Guided goals

Now that the House of Representatives and the Senate are not skewed by the vision of one dominant party after the elections in November 2010, get ready for changes to tax laws, job growth, and hopefully a renewed focus on small businesses in America—including restaurants!

It’s that time of year to reset your restaurant and company vision, to assess where you’re headed. We’ve all heard the story about the pilot getting on the loudspeaker and telling the crew and passengers, “We’re not sure of the upcoming weather, we did not check the fuel, our gauges seem to be a little off, and our GPS was not updated last evening, so we’re not sure about our destination today. Other than that, have a wonderful flight!”

I recently attended the Pizza Production Seminar, hosted by Jeff Zeak and Tom Lehmann at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas. They taught a core principle: “It’s not all about the dough, but the financial dough, as well, in running your restaurant.” In asking each of the participants the simple question “Where is your restaurant headed in 2011?” the most consistent response was usually not supported by a well-thought-out business plan, or advisors that rallied behind the restaurateur’s vision!

You are taking the time to read this article about vision and the communication you have with your financial and business advisors who support your restaurant. First, stop and write down exactly what you would like your restaurant to look like by the end of 2011. How will your revenue, employees, food and labor cost percentages, and social media penetration end up at the end of the year?

Next, contact your accountant, take him to lunch and explain exactly where you’re headed. Advisors love a free lunch. Why? Advisors are either reactive or proactive when it comes to providing services. For example, if the restaurateur does not clearly explain the vision for and direction in which the restaurant is headed, a service provider will be in the reactive mode, ensuring that all of the compliance is handled properly regarding taxes and filings, but not structuring the business to accommodate any upcoming vision strategies. Alternatively, if the restaurateur provides a road map for his advisors, this puts the entire team on a proactive venture to ensure that advice is provided that supports the vision.

Now that you have a vision, your next step is to evaluate your advisor team. An advisor is someone you can trust to provide relevant advice to support your vision. “Trust,” as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is “the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed…reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing.”

Here are 12 behaviors an advisor should demonstrate to create a trusting relationship:

1. Talk straightforwardly

2. Demonstrate respect

3. Create transparency

4. Right any wrongs

5. Show loyalty

6. Deliver results

7. Focus on getting better

8. Confront reality

9. Clarify expectations

10. Demand accountability

11. Listen first

12. Keep commitments

How is your outside team performing? I would take the time to rate your primary advisors that you listen to and pay to provide services to your restaurant. If you feel you have clearly directed them to your vision, then a rating of performance is in order. If your advisors aren’t stacking up, then it’s time to clear the bench and find some new players eager to offer their knowledge.

Speaking from an advisor’s standpoint, we are taught several concepts, such as: The fastest way to build trust with a client or customer is to deliver results. Results give you instant credibility and trust. How are your advisors doing? What are their motives? Motives relate to why you do what you do. The best motive when building trust is genuinely caring about people. Does your advisor practice accountability that includes taking responsibility for bad results? It is often our natural response to blame others for failure. When faulty or delayed advice is given, advisors need to communicate this to you in a timely fashion.

A few facts to consider: According to the National Restaurant Association, almost 70% of independent restaurants fail within the first five years. Only 25% of franchise chain restaurants fail within the first five years. Why? In my (and other professionals geared toward serving the restaurant industry) opinion, when restaurants focus on systems to document exactly how their operations generate the product and net income on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, the percentage of them that stay in business increases substantially. Simply put, what you focus on becomes habit, generating expected results.

Finally, book after book supports the statement “Do it now!” If you’ve made it to the end of this article and decided that you have a plan for 2011 and your advisor team meets or beats all of the criteria listed above, you’re on your way to a great year. However, if I had to guess, your vision for your restaurant is most likely in flux and not clearly communicated to yourself, let alone your advisor team. Make 2011 a year of clarity of your vision, and track your resulting progress.

To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this communication is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used for the purpose of avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein. You should seek advice based on your particular circumstances from an independent advisor.

Michael J. Rasmussen is the owner of Rasmussen Tax Group in Conway, Arkansas. Visit rasmussentaxgroup.com for additional insight into restaurant-specific tax strategies and technology programs.