Bakers Journal

Features Business and Operations
Success despite pandemic

Matt Vannini lends advice to keeping bakeries running


Matt Vannini, CEO of Restaurant Solutions

Matt Vannini grew up in the restaurant business. His parents owned a restaurant, and in Vannini’s lifetime, and states that he owned nine restaurants. Today, he is the CEO of Restaurant Solutions Inc., an all-purpose firm that includes accounting services as well as consultation for those in the food industry. Vannini shares his expertise gleaned from helping restaurants thrive during the pandemic. 

“We make decisions based on three legs: Is it good for the guest; is it good for your team, as in, does that work for you; and does it make you money.” Vannini observes that the pandemic has not changed those tenets, but declining tourism and food service volume has panicked many of his clients. 

“If you did not have a retail component, you have to get one quick, that is the first thing,” he suggested. “The best way that I saw that done was through social media, which is a no brainer. I mean, that’s almost an instant cheque for everybody. But, most notably, it has been this about the third party, the marketplace facilitators: delivery services like Doordash or Grubhub.”

Vannini notes that many in the U.S. and Canada have expressed frustration with delivery fees, which can be as high as 30 per cent. “What people fail to realize about these companies is that they are not delivery companies. I know what I’m saying sounds crazy, but they are a marketing firm.” The disadvantage to fees, he feels, is leveraged by its ability to promote and build excitement about a café or restaurant. Bakers may not have marketing experience or the time to post exhaustively on social media to encourage their business. “If you don’t have the marketing acumen, you need to get that retail component. You have to get the marketing to the consumer.” 

Advertisement

The advantage of a third-party delivery service means someone can promote contiguously with the bakery’s web site or social media posts, providing a swift turnaround for those who offer delivery. He describes the phenomena as generating “pent up” demand which creates opportunities for first time customers. “The minute they know your product, you’ll get flooded; your volume comes back up. My clients’ averages are only down 13 per cent and this is across almost 2000 restaurants.”

His advice to larger café or service-oriented deli-café that hire servers may seem brutal. “you’re not in the people business…you’re in the bakery business. Your job is to keep the business open, because if you don’t have a business, you have no people.” Vannini realizes that this contradicts much of what many government relief programs suggest. “The reason I’m doing that is because they were talking about giving people 600 bucks, or you are gonna get two and a half times your payroll, so that you could turn around and hire all these people back. The reality was, why would you hire staff back if you have no mechanism for sales? My point is, fix the ship, then put people on board. 

“The other thing too that most individuals are tipped. So, if you turned around and you had no business, and you kept people on salary, and that that minimum wage in some cases, 35 to 37 per cent less than what they get with their tips. Get them on unemployment, so that they that they get the rate that is calculated using their tips, versus keeping them in an environment where you may be at 75 to 80 per cent down on your sales. It would have would have killed them financially, so you are actually doing a service for them by allowing them to go on unemployment, so you can fix the business and then bring them back.”

Digital presence is key, in Vannini’s opinion. Like a bricks-and-mortar shop, he feels that the first impression is much like a restaurant’s: What does your entrance look like? “how does the guest find you? What does your web presence look like? Do you have a website that is an interactive website that represents your brand?”asks Vannini. “What most individuals don’t realize, especially independent operators, that the brand is an extension of their product.” For artisanal bakers or cake specialists, he cautions, “that website better look darn good. Don’t take pictures of your pastries under a bright light with your iPhone six.” 

He advises bakers not to find the most cost-effect option when it comes to marketing. “Most operators, that’s their mentality. They’re so used to riding on thin margins, that they’ll turn around and they’ll always look for the best financial deal. Now is not that time.”

“Do not get ‘creative’ or cheap,” he urges. “find individuals that give you the widest net. It gives you the widest chance of attracting those new customers, and those new guests. You have to do it right now, and I hate to say it, but if they aren’t a well- established third-party company, don’t
use them.”

What should a food industry look for in the search for a delivery company or a POS service? “You want people where there is no experimental behavior at all. Are they integrated with the drivers? Yes. Do they represent your brand well on your menus? Yes. Do they have a Google tagging experience? Yes. Can you safely, without having to worry, focus on making your product, and keeping the quality of your product while your volumes build back, while they handle getting your product exposed and delivered? If the answer is yes, Godspeed!”

In short, Vannini’s advises marketing yourself aggressively through social media, and third-party delivery services. Offer retail products or packages of meals or goods, and offer wholesale if applicable. If you can’t sell products, sell knowledge, in the form of training or classes to the public. 

Finally, he strongly advises bakers to join a professional association, such as Restaurants Canada or Baking Association of Canada. “The ones that can find their way through are the ones that can reach out to the right network of people who are dedicated, working industry experts, but that’s where I’ve seen some real benefits, some real value. Because, right now it’s absolutely silly to try to do anything on your own.”