With consumers tightening their wallets due to inflation, and the U.S. officially in a recession after two quarters of negative gross domestic product, (GDP) the restaurant industry is again facing potentially tough times while it is still rebounding from the pandemic.

While economic conditions might not be ideal, there is always opportunity in challenging times for restaurant owners who blend creativity and business acumen to thrive. Bar Rescue star Jon Taffer, a restaurateur with four decades of hospitality experience, and owner of Taffer’s Tavern, knows a little something about running restaurants during economic downturns. We recently sat down with him to learn how restaurants can bulletproof themselves against the recession.

Deal with the Labor Shortage

Since the pandemic many restaurants have struggled to find good help. One of the best ways to combat a labor issue is to tap technology where you can explained Taffer. Consumer facing technology like online, kiosk or even tableside QR code ordering can reduce the number of employees needed, without alienating customers. In the back of the house, you can mine data to manage and better forecast the labor needed at any time based on revenue.

Improve Kitchen Efficiency

“At Taffer’s Tavern one of my goals was to create the ‘kitchen of the future,’” said Taffer. “By using technology, we improved operational efficiency by 60%.”

At Taffer’s Tavern their sous vide cooking method means less cooks are required, food cooks faster and ticket times are outstanding. It also means franchisees can have a full-service restaurant that is hoodless and ventless. While a restaurant owner may not be able to overhaul the kitchen, owners can incorporate kitchen technologies like kitchen display systems, a food safety management system, and smart equipment that leverages IoT technology.

Supply Efficiencies

With wholesale food prices up 11% from September 2021 to September 2022, managing costs is a must for a restaurant’s bottom line.

“Use technology to mine your data to see what menu items are popular and which are not,” said Taffer. “Eliminate those items that don’t sell.”

Regularly update PARS to make sure bad ordering decisions are not leading to food waste and higher costs. While all food costs have risen this year, some items have seen greater spikes than others. Go through your menu with a fine-tooth comb to see if you can eliminate items that have the highest food costs associated with them.

Market Smarter

Like with any long-term relationship, it doesn’t happen overnight. In the restaurant industry once a guest passes their third visit, there’s a 76% they’ll become a loyal customer. Marketing promotions should be designed to market to three visits.

For example, Taffer developed a “red napkin” promotion targeting people who haven’t been to the restaurant before. The initial offer is for a complimentary roast beef au jus. Guests must tell the host on arrival and the host seats them with a red napkin so staff and management is aware. At the end of the meal the manager gives the guest their business card with a $5 off herbed chicken offer to use at their next visit. 41% of people redeem the offer. When they come in to redeem that offer they’re given a third offer by the manager for a complimentary cheesecake. 46% come back the third time. The customer acquisition cost using this strategy is nearly half of the industry standard.

“You need to establish emotional connections with guests by creating reactions. Once they have that tie, they will come back, even in tough times,” said Taffer.

The economy is cyclical and savvy restaurant owners have to be able to run their business in both good and bad times. Implementing Taffer’s tools to help bulletproof your restaurant during a recession can help any restaurateur weather a tough economy. For franchisees looking for new concepts tailor made to thrive in all economic conditions, Taffer’s Tavern is looking for new, multi-unit franchisee partners.

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