A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What makes a successful restaurant??

These are only my personal thoughts (not out of a manual) gathered over 20 years in the restaurant business. A great ride if you are up for it!

The essentials

The success and failure of a restaurant is as crystal clear as the “chicken and egg” conundrum but following a few necessary requirements will give a new restaurant at least some chance of surviving its first year. These are, in no particular order:



Each of these five items demands a minimum level below which the operation can seriously be hampered.
Hygiene comes top at required minimum of 90% of what is accepted as the norm for a given area.
Next, comes service at around 75% followed by food at between 60 and 70% depending on type of restaurant and country. For the Anglo-Saxons, average food can often be excused with the provision of good, caring and/or gregarious service.
This is not true of most Southern European and Mediterranean diners (I fortunately happen to belong to this group) who are more interested in the quality of the food than the way it is served.
Anglo-Saxons may also judge a restaurant by its décor 75% and atmosphere 75%, although this is increasingly applicable to the other group.

One does not necessarily need to achieve a maximum 100% in each category in order to open succeed but these levels have to be set right from the start according to the requirements of the given operation. It is imperative that they are maintained throughout the restaurant’s life. Any drop in these standards can be highly detrimental in the same way as any raise that has no prospect of being sustained.
The principal aim of the game is CONSISTENCY at the chosen standard level.

What makes the difference?

There is no worse experience than recommending or returning to a restaurant and finding that the standards have dropped.
Restaurants are not and definitely cannot afford to be rollercoaster rides. They cannot blow hot and cold like a partner. They are there to provide an unwavering product like any other business. The only difference that sets them apart from other businesses is that the product they provide is instant, time sensitive and cannot be physically returned for a refund. A dining experience is ephemeral and cannot be repeated. If one purchases a defective product, the seller is under a legal obligation to provide a refund. In the case of restaurants, what do you return? The experience? The consumed food? A refund will never provide a fitting replacement to a disappointing meal. Are you to change your birthday or your anniversary to accommodate the restaurant?

During or after many disappointing dinners, I have often wished I could have turned the clocks back and never stepped into the offending establishment.
I can honestly say that, in trying to discover good restaurants, I have had more bad meals than good ones.

The difference

Once an operator has selected and set the levels of the required standards listed earlier, the difference between a flash in the pan and an institution is another set of factors or tools that will ensure a high degree of consistency.

· Location, although not an essential prerequisite, can tremendously help a mediocre restaurant by providing a captive audience and reducing huge promotional expenses. It certainly will give a restaurant the edge on others that are not as well placed but one must not forget that location can easily shift if other areas are developed or become more fashionable. The perfect example is the London Docklands.

· Philosophy and mission: These must be clearly stated and understood by everyone. Loose statements like: “We want to serve good food” must be supported by infrastructure and tested and agreed systems. They must be clear and ideally measurable. Such as expecting customers to return within a certain period and enjoying the experience once again.

· Leadership: There has to be a carefully chosen management structure whose main task is to guide the rest of the team. Although employees need a certain degree of freedom they must operate within learned and accepted norms.

· Staff training: This is essential in all kinds of establishments old or new. Written records must be kept and staff training regularly reviewed especially with the introduction of new practices and new recruits.

· Good communication is essential to a well-oiled machine. It enables faster implementations of agreed plans. This may take the form of regular meetings with heads of departments, general meetings involving all employees, memos, etc…

· Eye for detail: Team members must be encouraged to regularly view the business with fresh eyes. Dishes and accompanying vegetables, wines and beverages need to be served at the right temperatures. Other crucial details comprise the lighting and its intensity, the background music and its volume, fresh flowers, immaculate glassware, etc…

· Innovation: Unless a business is failing totally and in need of a brand new image, only a certain amount of tweaking is required. This may be a need to keep up with trends, the introduction of new equipment or improved systems. Staff and customers need to be encouraged to contribute new ideas with the help of regular questionnaires, comment cards, suggestion boxes, food and wine tastings, etc…

· Sustained assessment of operation: The saying “You are only as you as the last meal you served” is definitely true although your ardent supporters may allow you the odd blip every now and then. One must not make the dreadful mistake of taking customers for granted. Every single visit by a customer, old and new must start with a clean slate, a new canvas upon which a brand new experience will be depicted.

The list can go on and on forever. I can assure you that, although I believe I have covered just about everything that will make a restaurant successful, anyone who plans to open one, must touch wood or have his or her fingers crossed. It seems that luck has a lot to do with it!

So, my professional advice to any prospective restaurateur is:

"Close your eyes and dive head first!"


Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

Cream, this was very carefully thought out, and so clearly written, you should submit it to a business magasine or paper. Well done!

Some of what you say here can be applied to many businesses.

Good food. Always for me, good food. But a smiling waiter does help.

One of the most popular dining out spots in Jamaica is an old, old shabby place by the sea, in Port Royal. There is even an old getty over the water, and you dine there by candlelight, listen to the waves, and feel the getty go up and down, according to the waves.

18/10/05 12:08 PM  
Blogger cream said...

Ooooh, you romantic Gyal! I am sure the experience must have been amazing! Hope you weren't seasick!

Thanks for your confidence.

You are right, it could be applied to any business really but many people read these things, go and start cutting corners and then wonder why they fail...
I was brought up with good food then came to the UK when the only place you could get olive oil was at the chemists. Nowadays one can get anything... the only problem is that most people are out of the habit of spending time in the kitchen. Grrrr... but that does me fine, because they tend to eat out more...Hehehehehe....

18/10/05 12:34 PM  
Blogger DCveR said...

Don't complain about those who don't want to spend time in the kitchen!!! Are you crazy? Look at me: whenever I find a new dish that I like I will go back to that restaurant a coupple of times while doing that same dish at home. Comparing, checking the differences. As soon as I can do that at home Good Half usually prefers to eat in... Unless of course we're talking a romantic dinner by the side or some other thing that can't be done at home.

18/10/05 7:21 PM  
Blogger cream said...

DC, that's a very expensive way to learn how to cook a dish!

Actually, I used to phone my mother when I got stuck on a certain dish and the phone call used to cost more than the ingredients!

Nowadays I only cook when we entertain. If I cook for myself, it shouldn't take more than ten minutes from start to finish.

One day I shall write "The ten minute feast!"

18/10/05 7:42 PM  
Blogger cream said...

DC, if you'd like to impress OH try the Toffee Basket shown in the picture.
It is made out of sugar strands over the back of a ladle, filled with lemon sorbet and fresh fruit with a raspberry coulis...

18/10/05 8:07 PM  
Blogger DCveR said...

Man, post that ten minute feast of yours and we'll all be in debt to you!

Not that expensive. Portugal is still a place where you can eat out without spending too much. And going for our tenth anniversary we're past the "trying to impress" stage, nowadays we simply want to indulge. :D
But thanks a lot for the tip anyway.

18/10/05 11:02 PM  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

I'm going to get fat just reading these comments!

Dcver, you really do that? Find a new dish, cook, go back, compare...

Cream, that spot in Jamaica was so popular that on a Friday night it was crowded. Funny, I never thought of it as romantic. All I can think of is the lobster in garlic sauce.

19/10/05 2:33 AM  
Blogger Viking054 said...

Ooh, good tips! I've been seriously considering opening a coffeeshop/bakery thing... But that's 10 or 20 years down the road. Too many things to do before I settle in one town. Anyway, I'll keep this info in mind!

19/10/05 6:41 AM  
Blogger cream said...

Viking, read the info again and again but all it really takes is common sense to succeed!

DC, will start working on the 10 minute feast asap! But keep on trying to impress and surprise! 25 years down the line, still at it...

GG, it is breakfast time here, I'd swap it anytime for your lobster with garlic. You made is sound romantic! Must be the way you tell 'em!

19/10/05 8:29 AM  
Blogger DCveR said...

But we still surprise one another! Only now we don't try to impress, we just... well, maybe we still try to impress without even thinking of impressing. If that is the case you were right all along.

GG: Yep. Sometimes because I want to be able to have that without having to go out, sometimes because GH does.

19/10/05 9:49 AM  
Blogger Caribbean Colors said...

Cream, your list was so concise that I'm copying and pasting it into a document to print and pass out to all my employees, PLUS I'm putting it into out "brain book" of recipes. (I hope that's o.k. with you)

20/10/05 3:23 AM  
Blogger cream said...

I am glad to have been of help!
If you come up with something, please let me know! We never stop learning...
Our Motto is: "The customer is always RIGHT...until he's LEFT."
Funny but very appropriate!

20/10/05 10:16 AM  

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