Neal Lefebvre
Blog, Operational Efficiency, Restaurant reporting

Sales forecasting software is an absolute must-have for scheduling. Can you imagine using the same schedule for each day, every year? You’d have extra team members with nothing to do on some days, customers waiting an hour for their orders on others, or employees trying to cover tasks that they’ve never been trained to do—mass hysteria.

Forecasting software may be the single most important piece of technology in the restaurant landscape, but there’s much more to it than scheduling based on last year’s sales. Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your restaurant sales forecasting software.

Look beyond sales history

Sales history is easily the best predictor of sales trends, but there are other factors you should be including. Have any nearby competitors closed in the last year? Has the curb appeal of your store improved? Are there new traffic patterns that could nudge more traffic in your direction? You might want to adjust your forecasting up over last year to compensate.

Conversely, have new restaurants opened around you that may be taking a slice of your customer base? Have other stores—including non-competitors—opened, making your store’s location more prominent? Is construction driving customers away from your area? If you’re not accounting for these situations, you may be left unprepared.

Your forecasting software may be able to account for these variables, but even if it doesn’t, you should be.

PRO TIP: Concerning sales history, most brands’ Back of House schedule builders will have the previous year’s data, which is very helpful. And partnering this data with a coaching software could help you make strong data-driven decisions. Take it from one of our clients, “Delaget’s best tool is the Daypart Mix Report. This report houses sales, transactions, check average by daypart. This is the tool I used as an area coach and the team still uses it, especially around the really tricky times of the year: Thanksgiving, the day before, and the weekend after.”

Become a master of calendars

Restaurant operators need to manage a minimum of three calendars.

  1. Standard Schedule — The standard schedule allows you can see which employees are working during a given shift. This calendar probably includes PTO, and maybe holidays—not because your store will be closed, but because it’ll be more difficult to find shift coverage on those days.
  2. Brand Marketing Calendar — Beyond the standard schedule, make sure you also keep your eye on the brand marketing calendar. This calendar will track marketing at all levels—from corporate brand campaigns to store-specific promotions. You should be able to see at-a-glance when your LTOs are running, and it should be the same calendar where you see what commercials are being aired.
  3. Local Calendar — The third calendar you should maintain is a community/school calendar for your location. If there’s a football game at the high school, you should know about it—don’t get caught by surprise when you see a slump during the game, followed by a rush after it ends. Local events like city fairs can have a huge impact on sales, and they don’t always happen on the same day every year—so your sales history may not account for them. Even events in nearby cities can influence your sales, depending on the draw; if there’s a concert downtown and you’re in a neighboring suburb, you’re going to get more traffic.

Get comfortable with uncertainty

There are certain times of the year that are, by their very nature, difficult to predict. Take school holidays, for example—many parents will take the day off from work, so sales should go up, right? But with a day off from work and school, those families might be more likely to make dinner at home or to go out to a full-service restaurant. In practice, you’ll get a mixture of each of these scenarios, making forecasting on school holidays tough to predict. The same goes for periods like spring break or summer vacation; sales might go up, but with people taking vacations, they might remain flat (or even take a dip).

Your forecasting software can help use data to make predictions, but there will always be some uncertainty.

Look more than one year back

Forecasting based on the previous year’s sales is the standard, but as we’ve already discussed, there will be anomalies every year—that goes for last year’s sales, too. Maybe there was an event last year that caused sales to spike, but the event isn’t taking place this year. If you’re only forecasting based on last year’s sales, you might be surprised when things don’t match up.

If your software supports it, forecast based on at least two years of data to accommodate peaks and valleys that may not be consistent every year. Your total sales have probably changed since two years ago, but you may be able to identify trends that you would otherwise miss.

There’s more to sales forecasting software than scheduling based on last year’s sales. Your restaurant management software probably tracks many kinds of information, so make sure you’re using it to your advantage by factoring it all into your forecasting. And if your software only allows you to plan based on sales from the previous year, it might be time to look for a more robust solution.

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