Label it as a recession, a depression, or clothe it in the more palatable term 'economic downturn', the past few years, since the Covid-19 pandemic, have presented unprecedented challenges for the foodservice industry.

Operators grapple with soaring expenses and a tight labor market; customers, many finally squeezed, opt to dine in rather than out. When they do venture out, patrons seek affordability and value.

In some ways there is a certain law of the jungle at work as well, as some restaurants do not survive this historic economic slide. Quote - Daniel Dunsky The boom times of the last decade resulted in an over abundance of restaurant openings. Since 2010, the number of restaurants and bars has grown to 660,7750 from 579,102, a 23% increase, according to the National Restaurant Association. Population in the United States grew only 8% over that same period. Now that consumers are facing a cash crunch, it seems inevitable that the weaker organizations will not survive.

The food & beverage business has always been tough, with profits measured by the thinnest margins. According to the National Restaurant Association, you will only keep four cents out of every dollar customers spend in your restaurant. The other 96 cents goes to food and beverage costs, payroll, rent, utilities, and all the other costs of business. Maybe in the past, higher customer counts created a cushion that allowed operators to fudge their numbers and still survive. In this economy however there is no luxury of high volume to hide sloppy inventory control and menu engineering. That is where ChefTec Software can make the difference between success and failure, going out of business or surviving. Here are five things you must be doing to survive and even thrive in today's economic reality:

ONE: INVEST IN THE BEST TECHNOLOGY

An investment in ChefTec is one of those phrases that get bandied about, right up there with "Eat more fruits and veggies" for being both oh-so-true and utterly useless. Not specific enough. The first step is to conduct a technology audit. This can be as formal as having managers and other staff evaluate their areas and assess what features and functions in ChefTec they can use to improve their job performance, save the company money, improve customer service. Maybe the process is as informal as you sitting in your office making a few notes on a sheet of paper. How do you take inventory? How are you tracking your purchases and incoming inventory? Do you have good sales data so you know what sells and who is buying it?

Next, figure out how much you can reasonably afford. That's easy, you say: $0.00! Sure, it can seem counter-intuitive right now to be talking about spending between $1,000 and $3,000 on ChefTec, but this economy offers as much opportunity as it does challenge. If you are the operator who takes advantage of the down times to implement a disciplined approach to inventory and cost controls, then not only do you get to live on to cook another day, you are also poised for even greater success once the good times return.

Infographic - Annual Dollar Savings Chart

Look at your annual sales figures. If you bring in ChefTec and invest the time to implement it correctly to control costs, you are going to save an average of 3 to 8% on food costs. Use the chart to the right and do your own math.

If you are selling $500,000 in food every year and you end up shaving 3% off your food costs with a technology initiative, you are saving $15,000 in the first year. Looked at from this perspective, finding the money to spend a few thousand dollars on ChefTec is a no-brainer.

Other benefits from using ChefTec aren't as easy to track or quantify. Your time should be one big consideration, and once you have ChefTec up and running, you will find you save hours each and every week. Another collateral benefit is that implementing a system to properly control costs, inventory and production, will give you a fresh perspective on how your kitchen is run. Every operation, big or small, fine dining or fast food, multi-unit or stand-alone, will benefit from a regular review of how things are being done. Quote - Chef David Edgar Is your line cook getting creative with your signature menu items, making them unrecognizable and messing with the food cost in the process? What is going on with your inventory on hand -- does it line up with what you have sold and what you have ordered? If not, is it waste or theft or just sloppy inventory control? You are not going to know this stuff if you don't take a good close look at what's going on in your kitchen, and getting your ChefTec up and running is going to help you do this.

TWO: REALLY INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY

It isn't enough to buy ChefTec. You have to get ChefTec fully implemented, train on ChefTec, and actually use ChefTec. While you are at it, take the time to get proficient on every piece of hardware and software in your establishment. You should be the expert on everything from the POS system to the back office system.

Take advantage of every resource. Visit www.ChefTec.com and sign up for any training they offer. The customer support portion of the ChefTec website has great resources, with software updates to download, FAQ's and Help sections, and even online classes and tutorials. The makers of ChefTec even do onsite training, sending a company trainer to your business to consult on the best way to implement the software, doing hands on and customized training to make your investment pay off as quickly as possible. If this sort of training is too costly for you, look into organizing a training event with other ChefTec users in your area so the cost can be shared. See if your local professional trade association or restaurant association will host training on ChefTec. Attend trade shows where ChefTec is being demo'ed. Learn everything you can.

You also need to invest the time to properly implement your ChefTec system. Implement is a big word that simply means to put a set of processes in place using a definite plan or procedure. You buy ChefTec for the recipe costing features. Great! Now, are your recipes proven? Have you tested each one in the kitchen and made sure they are really being prepared the way they are written? Do you attach plate diagrams or photos in your ChefTec Software to make sure presentation and garnishes are consistent? Are you putting your costs into ChefTec by doing the necessary data entry with invoices?

Bottom line: If you aren't investing time to use your ChefTec correctly and effectively it's like slicing tomatoes with a dull knife, a waste of time and money!


THREE: IT'S ALL ABOUT CONTROL

In life there are things we cannot control. You can't control the economy or the stock market. You can influence your customers but Quote - Chef David Edgar you can't control them. What you can control are your inventory, your costs and your production processes. The food in your walk in, freezer and pantry represents money, actual cold, hard cash, money you have spent and money you hope to make. You need to treat that inventory with the same caution and control you use with the real cash in your business. Presumably you know how much money you have in the bank. Do you know how much money you have in the walk in? Just how much did that most recent case of Angus beef burger patties cost? What about a pound of butter? Do you know what the food cost is on the top ten selling items on your menu? How about the bottom ten items? This sort of accurate business intelligence is critical to your survival and success. Use your ChefTec to keep your eye on the bottom line and you will have all the information you need to make good business decisions.



FOUR: CONSIDER THE HUMAN ELEMENT

Technology should make our lives better and easier. We are simple human beings, prone to error, absentminded and with too many things to do. Let Technology help save you time and avoid data entry errors with automated, seamlessly integrated functionality. Some examples of this are:

  • Get your POS system to talk to your back office system. The sales information from your POS can be set up to automatically update your ChefTec. The exchange of data can even be set up to occur in the middle of the night, automatically updating counts in your inventory, triggering orders or production schedules based on pars, giving you sales analyses, and so on.

  • Set up online ordering with your primary vendors. ChefTec can be set up to interface with the online ordering capabilities of most broadline vendors. This means that the hours you spend entering invoices into your costing and ordering software can be reduced to the ten seconds it takes you to click a button and watch a download execute. Barely time enough to sigh: ah, the miracles of modern Technology! There is an annual cost associated to getting these interfaces set up with vendors. If you do a significant amount of business with your purveyor it can't hurt to ask if they will cover that cost for you -- a few hundred dollars that keeps you a happy customer spending thousands with them!

  • Look at mobile computing solutions. How much time does it take you to do your inventory counts every month? ChefTec Mobile Solutions takes advantage of the ever-more-powerful hand-held computing devices and simple bar coding Technology, so you can get inventory counts updated in your desktop in minutes. ChefTec will even create the bar code labels for inventory items. ChefTec Mobile Solutions can be used to create orders -- no more clip board and pencil as your wander around ticking off items to order.

  • As you may have notice, the mobile side of computing technology is exploding. ChefTec offers a powerful add-on product called Remote Notifications that can send messages to your cell phone or emails, letting you know when orders or requisitions are received and fulfilled. Nowadays more restaurants are using websites like Instagram, Facebook, or X (Twitter) to market themselves or share information among multiple locations. ChefTec is on Twitter, where you can sign up to receive "tweets" informing you of sales, software updates and special events.

FIVE: STAY FLEXIBLE.

Okay, maybe first you need to get flexible, but this is an important part of survival right now. ChefTec is going to highlight changes in inventory prices, let you see what vendors are offering the best prices, and make it easy for you to organize your ordering to follow those lower prices. You need to stay flexible with your menu too. By implementing proper controls on costs and production, you can see the holes in your menu, what's working, what's not. As the cost of inventory rises and falls, you are in control and have the kind of information you need to stay profitable. Research shows that consumers want value and bargains, so now is not the time to be alienating customers by constantly raising prices. Use your ChefTec to make simple adjustments and tweaks to keep menu items at proper food cost margins. ChefTec lets you cost menu items out using various "what if" scenarios and variables -- for instance, cost out your menu using the highest price paid all year long for inventory items. Effective menu engineering makes it possible for you to make subtle but substantive costing shifts that help keep you profitable.

We are in the midst of an economic storm and operators may feel they need to batten down the hatches and avoid any purchase that is not absolutely essential. That's the point really, investing in ChefTec is essential, in any economy but especially in today's reality. You say you cannot afford the cost of bringing in ChefTec. In fact, the opposite is true -- you cannot afford to NOT invest in the survival of your business. Now is the time to fine tune and to make the kinds of system enhancements that will reduce costs and improve profits. By making strategic investments of both time and capital in ChefTec Software, you will create a stronger, more efficient, more dynamic organization that will survive, succeed, and end up stronger in the long run to enjoy the good times that are sure to return.