Well, there is little that can be said to those who have caught the restaurant fever – you know, when that opportunity finally knocks, and you have your sights on a café with your name on it.  The feeling is hard to describe – a cross between elation and shear panic.  Your blood pressure is way up, you occasionally break out in cold sweats, and when you look in a mirror you see a mix of the weight of the world and a perpetual smile. This roller coaster of emotions is something that you are not in control of – adrenaline is running the show right now so hang on to your hat.

There is a litany of reasons to stay away from restaurant ownership, there is little need to focus on them now – you made your decision, one that was based on emotion and very little sound reasoning, and now it’s time to buckle down and make it happen.  First and foremost, you need to build a checklist, a very well thought out checklist of everything that must be done before you open your doors.  Leave nothing to chance – no matter how small the task, put it on your list.  Next, prioritize that list based on the amount of time, effort, and money it will take to get that specific work done.  As an example – applying for a liquor license.  This might take 60-days or 6-months depending on variables that are out of your control.  So, as soon as you are able – fill out the paperwork and submit your application.  Whatever time you think should be allotted to a task – double it, whatever amount of money you think that it might take to finish a task – know that it will be more.

Back to your list – next to each task state who will be responsible for it and when you would like to see it complete.  Transfer those dates onto your calendar. NOTE:  If you would like a sample opening list – just forward your email address under COMMENTS and simply say PLEASE SEND LIST.  Each night before you hit the sack, pull out your master list and make your specific task list for the next day.  If you failed to complete an item on today’s list, then transfer it to tomorrow – DON’T LET IT GET AWAY FROM YOU!

OK, you catch my drift -LISTS ARE IMPORTANT!  When adrenaline is in charge you need a dependable roadmap.  Adrenaline is like an accelerator on your car that is stuck to the floor and your brakes don’t work.  All you can think about is not crashing and nothing else.  Your roadmap (LISTS) will ease your foot off the gas pedal and help your vision come back into focus.

NEXT: don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.  This is when you call in all the favors that are on your “you owe me list”.  This is when every friend or family member with an investment in your success and happiness will come in handy.  Asking them for help is what friends, family, and colleagues do.  Make a note of who pitches in and MAKE SURE THAT YOU THANK THEM PROFUSELY.  DO IT WITH SINCERITY AND DO IT OFTEN.  Keep those notes and be prepared, at some time in the future, to return the favor.  THAT’S HOW IT WORKS!  This is your turn to receive, tomorrow may be theirs.  These folks are your network – tap into their expertise and contacts – it literally takes a village to open a restaurant.

NEXT: Don’t take shortcuts!  If you think that you can “get by” without doing something right the first time, know that you will be doing it over again sooner than you think.  Oh, and by the way, the next time around it will be much more expensive.  Excellence on the plate begins with excellence in the materials you by to frame in a wall.  IT ALL COUNTS!

NEXT: Ahhhh – staffing.  Do not approach staffing as the final step before opening.  Staffing IS THE MOST CRITICAL STEP IN SOLIDIFYING YOUR FUTURE SUCCESS.  Visit local businesses, introduce yourself, talk to the owners about your vision, address the kind of individuals you are looking for and ask if they would help you to get the word out.  I am not encouraging you to pirate their employees, but rather partner with them to help your boat float from day one.  If you are successful, it will help them with their business.  If they recommend a great potential employee, then make note of it and invite that ambassador in for dinner sometime after your restaurant is settled in.  Believe me – THIS WORKS!

Think about the interview process.  Think about what you are really looking for in the right individuals.  Differentiate what you want them to bring to the operation vs. what you can teach them once they are there.  Would you rather have a great line cook with a crappy attitude, a person who lacks dependability, and one who brings the team down constantly, or would you prefer a team player, always upbeat, anxious to learn, and always at work on time and ready to rock?   If they have good foundations and the right attitude you can teach them to move quickly from good to great.

NEXT: The menu.  OK, you’re a chef, you love to cook, you have a style and a bag of tricks focused on the food that you like to make.  It seems obvious that you should have a menu that plays off of those strengths.  So, here’s the toughest part of being a chef/owner:  YOU MUST CONSIDER SELLING THOSE FOODS THAT PEOPLE WANT TO BUY.  If they are totally tuned into your style and your dishes – then go for it.  If you aren’t sure, then check out the competition, talk to people in the community, and keep your menu rather fluid at first until you discover what works.  Don’t sacrifice your commitment to quality but make menu decisions based on good research rather than just your ego.  BOY, THAT’S HARD ADVICE TO GIVE.

NEXT:  Brand building.  Everything you do impacts your brand.  Whatever impacts your brand will also impact your sales, your profitability, the employees you are able to attract, and your longevity as a restaurateur.  PAY ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING YOU DO – YOUR BRAND IS YOUR KEY TO SUCCESS.

FINALLY: Be prepared to stop and change direction at a moment’s notice.  Set your pride aside – if it’s not working – CHANGE IT!  You should always maintain a “stakes in the ground” beliefs that are essential to your being (like trying to buy local, only using organic ingredients, treating your employees well, etc.), but other than those – GET RID OF THE SACRED COWS.  Those immoveable objects in your business plan that aren’t working will drag you down.  CHANGE THEM. 

There are numerous other “rules of engagement” that are helpful and sometimes even essential – but this is a good start.  Make sure you have plenty of cash to fall back on, a good line of credit with the bank, keep accurate records, don’t try to cheat the State you live in out of their sales tax, pay your bills on time, order smart, check prices, don’t’ drink your profits, don’t give things away (you can’t afford to do this – also if a “friend” asks you for freebies then he or she is not really a friend), lock your coolers and storerooms at the end of a shift, take inventories, accurately cost out recipes and charge what you need to charge, treat your employees well and they will treat your guests well, and the list goes on and on.

You made that decision to open a restaurant, know that it will be very, very hard, extremely challenging, not always profitable, stressful, and sometimes disappointing – but when you plan it right and when you build a focused team, then Mr. Adrenaline will keep a smile on your face more days than not.



Harvest America Ventures, LLC

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