The chef is having a hard time getting to sleep. There are hundreds of details swirling through Tom’s head, far too many to push aside and try to catch a few zzzzz’s. Tomorrow is opening night, the christening of a new restaurant – the first that he has ever helped to build from concept to first plate. Sara his sous chef is likely just as wired even though the two of them have worked out so many details over the past few months – lots of back and forth, scenario planning, reams of checklists, and late night meetings, as well as countless training sessions with staff members. Tomorrow is the day – the moment that they have all been waiting for and dreading at the same time. No matter what they think of the food, regardless of all the planning and training, in spite of the wisdom from their combined years of experience in restaurants – tomorrow, the paying guest will decide to give them a thumbs up or down.
Sara and Tom know that something, maybe quite a few things, won’t go as planned. There will be mistakes, things that they forgot or failed to plan for – there will be problems. The trick is to grab ahold of those problems and make corrections before the guest feels the effects. Of course some guests will be forgiving since it is the first night, but many will not and realistically they shouldn’t care about your challenges on the first night – they are paying the same money for the experience on the first night and the 100th night.
Tom finally succumbs to those voices in his head – sleep is just not possible – and he gets up to work through his checklists one more time. At 5 a.m. he gives Sara a call (also awake all night) and they agree to meet at the restaurant around 6:30 a.m. Service doesn’t begin until 5 p.m. and staff won’t begin arriving until 10 so they will have time to trouble-shoot what might go wrong.
So to all of those start-up restaurateurs and chefs preparing to open a new operation – here is a sample checklist of 20 things that could go wrong and how to prepare for them (note that this list could easily include dozens of additional questions):
- NAIL DOWN FOOD PREPARATION AND FLAVORS
Investment in testing and re-testing recipes and procedures is absolutely essential before opening day. Everyone who works in your kitchen must be on the same page with this.
- LOCK IN PRESENTATIONS
The visual appeal of food should never be underestimated. This “WOW Factor” sets the tone for the meal and the restaurant experience. Make sure that you invest just as much time with how you want each plate to look as you do with how it tastes.
- ARE ALL OF THE COOKS ON THE SAME PAGE
Everyone in the kitchen from prep cooks to line cooks and sous chefs must all understand their role in preparing each dish that is presented to a guest. Once they know how the final product should look and taste then they can more appropriately own their role in the process.
- WHAT IS YOUR COMMUNICATION WITH VENDORS
“Buy the best raw materials and try not to screw them up” is a mantra that Wolfgang Puck promoted. Do your vendors fully understand exactly what you want from the ingredients that you buy? Are they prepared to do what it takes to make sure that those expectations are met?
- DOES EVERYONE UNDERSTAND THEIR ROLE IN FOOD SAFETY
Kitchen cleanliness and the safe handling of the food products that you work with is a moral and legal responsibility. Everyone who handles food in your restaurant must fully understand how to protect the public and the ramifications if they fail in this regard.
- DO YOU HAVE A FOOD ALLERGY PROTOCOL IN PLACE
There must always be a way to identify any allergens that may be present in each dish that you offer and your staff must have a very clear understanding of how to proceed when a guest identifies him or herself as subject to any allergen.
- HAVE YOU DEFINED THE SYSTEM OF TIMING
How are orders placed, when do line cooks start and finish preparations, how will you handle rush orders and re-cooks, how much time is needed for the preparation of each dish on the menu and who will monitor all of this timing? This must be very clear – poor timing can bring a restaurant to its knees.
- HAS YOUR POS SYSTEM BEEN FULLY TESTED
Your POS is the communication vehicle between the front and back of the house and the tool that will provide essential analytical information for management. The system must be fully tested and understood.
- ARE YOUR SELLING PRICES REFLECTIVE OF SOLID MATH
Determining selling prices that set the stage for profitability is both a science and an art, but in all cases the scientific approach is most important. There is a definitive process used in establishing these prices and to open without understanding this is the kiss of death for restaurants.
- DO YOUR SERVERS FULLY UNDERSTAND THE FOOD BEING OFFERED
Servers may never touch a pan or a pair of tongs, but unless they know ingredients, cooking process, and flavor they will never be able to sell those menu items effectively.
- DO YOUR SERVERS UNDERSTAND THEIR ROLE IN UPSELLING
Service staff members must understand that they are much more than deliverers of food. They need to understand that sales will be most important in driving profitability and they are on the front lines as salespersons. The price of admission is efficient and friendly service, but aside from that their primary role is to increase check averages.
- IS EVERYONE PREPARED TO SAY YES
The guest is not always right, but they still need to be served. The best restaurants go way beyond meeting expectations – the best will always surprise and exceed guest expectations. The first step is to learn to say yes to most guest requests and work as a team to make those requests come to fruition.
- DO YOU VIEW THE RESTAURANT THROUGH THE EYES OF THE GUEST
Do you have restaurant eyes? Are you able to see all of the details that build into a positive experience? Cleanliness, lighting, comfort, tabletop, bathrooms, parking, signage, first impressions, consistency and a myriad of other details are all important – be prepared.
- HAVE YOU DEVELOPED A TEAM ATTITUDE
Are all of the staff members connected to a common goal? Are they prepared and willing to do whatever it takes to help each other reach that goal? Have you prepared everyone to think as a team rather than an individual?
- DO YOU HAVE SUFFICIENT TOOLS FOR ALL STAFF POSITIONS
Tools include proper training, but more often than not it is the small tools that cause the biggest frustrations and the demise of your system. Do you have enough turns of china, glassware and flatware to meet the immediate demand in the dining room? Do your cooks have sufficient pans and small tools to function on the line? Is the capacity of your ice machine sufficient to meet the demands of the operation? Do your line cooks have enough side towels for a shift? The list can be long, but the small things do make a significant difference. Set your staff members up for success.
- SINCE EVERYTHING IS AN UNKNOWN – ARE YOU READY FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Have you taken the time to walk through numerous scenarios and have a plan that can be instituted in case Murphy’s Law rears up it’s ugly head (If something can go wrong it will)? “Be prepared” cannot be emphasized enough.
- IS EVERYONE COMFORTABLE WITH THEIR POSITION IN THE RESTAURANT
Efficiency comes from having a level of comfort with your skills and your responsibilities. Work with each employee to make sure that his or her level of comfort is high.
- ARE THE MARKETING AND PROMOTION DOTS CONNECTED
Review your website, social media, and advertising to make sure that you are ready and able to live up to the promises made.
- WHO ARE THE PROBLEM SOLVERS
Do all employees understand the chain of command and who is in a position to address a problem and come up with a real solution?
- IS THERE AN EFFICIENT EMPOWERMENT PROGRAM IN PLACE
Management cannot solve every problem in a timely fashion nor can they be available to interface with a guest situation as it happens – there are, however, many employees who are on the front lines who need some level of empowerment to make those decisions. Are they aware of their role and are they properly trained to make the best decisions for the guest and the business?
It’s opening day or week – there will be problems, many details will be missed, things will not always go as planned, but knowing what might occur and preparing as best as you can will keep many of these challenges away from the guest experience. Don’t open until you are ready!
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training