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If you are a chef or restaurant owner I would like you to begin today with a significant question: “If I had to build this restaurant concept all over again, knowing what I know now, what would it look like – how would it be different? You may never have a better chance to ask and answer this question than right now. This is the beginning of IDEATION and the purpose of the process. There have been many days when you have probably said to yourself – “I should have done that differently.” It might have been the purpose of the restaurant, the over-riding theme, the systems used, the menu, the staffing model, the hours of operation, the way that you compensate employees – or for that matter the type of employees that you hired – certainly there is something that you wish that you could do over. NOW IS THE TIME.

If you think about it – this is a very exciting premise. List all of the challenges that you have and re-work everything to address those challenges. Keep in mind that this current crisis will change everything and add significantly to those challenges of the past. DON’T DELAY – and by all means don’t expect to return to business as usual. There is little hope that we can flip on a switch and be back to where we were in the fall of 2019.

So…this is a perfect time to start with the willingness to change something, anything, or maybe EVERYTHING. If you begin with an open mind and an uninhibited willingness to change then the possibilities for the future are limitless. This is the time to schedule IDEATION sessions and engage others in helping you to fill in the blank slate of possibilities.

How do you start? Begin with your stakes in the ground – those philosophies that refine who you are and how you want to be perceived – the things that you have no desire to change no matter what. Give your selected group a few moments to challenge those stakes in the ground and allow those challenges to sink in, but before the ideation moves forward who will need to either stand your ground or express a willingness to put them aside depending on how the session goes.

STATE THE CHALLENGE: Re-open the restaurant making sure that it is prepared to adapt to the newly established needs of guests while addressing the critical challenges that have existed and will exist in the future (Labor, Marketing, Service, Efficiency, Guest Satisfaction, Growth, Profitability).

  1. Make a list of those people (some may be employees, but don’t limit it to them) who will benefit the discussion of your challenges through an open session of ideas and who will speak their mind, offer their thoughts, and approach the process with reckless abandon. DON’T RELY STRICTLY ON YOUR FRIENDS WHO THINK YOU ARE GREAT AND WHO WILL SPEND THE TIME TELLING YOU SO. Find people who are talented, groundbreaking, honest, and who might even make you a bit uncomfortable.
  2. Know that the people you select need not work in restaurants, although a core of experienced operators and chefs are always essential in the process. Pick enough critical thinkers who can make everyone scratch their heads and think: “WHY NOT”.
  3. When you ask them to participate – make it clear that you are open to any and all ideas and critique. There can be no judgment placed on ideas that come to the surface: DO NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO SAY: “We can’t do that”, “We have tried that before and it didn’t work”, “That doesn’t fit our brand”, “That’s too radical or complicated”, etc. YOU MUST OPENLY ACCEPT ALL IDEAS.
  4. Do not VOTE on ideas – even the craziest ones might stimulate thought and lead to something truly exceptional.
  5. Provide opportunities for others to build on each idea that comes to the surface, ask questions, promote a different twist, or ask for elaboration. Remember – NO JUDGEMENT!
  6. Make sure that you (or even better a non-biased facilitator) draw everyone into the conversation. Someone also needs to take copious notes.
  7. Limit the first session to two hours. Take time to sift through and organize all of the thoughts and ideas, categorize them, do not change them, send them to the IDEATION PANEL for review and schedule the follow-up meeting.
  8. The purpose of the follow-up is to narrow ideas down to a manageable number (maybe 5-6 ideas), combine thoughts where possible, and show how those ideas address the challenges as stated in the beginning.
  9. Facilitate the second session making sure that you or someone else assigned to the task, keeps everyone on task.
  10. End by categorizing the collaborative ideas as follows:




Thank everyone for their time – provide some type of reward, which can be as simple as a recognition plaque in the restaurant to a celebration re-opening dinner for the group and their guests. These individuals may help to lay the groundwork for your long-term recovery and success.

FINALLY, the end decision on what direction to take is yours. Now you have some valuable tools to work with and you have utilized this down time to really craft your future.

This is also a time to bring your business benchmarks into the thinking process. What companies or individuals do you admire, why do you admire them, and how might you include their methods into your change formula. Think of the possibilities.

In these days of social distancing – you can conduct the ideation sessions via ZOOM MEETING. Zoom is a fantastic vehicle for these discussions and for meetings up to 40 minutes there is no charge. To conduct an adequate IDEATION you will need to subscribe at some level. Check out their site at: https://zoom.us/home?zcid=2478


Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Embrace the Opportunity for Change

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