Behind The Scenes Of A Successful Restaurant
From a business standpoint, it’s easy to see the appeal of restaurants. Whether you’re a chef who’s spent years banging your head against an unbreakable glass ceiling in your career and are growing increasingly frustrated by your career’s stagnation, a seasoned Mompreneur looking for your next big challenge or a successful investor looking for your next big break, a restaurant can certainly provide an avenue for success. But restaurants also carry a level of risk, which is why, although some investors can be very enthusiastic about restaurants others are far more skittish.
After all, this is the age in which the ubiquity of chain restaurants drives custom away from smaller and far more deserving competitors. An age where economic uncertainty and stagnation are causing more and more of us to stay at home at night rather than going out. It’s an era where 60% of restaurants go out of business within their first year and high operating costs mean that the average profit margin is just 4%. Yet, though it may be challenging to become a success story in the restaurant business, many entrepreneurs thrive on challenge. Whether your background lies in food or in business, it behooves you to look at what makes a perfectly run restaurant and ask yourself how you can bring your skills, experience and insight to bear to create one of your own.
A restaurateur who knows when to get out of the kitchen
Many a great chef has learned too late that she or he is a bad restaurateur. It’s easy to assume that in order to be a successful restaurant, all you need is great food and that word of mouth marketing will have customers beating a path to your door. But if that were really the case, no restaurant would go out of business, ever. Success in the restaurant business lies in being able to handle the dual challenges of running a kitchen and running an office simultaneously… And this can be challenging as these are often very disparate skills.
That said, there are some commonalities between the two disciplines. Both require discipline, rigorous time management, a keen eye for detail, patience and (perhaps most importantly) passion. The best restaurateurs know when to apply their skills to managing the kitchen staff and assuring that their product is of the highest quality, but also when to get out of the kitchen to look at the business from a more macro perspective. It’s not always easy to see the woods for the trees from the kitchen and this can lead to poor resource allocation, bottle necking of cash flow and a lack of strategy.
Great food made with Grade A ingredients
Needless to say, even the best builder can’t build an eye-poppingly beautiful cathedral without the right materials. Likewise, a great restaurant cannot be built on bad food. Of course, good food does not necessarily a good restaurant make, but it’s most certainly an important first step. Sure, there are a whole lot of chain restaurants out there produce a metric ton of mediocre food every day yet draw customers in their droves simply because they offer brand familiarity (more on that later), but if you’re to compete on them on your own terms, a superior product is a necessary weapon to have in your arsenal. When you’re confident that your food is good enough to wow customers, you have a strong foundation upon which to build.
Hard-working and motivated staff
Sure, it’s your knowledge, skill and passion that will build your business up and keep it moving in the right direction, but you can never hope to meet your goals if you don’t have hardworking and motivated employees. And here is where perhaps your greatest challenge will lie. In theory, personnel is an easy box to tick for restaurants. There’s an enormous pool of people looking for work in both the front and back of house. Yet the lion’s share of these prospective employees are casual with a capital C. The restaurant business has a staggeringly high employee turnover rate of 73% and it doesn’t take a master strategist to see how this can impact negatively on the customer experience.
Yet, few restaurants invest in properly recruiting, training and motivating their staff. Front of house staff like your waiter, greeter and sommelier, can contribute enormously to the customer experience. They can make them feel valued and important and help to create a sense of anticipation that predisposes them to love the food when it arrives. So long as your food is of consistent quality this can make for a one-two punch that keeps customers loyal year after year. Invest in your employees. Pay them a decent wage, ensure that they feel valued, give them opportunities for training, development and progression and let them keep their damned tips. Look after them and they’ll reward you with hard work and loyalty. Not only will this save you the cost and disruption of having to recruit and train their replacements, it will add to a happy and convivial environment that your customers will pick up on.
A menu that’s healthy, ethical and all inclusive
In an increasingly aware age, we’re all much more clued in on how the food we eat can directly impact upon our health. While a menu that’s full of delicious food is essential if your business is to be a success, ensure that while you have a plethora of more decadent options, you have some delicious healthy options for the health conscious customer.
The increasing awareness of the ethical cost of the food on our plate means that your menu must also be ethical and accountable to score points with the more enlightened consumer. If you know that your food is locally and sustainably sourced this is a great place to start. In an age where more and more people elect not to eat meat, dairy or any animal products for ethical and health reasons, you’re alienating a huge proportion of your target market if you don’t have a healthy amount of vegan options on the menu. Some gluten free options would also be a good idea so that you don’t exclude those with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances.
A well-managed office
A well-managed kitchen is a no-brainer, but a well managed office is equally important. The success of a restaurant lies as much in its accounting as its food and wine. Like all small businesses, you’ll face a constant battle to keep the flow of cash steady throughout your business and this means that you’ll need to invest in the right equipment for your office as much as your kitchen. Just as a less than reliable oven or poor quality knives can bottleneck productivity in the kitchen, the wrong resources can seriously impede your efficacy in the business side of your restaurant operations. Investing in the right accounting software will make your life a whole lot easier. It can help you to manage your outgoings easier and provide easy to understand reporting which will help you make strategic choices that will help your business grow from strength to strength.
A front of house with wow factor
While you certainly don’t want the success of your restaurant to rest on a gimmick, there’s no denying that bringing a sense of wow factor to your front of house can help to create a sense of theatricality that will not only dazzle your customers but make them want to bring new friends and family members to your venue. When it’s compared with outstanding customer service from your waiting staff, a wide selection of delicious beverages and a warm, inviting atmosphere you’re onto a winner before the customer has taken a single bite of food.
While there’s no right or wrong way to decorate your restaurant, a unified aesthetic is a huge part of your branding which brings us to…
We live in the age of brands. Branding is what makes people choose the mediocre over the familiar time after time. Branding is what sees customers flock to Starbucks for their lattes and iTunes for their electronics without even considering the alternatives out there.
But great branding isn’t solely the preserve of the big corporate titans. There are numerous ways in which your restaurant can work on building its brand but it’s vital to remember that your brand is much more than a fancy logo. Your brand is exemplified by its consistency as much as the cosmetic touches or the ubiquity of your social media marketing campaign. If you can give customers delicious food and an unparalleled customer experience time after time, you’ll earn their trust and their loyalty.
Last but not least… A rewards scheme that gives customers more of what they want
It costs anywhere from 5 to 25 times more to snare a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer. Moreover, repeat customers tend to spend more once you have earned their loyalty. So give them a rewards scheme that encourages them to keep coming back. Use market research to find out what they want and give them more of it. Sure, your profit margin might take a small hit, but it’ll be more than recovered by years of loyal custom.