Lyle's Blog

By the Numbers

September 4, 2012

A good restaurant manager knows his numbers. I learned mine early on.  There are percentages that you work to stay within, then you must sell a certain amount of covers to break even.  And...if you have done your math right, when you get above that break even point, the profit begins to take hold and, baring unforeseen problems, the more covers that you have above that break even point, the more profit that you will make.  It is simply spoken, Restaurants by the numbers.
Now, don't get me wrong, it is only a part of the over all scheme.  And, in my humble opinion, should not be your target goal.  The most important part of a restaurant is that it better serve tasty food in a timely and friendly manner thus giving the customer a good experience and giving him a desire to return.
But, if those numbers are not there, no restaurant will survive and thus is one of the main reasons that so many go under so early in their lives.  That and the fact that the profit margin is quite small.  Many young restaurateurs see all that money coming in to the tills and actually think that it belongs to you.  I preach to my people that only a nickel of every dollar actually goes in my pocket and generally speaking, that is true.
Every year, I do a certain amount of charity events.  It is one of my ways of giving back to the community that kept me alive.  I believe that to be a variable in yet another mix that all good businessmen should be involved in.  By that, I mean community spirit, believing in particular causes or organizations, and (even more importantly) showing who you are.
All that being said, a few years back, I decided to give the end of the summer cruise to a group of people who had become very near and dear to my heart, the High Desert A's.  This group of mainly more senior members (I am one of the younger) have come to take our diner on as a sort of home.  They invited Judy and I into their group with open arms and even helped us get our first Model A.  I enjoy hanging out with them as I do my veteran brothers and sisters.....many of them are veterans also but all of them have a strong love of country.
Last year, at the end of summer cruise, I did not do my job well or right.  The product was right, the atmosphere was right, and the desire was right.....but....my numbers were off.  That and the fact that the weather did not cooperate (the temperature dropped chasing customers off).
Our numbers were not that bad considering everything.  We sold around 140 covers.  As usual, most of them were senior sized.   I had placed the price in a what I felt was a good price hoping for around 200.  And, we probably would have made an OK profit if we would have had those numbers.  My other problem was serving a product that we could not use the left overs for something else.  We served ribs which is not what we normally use in the diner so not easily resold.
This year, we decided to change that and serve Sirloin.  Then, whatever was left over can be cut into steaks or diced into sirloin tips that are used in sandwiches or breakfast dishes.
But, this time, I also paid more attention to the numbers and priced the product accordingly.
As the day approached, I began to get quite nervous over the weather.  The weatherman had stated that the day would bring colder temperatures and I worried that the numbers would not pan out and like last year, I would not be able to raise any money for my friends.  Lingering smoke from a fire also lingered over the mix.  I remember going away during the day with Judy for a few hours to clear my head.  We drove up one of the passes.  While the air was not thick with smoke, it was there and the clouds kept the temperature down around us.  I remember worrying about all of that and silently praying as we drove back to Bend a few hours before the event.
As the time drew near, the clouds disappeared, the temperature warmed up and my Model A friends showed up in mass.  We had so many cars that we could not place them all in the line along the trees and had to put a couple in the middle.  Trinity helped me set the helpers in place and I walked around checking for all of the loose ends that needed to be tied.
As the time drew near, more local cruisers showed up and cards were distributed to all of them as we had decided to give a plaque away for the first time (another idea to bring in more cars).
Jimmy got the BBQ going a bit early and the line soon grew first with some of the Model A club followed close by other car enthusiasts and local veterans and others who had shown up to support the good cause.  Each time we do this, Jimmy gets better at judging the line and he trimmed back as the line began to reduce later in the evening.
Around 6, Richard Taelour and his group, the Taelour Project (which I have aptly named since Richard always brings in a great mix of guys but we never know for sure who will be there until the event) began entertaining the guests with their sweet mix of jazz and rock.
Around 7, the crowd had been served and we began to break down the BBQ and the serving tables as the crowd lingered amongst the cars and the band.  Many sat out in their folding chairs and soaked in the atmosphere while joking and laughing with their friends.  My job was easy......just walk around and talk to friends.  Any problems were small and easy to fix.
Around 7:15, we decided to give away the money for the 50/50 drawing.  The band was on a break and we used the mic to announce the number.  The number was given over and over but no one came.  Over $170 was sitting there waiting to be claimed.  Some people felt we should pick another number but then I realized that we had people inside the building who could have purchased a ticket.  I went into the back room first announcing the number but no one had it.  Going into the main floor, my buddy, Zin was sitting at the counter.  "Did you buy 50/50 tickets?", I asked.  "Yes" came the reply.  As I walked past him, I shouted out the number so the whole floor could hear.  "Yes", came another reply from my friend.  I stopped and looked at him looking down at his ticket.  "You have that number?", I asked.  "Yes", he stated a third time.  "Well, you might want to go outside before they decide to draw another number....you have just won!".
A few minutes later, we announced the winner of the best of show.  Ron Robbel brought in his 36 Desota that blew away all competition.  Then we announced our first annual Parking Lot Poker award (something special to thank the car guys who come in every week during the season).  Jerry Paxton of the group that one of our servers named the "Cool Kids" had won that.
With the awards and money given out, the crowd began to disperse.   Some of them were enjoying the music and stayed behind to relax and listen.  By 8, the band had broken up and we were securing the event.  I helped out a little inside as some of the customers had decided upon some desert to top off the evening.  Close to 9, I drug myself home and to bed.
The next day, I opened up the bags to look at the numbers.   Jimmy gave me a list of product and amount of man hours that the crew had added.  As I added up the totals, the expense numbers matched up with last year and at first, I began to get just a bit concerned.  But, then a smile came as I looked at the other numbers.  60 more customers at a slightly higher price.  I had done my job well and will be handing over a check to the High Desert A's for $600.
Everyone enjoyed an evening of friends, old cars and good music and we had accomplished our goal of raising funds for the COCC auto scholarships.  A special thanks to Bend Awards for providing our first years trophies and thus adding to the fun and the bottom line.

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