Painted in Waterlogue

There is an old adage that many have relied on for generations: “If it isn’t broke – don’t fix it.” Of course, this does seem quite logical and applicable to business and many things in life, but something has changed in the last few decades worth considering. Communication and competition can easily shoot holes in this long accepted philosophy.

Chefs and restaurateurs invest a great deal of time, effort, and finances in the development of a concept and a direction for the product, service, and experience that is presented to paying guests. When it works, everyone is pleased – “We nailed it!”   When the formula works, when the planets are all aligned, when those restaurant seats are filled with happy guests, there is a sense of relief that is palatable in the restaurant. The buzz about the business is strong, word of mouth marketing has kicked in, and the cash is flowing nice and steady.

In the kitchen, the chef and the cooks are in a rhythm. Ordering with vendors has fallen into a routine, mise en place is a given for each cook, volume is predictable, the wine list stays constant as a complement to the menu that “works”, servers understand what is offered and they are comfortable upselling the items that they have become accustomed to, and chefs and managers can budget and anticipate financial performance. This is a fantastic feeling, one that trickles down through the operation, a moment in time when it feels like the operation can do nothing wrong. This is where most businesses strive to be. This is, after all, the formula that is right out of chapter ten in any standard text on building a business.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

-John F. Kennedy

What far too often gets in the way of success is success. It is this very situation that allows entrepreneurs, and in this case – chefs, to miss opportunities and challenges. Comfort is sometimes the devil in disguise, especially in business.

“A danger of success is that it can cause you to stay in your current situation or comfort zone. Success can bring comfort and complacency. This can prevent you from taking action or calculated risks.”

– Dan Black on Leadership

In today’s business world every chef and restaurant must assume the following:

  • At some point in time what you do will no longer suit the needs of your guest
  • However well you are doing things today, sooner or later there will be a competitor who is focused on doing it better
  • Customers are fickle and although we think that they are loyal, this is rarely the case
  • In a fragile economy, stagnant menus and value concepts can easily fall prey to the tightening of customer wallets

Every long-term successful business understands that every product or service has a lifecycle. Every product or service will, at some point, fall out of favor and begin to decline in popularity. To this end, those businesses that understand this reality are always seeking the next great idea that will take the place of a faltering one that may be successful in the moment.

This does not infer that all established ideas, menus, item recipes, or service methods have a short life, it simply means that chefs and restaurateurs must keep their eyes focused and their ears open to “what comes next”. The same energy that brought about a restaurant’s current success must remain a part of its culture. “How can we get better, get different, become even more significant in the market and continue to “wow” the customer.” This is a call to arms for each and every chef regardless of the segment of the industry that they call home.

It is also important that these same chefs and restaurateurs are able to separate reactive from active change. When restaurant teams make decisions based on anxious reaction to an unforeseen challenge, they will often times be inclined to change without a clear strategy. Understanding the marketplace, paying attention to the strength of trends, serious study of competition, close tracking of customer perceptions will lead to more effective “active” change, resulting in a plan that will carry a restaurant through a longer cycle of success.

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

-Winston Churchill

Creating an environment of “what next?” is a key responsibility of the restaurant chef. Encouraging cooks to continue to add to their skill set, and study and experience new flavors, dishes, and cooking methods – is as critical to an operation’s success as was that stroke of genius behind a concept that filled the dining room in the first place. This open-minded approach and encouragement to constantly improve and demonstrate a willingness to evolve is the special ingredient that great restaurants share.

The foundations of cooking are timeless, but how they are applied and incorporated into new and exciting concepts is a responsibility that separates today’s successful from tomorrows exceedingly successful.

Don’t allow that exhilarating feeling of a happy customer, full dining rooms, and financially successful restaurant, deter you from thinking about tomorrow and the challenges of maintaining a level of success.

As good as you may be today, always think about how you might improve upon that skill or level of success tomorrow.

“No matter how good you get you can always get better, and that’s the exciting part.” 
― Tiger Woods

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting and Training

*If you are interested in stories about chefs, cooks, and the challenges that restaurants face today, then order your copy of: The Event That Changed Everything – TODAY! Click on the following link to order a copy through amazon.

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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