What is the Average Restaurant Profit Margin in the UK? Tips for Benchmarking and Optimising

Jessica Reimer and Sarah ZornAuthor

What is a good profit margin for a restaurant?

As anyone in the foodservice industry in the UK will attest to, getting a restaurant off the ground — and keeping it running — is no simple task. Long hours and hard decisions abound, but with a bit (okay, a lot) of preparation and planning, you can transform logistical (and sometimes physical) pain into financial gain.

A quick scan of the current state of the restaurant industry can make the restaurant landscape look a bit bleak: massive turnover, exorbitant labour costs and food costs, plethora of technology to consider from restaurant point of sale to cash drawers and contactless payments, sky-high rent, punishing online reviews... the list goes on.

But ultimately, whether a restaurant’s doors stay open or not depends on one thing: profit margin.

Keep reading for a complete guide to restaurant profit margins in the UK, and learn everything you need to know on how to achieve and maintain profitability in the restaurant management business.

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Complete Guide to Restaurant Profit Margins

What is restaurant profit margin?

Where profit is an amount expressed in dollars and cents, the profit margin is the amount of profit expressed as a percentage of annual sales.

Profit is money left over after subtracting operating expenses from gross revenue, and how you generate revenue may include more than just food and beverage sales. Total sales may consist of catering, venue hire, branded merchandise, and packaged goods, co-working space sharing, and franchising agreements, among other possible revenue streams. 

Unfortunately, even though your total revenue may come from more than one revenue stream, the sky's the limit when it comes to expenses. Between labour, inventory, payroll, rent, utilities, advertising, credit card payment processing fees, equipment repairs, restaurant POS system technology, cloud based integrations, general maintenance of the restaurant business, and the dozens of other fixed costs, variable, and above-the-line expenses thrust upon restaurant owners, it’s common to feel underwhelmed at what’s left after you’ve made all the necessary deductions.

It's critical that you take control of your restaurant costs to minimise expenses and stretch your margin.

During your restaurant’s early years, it’s important to manage your average restaurant revenue and gross profit margin expectations. Of course, it'd be wonderful to be the next overnight success story, but the fact is the vast majority of restaurateurs take on significant debt and achieve limited profitability when first starting out.

Making conservative estimates and goals will serve you well when unexpected start-up costs crop up. When it comes to profits, sustainability is key.

The higher the profit margin, the better. But as we’ll explore in the next section, your restaurant profit margins are always subject to change, sometimes as a result of things outside of your control.

What is the average profit margin for restaurants?

Just as a restaurant’s success is not wholly determined by the food or drinks it serves, the average profit margin for restaurants is impacted by a host of factors, like average cost per customer (especially if you've managed to upsell), the type of restaurant operation it is, and so on.

The range for restaurant profit margins typically spans anywhere from 0 – 15 percent, but the average restaurant profit margin usually falls between 3 – 5 percent.

Any Introduction to Statistics textbook will explain how outliers — data points on the extreme ends of a spectrum — affect averages. Gross revenue and expenses vary significantly between a QSR and a Michelin star restaurant. So it’s worth researching profit margins specific to your niche when determining how much profit you should make in a restaurant.

The biggest takeaway here is to set a goal to maintain “average-or-better” restaurant margins, year over year.

How can I improve my restaurant profit margin?

There are two ways to approach this:

a. increasing sales volume relative to expenses, or

b. decreasing expenses relative to sales volume

You can also keep up to date with the state of ingredient prices by checking out Toast's monthly updated ingredients pricing pages such as chicken wings, bacon, broccoli, and more! 

It’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to typical restaurant margins — much like almost everything else in the industry — what works for one may not work for all. 

For example, many QSR and FSRs believe a straight reduction in hourly labour or supplies will produce a “quick win” to cut costs and increase profits. However, this is a tactic that must be approached with caution, as failure to plan for the effects of these adjustments can compromise your tableside customer experience, your staff morale, and your bottom line.

When it comes to restaurant expenses, people often reference the “Big Three”:

  • Cost of Goods Sold
  • Labour
  • Overhead

As a rule of thumb, one-third of revenue is typically allocated to cost of goods sold (COGS), another third to labour, and the remainder must account for any additional overhead expenses.

Proactive planning is crucial. It's something that rests at the heart of every successful business venture and is essential for all types of restaurants, be they fine dining full-service restaurants, fast food quick-service restaurants, or food trucks. Setting conservative restaurant goals will offset circumstances beyond your control — things like inclement weather and economic downturns.

To help you on your way, here are seven strategies designed to keep your customers, staff, suppliers, and bank account happy.

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1. Monitor Your Metrics

Expenses are a bit like toddlers: leave them unattended and they’re guaranteed to run amok.

Critically evaluating your restaurant’s functionality and metrics is a great way to protect against runaway expenses. The good news is that metrics are everywhere in the foodservice industry: menu item sales and add-ons, traffic patterns, and utility usage are just a few examples. 

This information points to your restaurant’s financial health and provides justification for responsible, profitable changes. Whether you’re making the switch to energy-efficient light bulbs or overhauling your inventory management system, even the small changes can have a big impact.

7 Restaurant Performance Metrics and How to Calculate Them

2. Implement Smart Scheduling

Given how much of your revenue goes to payroll, streamlining your staff schedules is an easy way to ensure your restaurant is sufficiently staffed to meet customer demand at any hour of the day. Over-scheduling and under-scheduling both pose a threat to your profit margin, so it’s essential to track what times and days are busiest for you and schedule accordingly. Creating a smart restaurant scheduling solution with your restaurant manager will not only save you time scheduling but will also reduce your labour costs by matching staffing levels to projected sales. Many point of sale solutions can track tableside ordering patterns so you can analyse busy and quiet periods in the restaurant. You can then create a report on the restaurant pos software to help you get more efficient with scheduling shifts for front of house and back of house staff.

3. Take Advantage of Technology

As mentioned above, operating a fully integrated POS system (that connects front of house with back of house) is an expense. But it’s one that can end up paying for itself in any number of ways. Not only does it input and track customer orders (via kiosks for instance) and payment processing, it ensures accuracy when it comes to orders (no more comped bills!), improves efficiency via options like a mobile pos or a kitchen display system (kds) that shows orders instantly (making it easier to turn around tables), increases security (safeguarding against theft) and operations (via offline mode), and allows you to keep track of floor plans, employee performance, manage your inventory, and gain overall insight into the operation of your business. 

And that’s just one technological tool at your disposal. Your restaurant pos system can also facilitate online ordering, which has emerged as a must in the time of COVID. Or integrate with restaurant-specific accounting software, inventory management software, compliment loyalty and gift card integrations or various operational or financial supporting systems, in order to gain a concrete, real-time understanding of your restaurant margins.

4. Cultivate an Online Presence

Traditional marketing is associated with big revenue. But nowadays, you can take your act online. Thanks to the power of social media, you have 24/7, cost-effective access to a world of prospective customers. Whether you are a small, neighbourhood cafe or a full service restaurant, restaurant marketing is easier than ever, and there are dozens of creative strategies to try.

Considering most people live with their faces buried in their smartphones, it should come as no surprise that diners are regularly seeking out restaurant information and recommendations online. So the first step is to maintain visibility, and that starts with an up-to-date website and Google My Business listing. Make sure potential patrons have all of the (correct) info they need, in order to make it through the doors of your restaurant and to order online, including phone number and address, current menu and prices, COVID protocols, and social media links.

Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. It’s imperative to open accounts on all the major social media provider platforms and keep them updated with relevant info, compelling content, and of course, mouthwatering pictures. You also want to make sure it’s easy for customers to link to you if they have images to share from a recent meal or a glowing review to share. Oh, and while you’re at it, consider taking advantage of LinkedIn too. It allows you to engage and network with other people in your industry, and even source talent when seeking employees.

Finally, sending emails to your loyal customers (e.g. with faqs, customer support, news or gift card info) is an extremely effective way to get your guests back in the door. 

5. Reduce Food Waste

Food costs already take a giant bite from your budget, so it’s a shame to not take full advantage of every last apple or every crust of bread. The first step towards menu management and reducing waste (and protecting your restaurant profit margin) is to not over-order in the first place. Take a critical eye at your inventory and order management (which your point of sale system can help with), in order to ensure you’re not bringing in more perishable ingredients than you stand to use each week.

You also need to make the most of what you already have. Be creative when it comes to planning your menu (whether it’s dine-in or takeout), by developing dishes around the bones and skin from your proteins, the peels and cores from your fruit and vegetables, and even the grinds from your coffee.

Finally, proper storage isn’t just sanitary — it’s financially savvy. Keep costly ingredients from getting tossed in the bin prematurely by wrapping them appropriately, keeping them at safe temperatures, and labelling them clearly, so you never miss an expiration date.

6. Address Employee Turnover

Restaurants are facing one of the most severe labour shortages in decades, which presents all manner of obvious problems for owners. But did you know it also actively costs money? The average cost of turning one hourly restaurant employee is £5,864. So with a 73% annual employee turnover rate, poor employee retention can stand to cost your restaurant £428,072 or more each year. Between these costs and the importance of motivated, tenured employees to guest experience thinking about a retention plan is important.

Luckily, we’ve already composed an entire guide aimed at reducing employee turnover. By providing on-the-job skills training, developing safe workplace culture, and encouraging constructive feedback, you’ll boost morale and bolster your bottom line.

7. Safeguard Against Ebbs

It is perfectly normal for even a profitable restaurant to experience ebbs and flows in traffic. 

Once you start tracking peak customer rush times (via your pos solution), you’ll also start noticing lean times — weeks or months when traffic temporarily drops off. To keep customers coming through your door or even picking up curbside all year long, and to give your business a competitive edge, consider how user-friendly your busing and think about starting some sort of loyalty program, or extending special offers, reduced menu prices, incentives, and promotions, to coincide with identified slow times.

Keep an Eye on your P&L

The basis for any restaurant's financial decisions — and the best indicator of its health — is an up-to-date profit and loss statement. Check out this template to get started on yours or to compare it to your current P&L. 

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