The 1 Thing to Focus on in Your Food Retail Business

Alex Coffin

The Problem

Ask a café, restaurant or bar owner what their biggest issues are, and they will almost certainly tell you one or more of the following…  

  • Lack of time
  • Constantly dealing with staff issues
  • Not making the profit they expected to
  • Wasting food
  • Being hit by unexpected costs


There are many ways to address these issues. For example, you could…  

  • Plan staff rotas at least a week ahead
  • Prepare food from detailed recipes
  • Record wastage in detail
  • Use simple budgeting principles to know where you stand day-to-day
  • Delegate tasks in a structured way and allocate roles for the day


These systems and practices are found in all successful food and drink operations. 

However, in an important sense they are surface level fixes that DO NOT ACTUALLY ADDRESS the root cause of the issues. 

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The underlying cause of all these problems is UNPREDICTABILITY... 

The solution is to make the business AS PREDICTABLE AS POSSIBLE

Operating cafes, bars and restaurants can be both fun and rewarding... when you know what you're going to be dealing with. If the business is fairly predictable you can avoid constantly fighting fires and operating in crisis mode. You can take a long term view and plan effectively. Your team can focus fully on delivering an excellent experience for customers, rather than worrying about what might go wrong this shift.  

So, how to make the business predictable? 

Focus on the following 5 areas:

1 – Make Meaningful Forecasts

  • Forecast sales annually, monthly, weekly and daily. 
  • Before opening a business, use the best information you have available - number of covers, estimated spend per customer, customers per hour etc.
  • Once the business has launched, use actual sales data to refine and improve your forecasts.
  • Be aware of any events that will affect sales in the coming period. If there’s a sporting event or festival taking place locally, or a national holiday coming up you need to know about it!
  • Check the weather forecast carefully when making forecasting sales and setting your rotas - and keep an eye out for changes!
  • Review your forecasting regularly. If actual sales were well above or below your forecast make sure you understand why.

2 – Know your Breakeven Point

  • Be crystal clear about the point at which you actually start making money. Know how much you need to sell to break even each day, each week, each month and each year.
  • Do this before you open the business using your forecast of sales and expenses. Then refine your estimate using actual data as it comes in.
  • This will help you to avoid unexpected cashflow problems - the number 1 cause of business failures.
  • It will also help you to understand when you need to control costs, think about sending staff home etc - so you can afford to have all your resources there when you really need them. 

3 – Collect and Analyse Data

  • Use all available information to understand what is going on in your business and how well you are performing (till reports, staff rotas, wastage sheets, stock management systems, stock counts etc.)
  • Use your findings to help prepare each day, to plan your rotas and to refine your forecasts.
  • Meet with your accountant - perhaps monthly to start with but at least quarterly on an ongoing basis. They should be able to confirm whether you are controlling the business effectively and help to spot issues you may have missed. 

4 – Build Sales in Quiet Periods

  • Reducing the peaks and troughs of trade makes a business much easier to manage.
  • Consistently higher sales allow more staff to be on site at all times. They also mean you can prepare more food without worrying so much about incurring large amounts of waste.
  • The risk of being caught out by sudden busy periods is therefore reduced and the business is much more resilient.
  • Offers, promotions, a regular events programme and loyalty schemes are all good ways of attracting customers in quieter periods… thought there are many more!

5 – Formalise your Processes

  • A huge part of the reason the best cafes, bars and restaurants make it look easy is the quality of their systems and processes behind the scenes.
  • The whole team knowing, “if X happens, we do Y” is the key to a business operating brilliantly and predictably in the owner’s absence (allowing you to step away when needed).
  • Get your processes written down, agreed with staff, and scheduled so they take place when they need to, like clockwork. Much of this can be done before your business actually launches.
  • Automate processes wherever possible so you always have what you need, where you need it at the time you need it, without having to think about it. 

In Conclusion

Building predictability into your cafe, bar or restaurant is the single best thing you could do to make it more manageable. 

If you are considering a venture and want to explore how best to make it immediately successful, profitable and give you the lifestyle you want then get in touch to book a free 90 minute strategy session.

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