Q: My concept seems to be getting a little stale and sales are stagnant. It’s time to reinvigorate and reinvest in our restaurant. Where do I start?

A:In 2012 one of the great brands of the Pacific Northwest failed to make significant change and was sold to Texas based brand vacuum Landry’s, Inc. Whether or not you were a fan of McCormick & Schmick’s, they were respected for what they did in their heyday. The irony of McCormick’s demise is the company was an early adopter and often credited as the originator of happy hour, an innovation that has changed the industry. Yet, in their later years, change was out of reach for the regional giant. You can learn to create meaningful change by following the steps below:

Focus on the guest experience

Too often companies forget to make the guest experience the number one focus. All decisions need to be made with the guest in mind. McCormick’s had a menu that could overwhelm a guest and meals that could take a long time to eat. Guests today want to be in charge of their own time and experience. When a restaurant holds a guest hostage through an extensive experience that chews up time the guest does not return as often. Deconstruct the guest experience and walk through the experience from making the reservation to the exit after the meal. Optimize every step of along the way.

Freshen food and beverage offerings

Most restaurants are capable of providing a food experience superior to the one they offer currently. The goal is to provide five food items guests cannot live without and five beverage items they can’t wait to drink. This number of signature items allows guests to return more often and provides a story that can be told when speaking with friends or co-workers. The average guest has 10 conversations per week about food and nine about beverage. Make sure your restaurant is in the conversation.

Sharpen the service package

Service must be engaging, crisp, and timely regardless of the concept. Drill into your team that they must serve every guest, every time with excellence. For example, each person in a party of four should be treated individually and connection made with each guest. It’s easy for guests to come and go and be part of a group but never experience connection to the staff and the restaurant. Start at the front desk and make sure he or she is welcoming and accommodating as though greeting each person at the front door of your home. Often the first person in the party receives a greeting and the others are not acknowledged, that doesn’t happen at your home. From there, the server must have the ability to read and customize the guest experience with excellent product knowledge and an accommodating style. If the server is well tuned to the guest, the visit will be optimized and sales maximized. The goal is accommodation of each guest not solely serving him or her.

Refresh the design

The best brands in the industry have a strategy to keep their facilities fresh. They refresh their facilities every five years and remodel every ten years. To prepare set aside 2% or more from the top line each year or have a line of credit available from a local bank or investor. Spend 1% on capital expenditures each year and save 1% or more for the refresh in five years. Each year gather your team and ask them to come up with solutions to improve processes and workflow to prioritize capital expenditures. For example, if a restaurant has a large patio placing a remote beverage station and POS terminal on the patio will reduce the amount of time the server is away from serving the guest, hence reducing labor usually in support positions. Additionally, take the time to sit, eat, or dine at each table and seat in your restaurant. Opportunities for improving the guest experience through design will appear. Be sure to freshen the food first, sharpen service second, and complete the design element LAST.To keep your concept fresh and relevant, focus on the guest experience and invite your team to innovate the product, service, and design of the restaurant and sales and profitability will reach new heights.

For more information on improving profitability and driving sales, contact AMP Services at rbraa@ampservices.com. Rick Braa is the founder of AMP Services, a Seattle restaurant accounting and consulting firm specializing in helping companies grow profitability.