Benchmarking Your Way to Improved Performance

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, one of the leading lights of 19th century science said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”  While he was speaking of scientific inquiry and measurement, the same statement could be made regarding any desire to improve your company’s operating efficiency.

If you cannot accurately measure your current operating performance, how would you know where to best apply your corrective efforts?  Or even if those efforts were working or not?  This, in a nutshell, expresses the necessity of detailed benchmarking of all aspects of hospitality operations.

Every business operation monitors its performance by accounting for its revenues and expenses, thereby determining its level of profitability.  In the broadest sense the monthly financial statements are the measure of how the business is doing, but you must understand that the financial statements are summary numbers derived from the interplay of a large number of operational variables.

So if you want to increase your profitability, the numbers from your financial statements only allow you to say, “We need to increase revenues” or “We need to reduce our expenses.”  Without further detail as to where the problems are, you’ll never know where best to apply your efforts to increase revenues or cut expenses.

The key underlying variable for revenues in any operation is the number of customers patronizing the establishment, or volume of business.  This measure will be different for different areas of the operation – diners for the food and beverage operations, rooms occupied for lodging establishments, golf rounds for golf operations, retail transactions for the pro shops or other retail outlets.  The second and no less important variable is how much each customer spends on average while utilizing these facilities – the average check per diner in the dining room, the average room rate in a hotel, the green or cart fees per round on the golf course, and the average sale in the retail outlets.

The basic benchmarks of volume and average spend are computed by every POS system, but the real benefit of monitoring these benchmarks is in tracking them by day of week, week to week, month to month, and year to year.  This tracking over time allows the operator to monitor daily, weekly, and seasonal trends which is important because every area of an operation has its own variations based on time of day, day of week, and season.

Here’s an example of how benchmarks can help:

When dining revenues are down it’s important to know what combination of volume and average spend is causing the shortfall because the solution to one or the other is very different.  If volume is down, you need to figure out a way to bring in more customers more often.  If average spend is down, you need to figure out why – are they spending less because of the general economy, is your menu pricing appropriate to their expectations, or do your employees need more training in suggesting and upselling?

Other benchmarks can shed more light on the problem.  Are lesser priced menu items selling better?  If so it might indicate price sensitivity.  Are the cover counts down on Wednesday night when you offer your seafood special?  If so, this might indicate that customers are growing tired of this longstanding menu, or maybe another restaurant is luring them away with their own special pricing and fare.

Another example:  What if revenues are steady, but net income is down?  By benchmarking what menu items are selling, you might notice that you are selling large quantities of a low margin item from your menu.  By carefully tracking your food costs, you might discover that a key ingredient in your best-selling menu item has risen dramatically in recent weeks.  By benchmarking your labor hours and comparing it to revenues or cover counts you might find that your net is shrinking due to low productivity or over-scheduling.

What these examples demonstrate is that the more information you have about the details of your operation, the better able you are to analyze operational weakness and implement corrective action.  This premise of benchmarking key operating statistics is basic to any business, but in order to be most effective benchmarking must be a routine process with data being compiled, monitored, formally reported, and acted upon.  Only then can you use this wealth of information to proactively address emerging issues.  Without a formal system of benchmarking you will forever be reacting to the bad news from last month.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hospitality hardworking  managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for the Hospitality Industry!

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