Q: This is the most difficult time of year for our business. The majority of our sales are seasonal and we are now in the offseason. What was can I maximize our business to keep from building a big hole?
A: Seasonal businesses face a difficult challenge when times are busy and when times are slow. It’s not unusual for a seasonal business to produce 65 to 75 percent of annual sales during peak season. For many seasonal businesses the non-peak season creates cash flow issues, staffing crises and morale issues. To stay relevant, this is the time for you as the leader to do your best and most difficult work.

Staff appropriately for the season.
Evaluate how much management you need for coverage. Ask lower level managers to take working shifts where they have direct interaction with the guest, cover revenue producing shifts and earn tips. Adjust base pay to the level of what that position pays. Tips will make up the difference. In essence, you are asking the manager to step down for the season to a working position resulting in huge benefits to the restaurant. You should see a higher, more profitable guest visit with some of the best product and service your guests can experience. Next, reduce the workforce to fit the business, don’t struggle to find a person hours. Let the staff pursue positions with other businesses by partnering with seasonal businesses that are opposite seasons to yours. It is better to share employees between businesses than to lose them all together. There are plenty of restaurants that are busy in the fall/winter months and busy during the spring/summer, partner with a business with peak seasons opposite of your own.

Connect with your guest socially. 
Blog, tweet, post and educate your guests. Social media is best used to stay connected to your guests. Positioning your business as a subject matter expert will create top of mind awareness. Blog recipes, cooking tips, wine tips and the pieces of your business in which you excel. In most businesses 60 to 80 percent of sales are made from repeat guests. This is the season to focus on bringing them in one more time by creating an incentive to come back sooner. Think of the struggles of the greeting card industry that has massive, seasonal sales around holidays such as Valentine’s and Mother’s Day. To solve this issue, the industry focused on obscure, special days. Suddenly we have Administrative Professional Day, Grandparent’s Day, etc. By celebrating a wider variety of special days the greeting card business expanded to be less seasonal. Build a plan around special days and market heavily to promote them. Be proactive around the specials days in your guests’ lives such as birthdays, anniversaries and special celebrations. Pick up the phone and dial for sales and loyalty. Lastly, use your loyalty program and if you don’t have one, develop one. There are plenty of easy programs available, some will even integrate with your credit card processing for the same price as your current credit card provider.

Innovate your business. 
This is the time of year to analyze your business behaviors. Look at profitability with a critical eye. Scour menu mix data to see what is selling and what isn’t. Analyze trends in day parts such as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Look at each day of the week as a separate profit center and analyze sales and staffing, especially in the kitchen. Look at sales per server and open and close times. Perform a repair and maintenance walk through and focus on fixing small things, while also scheduling capital expenditures. Get all your performance reviews completed and audit your personnel files to ensure you have proper documentation for each employee. Meet with key employees and guests and ask for their feedback one-on-one on how to build a better business. Brainstorm and select one rally cry for the upcoming year, then communicate and over communicate that rally cry. If that rally cry is sales, make sure every person on staff is involved in understanding his or her role in meeting goals and why you want to build sales.

This is the season for teaching, training, development and innovation. Do your best work when it’s slower and you’ll see better results. The crew won’t put effort beyond that of their leader. Make this the year you provide leadership, motivation and inspiration at the highest level.

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