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 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.
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: