Though opening a restaurant is a dream scenario for many aspiring entrepreneurs, running one can quickly turn into the stuff nightmares are made of. Too many people think that “if you cook it, they will come,” but based on the staggering number of restaurants that fail before they even hit their first anniversary, things just aren’t that simple.
There isn’t one secret to success that promises your restaurant will stand the test of time, but there are some habits successful restaurants seem to have in common. Here are the top five:
1. They’re built on respect
Enticing though they may be, a Michelin-star chef and cutting-edge concept are useless if all the elements in place to support them aren’t given the regard they deserve.
Respect for the food: You can’t make five-star cuisine out of one-star ingredients, and food waste will tank your budget faster than you can say “bankrupt.” If you have to cut corners, by all means find a way to do it, but don’t do it in the kitchen. Falling food quality is the leading cause of falling guest counts.
Respect for employees: The restaurant industry is a stressful place. When the dinner rush threatens a manager’s sanity or corporate is calling for the fifth time that day to check on the numbers, it’s easy to unload on the people who can’t answer back. But beware — what trickles down from management to the employees tends to keep trickling down to the guests. Greet your staff with a smile and they’re likely to pass it on. Berate them mid-shift, and expect guest complaints.
Respect for the guests: Nobody likes the silent treatment, and failure to respond to guest complaints or address guest issues is a recipe for disaster. Not every mistake should result in a comped meal, but errors do need to be addressed. Diners aren’t children, and they’re not always right either, but there is a middle ground between pandering and completely giving away the farm, and successful restaurants find it.
2. They’re consistent
Every time a dish leaves the kitchen, it has to look, smell and taste the exact same as the time before, and it has to be delivered with the same hospitable service no matter what mitigating factors may be at play. Guests crave consistency; give it to them and they’ll come back. Fail and there might not be another opportunity to impress.
3. They make education a priority
The best restaurants take an active role in educating their staff — not just in the beginning, but throughout their employment. It’s essential to give new hires the tools they need to be successful. For the front of house, this might include detailed descriptions of menu items, information on the history and mission statement of the restaurant, a list of the required steps of service, training on the POS system and so on. Back of house should be trained not just on recipe execution, but also on sanitation and food safety.
Continuing education is also key. Successful restaurants keep their staff up-to-date and involved by mandating attendance at classes that focus on upselling, wine pairing, alcohol awareness, new menu items and customer service issues.
As they say, knowledge is power and when you empower your employees, you set them, and your restaurant as a whole, up for success.
4. They embrace social media
If there is ever any doubt as to how intertwined food and social media have become, the sea of smartphones littering the tables in every restaurant should make things crystal clear. Whether it’s hunting down the newest culinary hot spots, making reservations, posting photos of their meals, rating the service or blogging about the overall experience, guests are all about weaving technology into their dining experience, and most successful restaurants take full advantage of that fact.
Increase your visibility by posting photos of chef’s newest off-menu offerings, or tweet out a limited-time deal redeemable only if the diner retweets it. Take pictures of guests celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary and give them a shout out on your Facebook page; they’re likely to “like” it and share it, two things that instantly expand your audience, all at the low cost of a mouse click.
5. They believe in accountability
Great leaders clearly state what is expected of their staff, and then hold them accountable for adhering to those standards. Too many bosses rely on so-called “seagull-style management,” meaning they swoop in, squawk at an underperforming employee and fly away. It’s demoralising, and demoralised staff aren’t motivated staff. Catch employees doing things right, and they’ll be left with an indelible and overwhelmingly positive impression.
Take the time during pre-shift to read out guest feedback and reward high-performing servers with gift cards or coveted shifts. Hold annual performance reviews so your staff knows where they stand. Weed out subpar employees who fail to respond to positive reinforcement so their co-workers understand that when standards aren’t met, there are indeed consequences.
There is no blueprint for creating a successful restaurant, but implement these five noteworthy strategies and you have every chance of cooking up something incredible.