How many chefs do you know own a failed restaurant? How many wannabes’ have you heard of that started their own business, and quickly bit the big one a few years later? The difference between failure and success these days—in any industry, regardless of your intent—is a fine line, that walking it will drive you mad. Here are 6 tips that will keep your restaurant from going belly up and your sanity intact.
1. The Big Three
There are three things that are crucial for your restaurant:
- A phenomenal chef
- An advantageous location
- A unique/satisfying concept
These criteria are entwined with each other. The location you pick must be in-line with your concept, in order to maximise foot traffic; more accessibility = higher profit margins. In the same line, a phenomenal chef extends beyond his/her cooking qualities: your chef must “get” your concept, and work alongside it.
2. Don’t Cheat the Guests
By far, the most value you’ll see comes from investing your time towards guests’ experience. If guests don’t feel valued, and welcome to come anytime they like in the future, you can kiss them bye-bye. This is why it’s important to not cut corners when it comes to delighting (and feeding) guests. Certified waiters, competent valets, and high-quality desserts all go a long way towards establishing your restaurant as a “go to.” If you notice certain guests quickly becoming regulars, consider offering them gift cards for discounted meals.
3. Put Systems in Place
Not developing a system of organisation and operation is like painting a house with paintbrushes instead of a mechanical airbrush. You’ll still get to your goal, but the journey will be a lot slower (and require a ton more effort on your part). The goal isn’t to design perfect systems – perfectionists know first-hand that trying to be perfect is a sure-fire way to sabotage goals. (With the exception of developing a system for keeping your kitchen clean and sanitary.)
How you optimise the structure of your kitchen, for example, helps your staff get your food to your customers faster. (This is one of the most important “wins” for restaurants – nobody likes waiting 15-30 minutes for their food. Yet this is exactly what happens to many people, myself included.)
By far, the most important organisation principle in a kitchen in this: keep your zones separated. When you get a sneak “in the kitchen” of popular restaurants, you’ll see designated stations for slice/prep, a station for salads, a station for frying/sautéing, etc. People at their stations are skilled in their chosen designation, and don’t skip back and forth trying to get everything done. They simply perform their duty, pass it down, and keep the line moving.
4. Overestimate Your Capital
The fault of many burgeoning restaurants, from what I’ve seen, is they failed to calculate how quickly expenditures add up. (Similar to moving to a new town as a first-time apartment tenant.) Another thing most restaurant owners fail to take into account is this: the actual length of time it’ll take for customers to come through their doors on a constant basis.
Lo and behold! Your restaurant’s success in town will eventually die off as people grow accustomed to the changing tides of time. At this point in time, your capital is more crucial than at any other point of your start up. How many people, who came to your grand opening, will remain loyal customers in the long run?
There is no way of knowing. Just like there is no way of knowing how much capital you’ll need to stay afloat. That’s why it’s wise to take a business loan to have 5-10 months of working capital before you open. Without that, your restaurant will foreclose a few months after opening – and you’ll be left in debt.
As a restaurateur, we love to cook – but aren’t always in the kitchen (If we’re doing our jobs right, we don’t always need to be in the kitchen). This brings in the benefit of delegating tasks to people who are smarter than you. There is no need to be embarrassed – you’ll always meet someone who’s smarter than you at something. These types of people can make you more money, or figure out a way to optimise cooking times without sacrificing quality, or something. People who know something you don’t are invaluable for your business. You can bet that your rivals down the road will snatch up this “hidden” talent at the nearest opportunity.
6. Teach Competent People
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Hire people who can do the job – seems simple enough. There’s more than meets the eye, though. People who can do the job well may end up trashing customers towards the end of their 8-hour shift.
This is bad for business, and why taking a page out of Starbucks is well worth your time. In “Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg reveals several ways Starbucks taught their emotionally-sensitive employees how to successfully handle their emotions; as well as teaching them willpower/self-discipline. Willpower is unbendingly crucial for attaining individual success – and teaching willpower to your employees means success for you.
In fact, there are hundreds of researchers at almost every major university studying willpower alone. With good reason: many researchers concluded that people with high willpower as kids grew into successful adults. Therefore, teach self-discipline to your workers to ensure they create habits that make them, and you, successful. Turning self-discipline into an organisational habit worked for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and it can (and will) work for you.
These tips are life-savers, especially when it comes to ensuring your restaurant’s success. But by and large, one of the safest, no-fail advice I’ve ever gotten has been: “Your job is to make money.” As much as I love cooking different meals that keep me on my toes, I started my own restaurant to make a healthy income from my love. I started my business to make a handsome profit; otherwise I would have volunteered my talents to local charities. (Which is far more noble than starting a business – however, remember that you can’t take nobility to the bank.)