Hosted at San Francisco’s The Bently Reserve, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s annual conference was a coming together of thought leaders and business people from all corners of the restaurant industry. “The conference is a strong reminder for the Bay Area restaurant community that it shares its challenges,” declares the organization’s website. “Its voice is strengthened when multiplied.” With numerous panels that ranged from “Preventing and Remedying Workplace Harassment” to “Restaurant Acoustics: Can You Hear Your Neighbor?”, the event took the pulse of the most important conversations happening on the business side of the dining equation today. ICYMI, here are the top five things that emerged from these conversations.
Give Voice to the Data.
Part of the challenges facing the industry these days is that we need to understand local data in a way that is helpful to the restaurant community. During the opening panel entitled “Public Policy Update,” London Breed, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District Attorney George Gascón, and Todd Rufo, Director of the Office of Workforce Development spoke to San Francisco’s most critical socio-economic data. In a place of innovation (less than 3% unemployment in the city of San Francisco), Breed believes that there has to be “better open lines of communication” around the programming the city is putting in place to address a dearth of low-income housing and the increase in homelessness. “Data is a really important want to help show people where their money is going,” Breed said.
Secrets Revealed: Increasing Revenue.
On a panel entitled “Surviving As Costs Rise,” Greg Stoll of iconic Delfina restaurant group spoke to the critical importance of increasing revenue in your restaurant. But how? “Events, buyouts, takeout,” Stoll explained. “We close on Sunday and Mondays and our profits haven’t dropped a ton, but revenue is down, so we will take events or buyouts on those days. In our peninsula locations, low-hanging fruit includes buyouts with tech companies..” Stoll also alluded to takeout sales, where you sell the brick and mortars and consolidate sales through a commissary. Then, Steve Zimmerman, President of Restaurant Realty Company, described the softer touch as highly valuable to revenue. “Simple things, like having a friendly staff, having good lighting and mirrors in the bathrooms, increase likability and increase sales.”
Dining = Travel.
With 26 million people visiting the city of San Francisco last year, who spent nine billion dollars in doing so, we continue to see international growth in tourism. These folks are hungry — with 70,000 visitors a day who spend $1 million per hour, eating is the number one visitor activity. OpenTable SVP of Marketing Scott Jampol gave a few essential tips for optimizing your restaurant’s experience for the travel audience. “How are people finding you?” he asked. “Fifty-one percent of bookings are done on mobile, booked four days in advance (which is twice as fast as on desktop). Of those, fifty percent of the diners are coming from same day bookings and twenty-five percent within ninety minutes of the reservation itself. Set your restaurant up for success by staffing appropriately, opening your books, and making sure you are ready for the last-minute diners.”
The Labor Challenge Is Shared.
In resounding agreement from restaurants, the number one challenge concerns finding labor. In fact, after the United State government, the restaurant industry is the largest employer in this country. So, how do you create an environment that is more hospitable so your employees will stay and continuity becomes integral to your brand? “There is a lack of understanding around the legislature of minimum wage and how it’s affecting the restaurants,” Christa Quarles, OpenTable CEO, explained in her keynote dialogue with GGRA Executive Director Gwyneth Borden. “It’s paradoxical because here we are in a robust economy, with low unemployment, and yet the restaurant business is still struggling.”
Mobile, Mobile, Mobile.
It comes as no surprise, and is no secret, that mobile has changed the way we eat — and live — today. Quarles spoke specifically to the radical transformation in the restaurant industry, pointing toward a few of the trends mentioned by Jampol in the context of travel. “What these trends demonstrate is a meaningful compression of the booking window,” she said. “Location matters a lot. In markets like New York City, we see people doing a search who don’t want to see results more than ten blocks from where they are. In Napa, they might go ten to twenty miles.”