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Painted in Waterlogue

Running a restaurant is hard, but it is not difficult. This may seem to be a contradiction, but I can assure you, it is not. Many restaurateurs will struggle with trying to develop that perfect formula for success while it is staring them in the face. Yes, working in any area of a restaurant is hard. Standing for 10-12 hours on your feet, in a 100 degree kitchen, lifting, bending, stressing over the number of orders flying off the POS, burning and cutting yourself in the process, is hard work. Dealing with customers who seem to be intent on making your life miserable, feeling the friction that occasionally crops up between front and back of the house, handling multiple tables at a time and carrying heavy trays filled with entrees is hard work. But, it is not difficult to be successful in the restaurant business. The formula for success is right in front of every chef and restaurateur, it has always been there, yet many fail to see the recipe or simply fail to understand how important the basics are.

Now, forgive me for over-simplifying the process that leads to success. There are, to be fair, numerous other factors that lead to success or failure, but the intent of this article is to point out the basics that every restaurant professional must know, pay attention to, and live – every day. The most fundamental realization in any business, but particularly in restaurants is that “First Impressions are Lasting Impressions.” People do judge a book by looking at the cover, and in this case, the cover tells most of the story. It is truly amazing to see how many operators fail miserably with these foundations.

  1. Let’s start with the exterior visuals: drive up to your restaurant: what do you see? Does the façade look clean, manicured, fresh, and inviting? Is the parking lot swept? Are the lawn cut and the bushes trimmed? Do the exterior lights work? Is the sign in great condition and reflective of the concept within? Are the windows clean and is the exterior door polished and inviting? Who is assigned to take care of these essential components each and every day? Someone must be responsible and held accountable for these first impressions.
  2. When you enter the restaurant, what is the lighting like? Is there transition lighting so that you are not shocked by the difference between outside and in?
  3. Are guest greeted warmly as soon as they enter the restaurant? Is every guest who enters your restaurant made to feel like the staff really wants them to be there? “The handshake of the host determines the flavor of the roast.” Ben Franklin
  4. Are the bathrooms immaculate? Are they well appointed, attractive, clean and clean smelling?
  5. Is the décor of the restaurant appropriate for the menu concept? Is signage in place that clearly defines how a guest should proceed?
  6. Is the staff in a comfortable, consistent, and easily identifiable uniform? Do all employees wear name tags? Is the uniform well maintained: clean, ironed, and crisp? Are all cooks and chefs in professional uniforms that reflect the restaurant’s commitment to serious cooking and cleanliness? This includes shoes, pants, chef coats, and head cover.
  7. Are guest tables clean, steady, properly covered, and well maintained? Is the tabletop complete with appropriate glassware, flatware, china, and centerpiece and is everything impeccably clean and spot free?
  8. If you use tablecloths and linen napkins are they spotless and neatly pressed?
  9. Are your menus in excellent physical condition? Are they free of bends, tears, and stains? Is everything on the menu SPELLED CORRECTLY?
  10. Are your menus designed with ample white space, succinct and enticing descriptions, easy to read, and understand?
  11. Is table service in your restaurant attentive, but not overbearing?
  12. Is the choice of menu items broad enough for most tastes, but not so large as to be overwhelming for guests.
  13. Is your service staff well-versed and comfortable with the menu: descriptions, methods of cooking, ingredients, flavor profile, complementary wines or other beverages, source of ingredients, etc.?
  14. Is hot food served hot and cold food served cold?
  15. Does the service staff ensure that the appropriate eating utensils are served with the appropriate dish?
  16. Does dining room management check in with tables to make sure they are satisfied with their meal and service? Do they exhibit real interest in guest satisfaction?
  17. Is the temperature in the room comfortable for the length of a meal?
  18. Is your furniture comfortable as well?
  19. Is your coffee service up to the same level of excellence that is offered throughout the rest of the meal? Do you keep the coffee cups or mugs warm before service?
  20. Does management make every attempt to satisfactorily correct any problems prior to guest departure? Is someone empowered to make it right?
  21. Does the chef, whenever possible walk through the dining room and interact with guests?
  22. Is the check presented in a timely fashion and is it checked for accuracy before being presented to the guest?
  23. Does someone thank the guest for their business before they depart and do you make an attempt to collect contact information from the guest for future communication?
  24. Do the chef and the dining room manager take a few moments at the end of each shift to review service, identify areas of concern, and make corrections before the next meal period?
  25. Does someone monitor social media to identify any positive and negative comments regarding food and service? If so, do they share this information with front and back of the house employees and establish corrective action as a team?

Painted in Waterlogue

The list could, certainly, go on, but the primary point is that all of these tasks are common sense. There is nothing difficult under the heading of the foundations. It may be hard work to ensure that everything is addressed, every day, but it can be done. Before addressing the marketing strategy, before looking at increasing selling prices or decreasing costs to improve the bottom line, every restaurateur must spend time with these foundations. Do the homework first, without attention to these details, success will always be difficult to achieve.

Know the foundations, communicate the foundations, train to the foundations, and measure everyone in your restaurant against them.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC


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A novel by Paul Sorgule

A story about two cooks and their adventures through professional kitchens, the relationships made along the way, and the Event that changed their lives forever. Available in early 2015 on amazon.com and iuniverse.com