Today’s restaurant patron is a tough customer. They expect high quality food and service at a good price as well as customization. Today’s restaurants must be focused and nimble in order to be profitable.

So says Seattle-based Rick Braa, owner of AMP Services, a restaurant accounting and hospitality consultancy. In speaking at a Seattle Restaurant Alliance (SRA) member meeting, Braa outlined five key areas restaurants should focus on in a competitive and fast-changing industry to stay profitable and retain customers.

VALUE – Now more than ever before, customers expect value. The traditional restaurant equation used to be Quality + Service + Convenience compared to Price. Now you can add menu customizability, accessibility, speed, purpose (why you exist), story (what’s cool about you), as well as an exciting experience. Put simply; customers want the traditional elements but also want to understand what a restaurant stands for and what they care about. Of these elements, Braa says speed is one of the most important aspects in restaurants today. In a fast-paced society filled with customers who bring high expectations, speed in turning tables, food and beverage orders, technology or booking reservations is critical. If customers have to wait 20 minutes to order a second drink, they could be lost.

SERVICE – The workforce has changed, and the next generation has grown up learning to help themselves and expecting others to do the same. Providing great hospitality is not a given; it must be modeled and taught, along with speed. Quality of service is still king; but may not always be intuitive.

DESIGN – Your business doesn’t have to be fancy, but your design should support cleanliness and consistency. Is your layout helping, or hurting, your ability to clean tables fast? Braa says setting clear consistent goals and standards—such as clearing and setting a table within two minutes—helps build a strong brand and consistency, so look at your space with respect to supporting those standards. Customers demand cleanliness; does your space lend itself to that?

MEASUREMENTS – Making time to analyze sales and labor daily can help you stay on top of creeping costs and address problems before they overtake your P&L. Start calculating your Sales to Labor Hours percentage (# of Sales to # of Labor Hours) or your Back of the House Food Sales to Labor Hours. For example, if you’re using pre-cut food products, compare that cost and the exact number of kitchen hours to sales; it could be revealing. A daily analysis may allow you to shift some costs in an industry that has seen as much as a 30% increase in the cost of kitchen labor.

TECHNOLOGY – The right technology products have the potential to add speed to your service to save you money, labor and add more reservations as well as food and drink orders. Staying ahead of these solutions and listening to what’s working or not for your fellow restauranteurs can help boost revenues.

These key areas may sound basic but gain greater importance in a fast-paced industry with narrow margins where more and more customers have high expectations of good food at affordable prices with fast but professional service. The good news is programs and resources are available to help manage your restaurant effectively.