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Here it is – the formula for a successful restaurant – almost a guarantee. There still are many people, for some strange reason, who continue to dust off their entrepreneurial suit and turn to restaurant ownership as a way to personal fortune or at least an opportunity for expression and public service. For all who fit this mold this is my best effort at providing a road map to potential (if you are lucky) success:

[] IDENTIFY A TARGET MARKET: Many believe that the starting point is concept development, however, building a concept restaurant without understanding who your potential market is would be the quickest way to failure.

[] KNOW YOUR TARGET MARKET: Qualitative and quantitative studies will help to determine what your potential market is willing to purchase, when they are likely to purchase, why they are likely to purchase and how you might best deliver the product message to them.

[] IDENTIFY YOUR COMPETITION: Surprisingly your competition goes beyond the obvious. A French concept is not only in competition with other French concepts, but rather with any other restaurant in close proximity to yours.

[] KNOW YOUR COMPETITION: Study them, follow their website and Facebook page, visit their operation as a guest, talk to others who patronize that competition, observe the clientele who spend time and money there and catalogue their strengths and weaknesses.

[] BUILD A CONCEPT THAT ADDRESSES YOUR TARGET MARKET AND COMPETITIONS AREAS OF WEAKNESS: This is not to state that an operator and chef should avoid creating something unique and stretch the food perceptions of their anticipated customer, however, your research should reveal those items that customers are prepared to order. Success is best realized when customer needs are addressed.

[] HIRE THE RIGHT KEY PLAYERS: The Chef, Restaurant Manager, and lead service staff is initially the most important hires. These individuals will become your organizers, communicators, expeditors of the company vision and the driving force as you move forward. They should be creative and talented in their respective disciplines, but most importantly business savvy.

[] SPEND TIME BUILDING A TEAM WITH OPERATIONAL CHEMISTRY: Work ethic, attitude, dependability, humility, service orientation and a passion for the restaurant business are the real keys to your success as a restaurateur. There is nothing more important than building this team with your key players.

[] BUY THE BEST RAW MATERIALS THAT YOU CAN: Wolfgang Puck said it best: “Buy the best raw materials and try not to screw them up.”
[] ENSURE THAT YOU HAVE STANDARDS AND THEY ARE ALWAYS OBSERVED: Food preparation, plating, service technique, cleanliness, cost controls, tracking customer reactions, problem solving – all of these processes should have definitive standard operating procedures that every staff member understands and follows.

[] OPENING A RESTAURANT IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN YOU THINK: Make sure that you have the funds to open and cover expenses for your first year (at least). As you build up to opening you will spend many difficult days writing checks. What ever you budget for the opening is never enough. Watch your pennies, but know the expenses will add up quickly.

[] TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN: Training must be on going. Formal orientation for new employees, technique training, wine tastings, food plating demonstrations, regular staff meetings with review of operations, daily pre-meal presentations and end of service recaps are all critical components of an effective staff development program. It pays off tenfold!

[] FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: At first, it is human nature to resist soliciting feedback, but once a program is in place (comment cards, on-line surveys, encouraging employees to speak their mind during meetings, management open door policy and walking the dining room to observe guest reactions are effective ways to stay in tune with your collective performance).

[] EDUCATE YOUR GUEST: Customers are interested in food and beverage like never before. A well-trained staff can and should provide opportunities for guests to discover more every time they dine in your operation. Recommendations on wine, describing exceptional menu items, telling the story of food rather than listing ingredients and sharing interesting information about the restaurant’s history will go a long way towards building guest relations and return business.

[] CREATE A RESTAURANT PERSONALITY: Whether it is you, your manager, the chef, an entertaining bartender or a designated host – every successful restaurant has an identified personality; someone who becomes synonymous with the restaurant name – a person that attracts a return clientele. A restaurant without a personality is just a business.

[] WORK AT BUILDING A RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE: A memorable meal is more than just great food. The experience includes the sights and sounds, unique hospitality, food presentation, bar showmanship, building ambience, and personality of all who work for your restaurant. It is the experience that brings them back.

[] CONTROL, CONTROL, CONTROL: Buying right, taking scheduled inventories, portioning ingredients, following recipes and formulas, scheduling employees efficiently, tracking your advertising expenses, watch waste, lock coolers and storerooms, track sales abstracts and adjust menus when certain items do not sell, budget and assess any variances – these are some of the most important processes that an owner can implement and measure. Without them it is impossible to reach your financial goals.

[] ESTABLISH ACCURATE SELLING PRICES: Selling price determination cannot be a guessing game, nor can it simply reflect a price that compares with that of the competition. Prices are based on knowing all of the costs associated with the building of a dish, using a simple formula of Plate Cost/Food Cost % and then assessing the impact of competition and what the threshold for prices might be in the current market. Pricing is a science and an art.

[] TURN THE EXPERIENCE INTO A VALUE STATEMENT: Value should not be solely about price – if it is then you have failed. If the experience is strong than so is its perception of worth. To this add an emphasis on effective upselling to build check averages and your formula is beginning to reach its intended solution.

[] COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY: Use all of the available tools to communicate your message internally and externally, but be cautious of those that cost money without any measurement of effectiveness. Your website, Facebook Page, Blog and email blasts cost very little and approach a defined market. Internally, the best communication is face-to-face, but consider using payroll stuffers, newsletters and email communications for this audience as well.

[] SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF: Everything in the restaurant is important. It is all in the details: a clean parking lot, well appointed signage, spotless windows, floors, walls, bathrooms, kitchen, china, glassware and flatware, beautifully detailed plate presentations, flavors and aromas, greetings and sincere service, appropriate alcoholic beverages that are geared towards your target audience, a great cup of coffee and spectacular desserts – this and so much more are essential if you are to build a successful brand.

[] BE REALISTIC: No matter how good you are, even if every aspect of the formula is firing on all cylinders, the likelihood that your restaurant will be immediately profitable is very low. You should anticipate that the first year may be breakeven at best, year two should be better and if you stay focused year three will be the turning point. BE PATIENT!

[] BE RELENTLESS: Don’t let your guard down. Every minute, every day, every season this formula cannot waiver. This is the task of the owner: keep everyone focused – ALWAYS.

[] HOPE FOR LUCK AND BE GRATEFUL WHEN IT IS PRESENT: When all is said and done, there are far too many details and variables for any formula to be consistently effective.

I wish you well.
Harvest America Ventures, LLC

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