are expecting 200, 500 or 2000 visitors.
  • Develop a standby order system for the weekend – you want just enough stock on hand, and be able to cover an unexpected rush. Emergency runs to the supermarket are expensive – what alternatives can you set up?

    In the longer term:
  • Watch population changes in your area, both residents and workers. Census data can help but this is only updated occasionally – local observation may be a more reliable guide. This can also give you a guide to negative events that may be looming, eg a business relocating from an office block may mean the loss of hundreds or thousands of potential customers.
  • Watch industry trends to keep your business ahead of the game. Faster service, table ordering, healthy options, the obsession with ingredients and new flavours, legal regulations, the ageing population – all changes that can have a significant effect on the type, preferences and number of customers you see.

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