Sharing Success – Tom Cortopassi
For owners of Independent companies, simply trying to “do business” every day is complicated by a series of seemingly never- ending external challenges. Lately, this has been especially true for Independent restaurateurs facing short labor, rising costs, plus lingering issues from the pandemic. On top of that, rising prices, especially on fuel, may now be causing some consumers to tighten their belts.
However, the strategy that leads to Independent operator success works in both good times and in tough economic climates.
Even during the depths of the “Great Recession” in 2007-2009 when Independents faced a huge “double whammy” of rapidly rising ingredient costs AND a prolonged economic slowdown, most of the Independents who remained focused on maximizing ingredient quality and providing their regulars consistently warm, responsive service saw their business perform steadily.
On the other hand, operators who attempted to “save their way to prosperity” by cutting corners on quality didn’t make it.
Especially for newer business owners, who haven’t previously operated during similar economic challenges, the current spike in operating costs, from ingredients and energy to wages, is likely generating anxiety about how (and when) to best respond.
On the other hand, seasoned operators have already dealt with similar challenges in the past and they tend to have greater confidence about passing along rising costs by increasing menu prices.
Back in the 2000s, restaurateurs facing rapidly eroding profit margins recognized that staying in business would require raising their menu prices to help offset the significant increase in food costs. However, most remained understandably anxious about what might happen as a result.
The good news is that after adjusting their menu prices accordingly, most of the restaurant owners I spoke with were still glad they had. It wasn’t easy. But at least it gave their businesses a chance to carry on.
Recently, I went back and found a La Trattoria column I had written during a time of rapid price increases, called “Facing Inflation.”
In that column, here is how multiple restaurateurs at the time described their experience with raising menu prices in response to inflationary pressures:
- Loyal customers kept coming back after raising menu prices. In fact, many operators said most of their guests offered little or no negative feedback. Even when they increased menu prices, Italian food was still one of the best dining values around.
- They wished they had done it earlier. Raising prices allowed them to restore eroded profitability and reduce financial anxiety. Putting it off had only prolonged their anxiety.
- Competitors who tried to cut costs by cutting quality did not last. Many mentioned restaurant competitors who had instead responded to rising food costs by trying to switch to cheaper (lesser quality) ingredients and had gone out of business as a result.
As owners of Independent businesses, how each of us chooses to price our offerings is one of the most personal decisions we can make. While I do not pretend to know what is right for your business, as long as commodity costs are rising, I strongly suggest that you consider that:
Businesses must remain profitable to remain in business. That requires charging more for your offerings than they cost to make. If your costs increase significantly, so too must your prices. As my Uncle Dino was always fond of saying: “Arithmetic is not an opinion.”
All restaurants are facing the same conditions. You do not need to wonder what will happen if you act and competitors don’t. They are facing the exact same pressures and outcomes.
Have confidence in your superior food quality. If your food is sufficiently superior to attract and keep loyal customers, most will likely remain loyal after reasonable price increases. (If you are not confident in your food quality, consider improving it until you gain that confidence.)
Perhaps let customers know. Consumers are aware of the inflationary pressures impacting all businesses. But if it makes you feel better, consider posting a small notice at your register or online explaining the necessity of passing along rising costs to keep providing them the exact same superior quality they have come to expect from your offerings.
No one knows what the future holds. However, one thing is for certain: regardless of external challenges, serving consistently superior food is what keeps loyal quality-oriented patrons coming back for more!
Until next time, Ciao!
Tom Cortopassi, President and Co-Owner