(So You Want to Own a Restaurant – PART II) Deep in every chef’s heart is/was a desire to open and own a restaurant. I think that I can say this unequivocally even though many chefs may choose to deny it. Why is it so? The data is pretty clear – the odds of failure…
The life of a restaurateur: “Work all day in preparation to work all night.” -Gabrielle Hamilton – Prune Restaurant Every chefs dream is to own a restaurant – this is, after all, everything that a chef works for. Being in control, controlling the decisions, becoming one with the operation, being in charge of your own…
At some point we tend to stop seeing those things right in front of us, those things that can lead to success or failure. More often than not, those things may seem insignificant, but they add up. “Sweat the details” has merit. Those people who live the details, who see the potential long-term impact of…
There may be conflicting figures about the success/failure rate of restaurants, but the fact remains that it is a fragile business and more operations fail than succeed. So, why is it that there is never a shortage of people lining up to “crack the code” and open their doors for the anticipated onslaught of happy…
There are very few, if any other businesses that view a staff meal as not just a benefit, but rather a necessity. Labor laws do not mandate that a restaurant provide a meal for its staff, only that time for consumption of a meal is provided. Restaurants choose, somewhat due to tradition, to offer this sustenance for employees.
Over many years chefs and management have expressed mixed feelings about the meal and far too often have viewed it as a costly inconvenience. Recently, there has been a commitment on the part of a growing community of restaurants to view the staff meal as a “family” or team building opportunity. This is becoming a vehicle for restaurants to communicate, set the tone for service, inspire and build stronger team relationships. The reference commonly used is the chance to “break bread”.
There is, of course, plenty of history and subliminal meaning behind the “breaking bread” phrase. Much of this history dates back to the early days of Christianity when the church referred to this as a part of fellowship.
“The early Christians came together regularly for common meals, which included the breaking of bread. The reference is to these individuals having everything in common.” http://www.gotquestions.org/breaking-of-bread.html
In a restaurant, that commonality is evident in the purpose of service, the respect for food, the passion for preparation, the respect for process and historical cooking traditions, the enjoyment of food as entertainment, and the responsibility to create customer value. The staff, or family meal, provides everyone the opportunity to reinforce this common bond, refer to the restaurants objectives and enjoy each other’s company before they are immersed in the moments of service. This time, as short as it might be can be the difference between success and failure during a meal period and beyond. The significance of breaking bread should not be overlooked.
What is served, how it is set, in what manner the time for family meal is allotted will be critical and as more and more restaurants grab onto the opportunity the benefits are becoming evident.
If your restaurant views the meal as an opportunity to simply provide a carbohydrate rush that helps to build energy for service, then the larger benefit will never be addressed. If time is not built into the schedule that allows staff members to stop for 20 minutes or so, sit and enjoy a meal together, then the value of “sharing things that people have in common”, will be lost and the real growth of a team will be diminished.
An effective family meal can provide a chef with the opportunity to excite staff members about his or her style of cooking and the uniqueness of what the restaurant offers. A taste of a new wine offered by the sommelier or manager will provide staff members with the opportunity to build their wine knowledge, especially pertaining to how it might complement certain foods. Adequate time for both front and back of the house employees to sit and enjoy the food, converse and learn about each other will be critical in building understanding and keeping everyone focused on what is important. For a period of time everyone in the restaurant can truly feel that they are equal. Everyone begins to see that each person contributes to the success of the operation and each job is critical.
There are ancillary benefits to family meal in those restaurants that wish to use this time as a broader educational event. Looking around the staff table, most restaurant employees will see a diversity of ethnicity, race, and life experiences. There is an opportunity to break down barriers and learn from each other. Maybe that line cook or dishwasher from Central America should have an opportunity to prepare a dish for staff that reflects his or her family traditions. Quite possibly, the waiter who proudly emigrated from France, Italy, Russia or Spain could toast the staff with a wine from his or her homeland and talk about its historical significance. Maybe the chef or sous chef who has worked in a variety of restaurants can bring back a dish from a past operation and demonstrate how his or her personal cuisine evolved from those early beginnings. Every time something new is added to the family mealtime a staff member builds his or her base of knowledge and in turn becomes a stronger employee.
Chefs and managers are and should be educators. Their ability to attract, train and retain a great team is reflective not simply on pay scales, but even more importantly how they can help those employees build their base of knowledge. Knowledge is one of the best retention tools in an industry that is plagued by turnover. Just as great bread and exceptional coffee sends an important message to a guest about the quality of a meal and a restaurants commitment to doing things right, so too does the staff meal and the celebration of team send a message to current and future staff.
“I judge a restaurant by the bread and by the coffee.” –Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster views this through the eyes of the restaurant guest; the analogy does apply in the same fashion through the eyes of the employee.
I applaud the recent movement towards creating a family meal event in restaurants as evidenced by a growing number of excellent books on the topic. If you are interested in viewing your staff meal differently, I would strongly suggest that you take a look at these books and add them to your chef’s library.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching
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We all realize how important restaurants are to those who have a need to celebrate. Anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, and holidays or simply because it is Friday: our guests are looking for a reason to celebrate in restaurants of all types. Chefs and restaurateurs are always looking for a venue that will lead to success whether it is a freestanding operation off an active traffic artery, a destination restaurant with a spectacular view or a hotel with its captive clientele. After all, we still subscribe to Ellsworth Statler’s three most important attributes for a business: location, location, and location.
What we tend to sometimes over look are the numerous other reasons why people dine out: social networking, a need for conversation, a time to reflect, a perfect stress reliever, the joy in having someone else cook and clean up, or a simple respite from the pressures of life. All of these factors point to a significant sector of the foodservice market that is growing, but that finds it challenging to attract those mover and shaker chefs and highly competent restaurateurs. This market has been labeled (portraying it as limiting) as “B and I” (business and industry) or Contract Feeding. In both cases the labels infer that this is a utilitarian sector with the primary goal of delivering food in large quantity to an impatient market. This is, of course, not very inspiring for those working in that segment, nor those choosing to spend their money there.
The “institutional (God awful term)” segment includes: hospitals, school cafeterias, college food operations, workplace cafeterias, transportation centers, senior centers and retirement complexes. We should all take a step back and think about this market and the opportunities that are present with a different mindset pertaining to food and the impact that it can have on participants.
Beginning with hospitals: I have yet to meet a person who looks forward to spending time in a hospital. Typically you are admitted because there is a problem – something that needs to be identified and fixed. There will be poking and prodding, lots of angst, potentially negative outcomes, and pretty significant expenses as a result. What does a patient have to look forward to? Friends and relatives who visit share in many of the same feelings that the patient does with hours and sometimes days spent bed side or in waiting rooms. Additionally, staff members have an emotionally and physically stressful job caring for people with issues and associated angst. In all cases, there needs to be opportunities for stress release and reward at some level. Food is a common denominator and one that can make a real difference in the hospital experience, yet finding kitchens that attract serious culinarians or those with the mindset of restaurant service is challenging. This is not a segment that young culinary professionals typically put at the top of their career wish list. Yet, what a difference they could make in the lives of the deliverer of health services and the recipient of care. People have the same food preferences and needs while in this environment as they do back on their home turf.
School and college food outlets provide similar opportunities. Remember, Americans now spend more than 50% of their food dollar in some type of restaurant. Those students of various ages have an expectation and a need when it comes to the foods they are served. This is the time when young palettes can be molded and developed for the rest of their lives. Restaurateurs and chefs can play a significant role in this process and should look to school and college feeding as more than another a place to deliver food, but rather-a place where concepts and content can have an impact on a growing restaurant profile group and where new ideas can be nurtured on discriminating palettes.
Understanding the needs of employees who work in office complexes and plants is critical to the success of food operations in those venues. Exciting, contemporary, appropriate concepts and menus can greatly improve the morale of this audience (fairly captive by the way) and impact on the financial performance of those businesses where they work.
Transportation centers have been the punching bags of the media in recent years as flight delays, security lines, invasion of personal space, and lack of guest comfort seems to be the norm. Frustrated and sometimes angry travelers have typically low expectations of the food offered in these venues and the service mentality of those who work in those operations. The market is wide open for great food experiences and talented chefs and restaurateurs.
Finally, senior centers and retirement communities are being filled with aging Baby Boomers. This is the most highly educated, well-traveled, sophisticated consumer group that this country has ever known. They need intellectual stimulation, have well developed food palettes, know wine and great coffee and feel somewhat empty when those opportunities are not present. Yet, it would be very hard to find a senior venue that understands this and provides those restaurant experiences for this large and growing population. As people age, their ability to smell and taste changes. Talented chefs and restaurateurs can find ample opportunities to show their abilities to this audience and identify ways to support their careers while making a real difference in peoples lives.
An increasingly large segment of the American population spends time in these segments every day. Young chefs, cooks, managers and restaurateurs could and should look to these areas as career tracks and business opportunities. Partnerships with hospitals, colleges, office complexes, travel centers and senior living environments can lead to rewarding business opportunities.
There are many companies and venues that “get it” and are re-charging their efforts at adapting to changing markets and in some cases defining what this segment should look like moving forward. All of them provide terrific opportunities for talent chefs, cooks, managers and aspiring restaurateurs. Visit their websites for more information.
Nutrition Management Services
LePain Quotidien Bakery Cafes
Paul French Bakeries
Leisure Care Retirement Facilities
Well, 2013 is nearly over. Time certainly does fly by both professionally and personally. I hope that this year has worked out well for your restaurant, resort, culinary school or hotel and that you are looking forward to an even better 2014.
In preparation for the year to come it is customary for each of us to jot down our New Year Resolutions. This is always fairly easy: the challenge is staying on track and bringing those resolutions to fruition. The following list represents those goals that most restaurants, resorts or culinary programs need to address to drive business success in 2014.
• Increase brand awareness for our restaurant, product or culinary program
• Better inform the public about the unique qualities of our business
• Increase restaurant traffic or program enrollment
• Build consistent quality into the presentation of products and services
• Design a product that meets and exceeds the needs of our target audience
• Build check averages
• Become more effective at hiring the right people
• Build team awareness and esprit de corps among employees
• Determine ways to maximize sales
• Become more effective at controlling costs to ensure financial success
• Train staff to improve customer service
• Improve internal and external communication
This list truly represents the primary tasks of management, ownership, chefs, program directors, kitchen and dining room managers, food and beverage directors and budding entrepreneurs and could fit into any 2014 list. If you understand the need to focus on a list of this type but simply need guidance or assistance with implementation, it may be time to contact us as you prepare for a very successful year.
Harvest America Ventures is a consulting and training company focused on the restaurant business and collegiate programs offering culinary arts majors. Contact us to day to begin a dialogue on how we might work together to bring those goals to fruition.
PREPARE BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
How important are the details? Make no mistake the “small stuff” does add up when building an experience for your guests. First impressions help to draw people into your business, set the tone for the experience, build guest expectations, define your concept, demonstrate your commitment and establish the measurement for value. How are your first impressions?
I remember a great story that I heard years ago about SAS airlines. The story was titled: “cattle calls and coffee stains” and referred to the way that many airlines board planes and their lack of attention to detail. In the story reference is made to the guest who once seated, pulls down the chair tray only to find coffee stain rings from a previous passenger. As small a detail as this might be, the guest immediately wondered if they could safely fly the plane if the airline couldn’t even clean their chair trays. Details do matter!
Consider some of the more remarkable retail companies and their approach. Apple Computer draws people into their stores by using simple, clean lines that highlight the product. This is accomplished with dramatic use of light and glass, minimalistic décor and attention directed to the brand and the product. As a result they own the largest dollar sales per square foot of any retail company.
Anthropologie pulls customers in by creating one of a kind window displays that tell stories and tie the product into those stories that entice and educate at the same time. This company accomplishes this through a team of artists in every one of their stores, a home office department dedicated to research and design of these windows and a decision to forego traditional advertising for the uniqueness of their first impression strategy.
Restaurants can learn a great deal from these and other effective models focused on first impressions that are visual, textural, aural and in some cases even involve olfactory senses. Restaurants can even add the sense of taste to their first impressions.
Walk through your restaurant as a customer. Be aware of first impressions: “sweat the small stuff”!
1. Begin with your curb appeal. How does the restaurant look from the vantage of a car seat? Is it sharp, clean and inviting? Does the exterior need paint, better lighting, more appropriate signage or better landscaping? Is your parking lot clean, well lit, freshly paved and free of views of dumpsters and discarded equipment?
2. When you approach the entrance, is it inviting? Are the windows clean and does the entrance subliminally say: “welcome”?
3. As you enter the restaurant are you immediately greeted? Is the transition lighting such that your eyes adjust immediately from being outside?
4. What are the visuals? Are they related to the restaurant concept? Is the restaurant décor interesting, warm and free of unnecessary clutter?
5. Are the colors conducive to a great food experience (warm earth tones are best)?
6. Pay attention to the distinction between pleasant sounds and noise. What is the noise level (a comfortable level of customer chatter is a positive, acoustics that do not allow the sound to dissipate can be very unpleasant and will oftentimes ruin an otherwise positive experience for guests)? If you pipe in music of some type is it appropriate for the concept of the restaurant and it’s menu? Are there kitchen sounds drifting into the dining area? Are these sounds adding or detracting from the experience?
7. Look at your tabletop. Is the table covering, glassware and china, silverware a match for the value experience you are trying to create? Do you have flowers on the table? If so, are they fresh and vibrant?
8. Is the table lighting sufficient for reading the menu and viewing other people around your table? If not, this can dampen conversation and make menu decisions frustrating.
9. Are your service staff members professionally dressed and does the uniform (formal or informal) match the concept and the value experience? How about the staff members grooming (hair contained, body tattoos, jewelry and make-up) – is it appropriate for the concept?
10. Are your bathrooms attractive, well lit and most importantly spotlessly clean and free of offensive odors?
11. What are the smells in your dining room? Some food aromas are appropriate and may even add to the experience (the smoky smell of barbeque in a restaurant that features that product, the smell of fresh bread in a bakery, the aroma from a char-grill in a feature steak house), while others may turn people off (old oil in a deep fryer, too much garlic, burnt toast in a diner, etc.).
12. Look at your menu document. Is it clean, free of stains, torn corners, etc.? If not, replace them.
13. Finally, the restaurant has a unique opportunity to continue building positive expectations for a great meal and increase sales through the sense of taste. Consider the use of an amuse bouche (1-2 bite complimentary morsel from the kitchen) to encourage people to stand at attention for the flavors to come and even become more receptive to upselling. Make sure that your drinks, appetizers and soups help to build a positive picture for the overall experience.
First impressions are lasting impressions. Your goal should always be to create memories. Memories that are positive will bring customers back – the customers that allow your business to thrive are the ones who return on their own accord.
**NOTE: The picture in this post is of Alfred Portales Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City. This has consistently been one of my favorite restaurants in the country and one that truly understands how important first impressions are to their success.
We oftentimes depend on the complexity of marketing principles to build our business. These principles have created a new generation of chef’s and restaurateurs who are consumed by innovation and pushing the envelope, simply because they misinterpret the statistical data that is behind what is known as the “customer bell curve”. The concept of the bell curve is built on five categories of customers (applicable to any industry): Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards or Late Adopters. Statistically, it breaks down like this:
Innovators: 2.5% of the customer base
Early Adopters: 13.5%
Early Majority: 34%
Late Majority: 34%
**from an article by: Morgan Gerard in Idea Couture: “Noodle Play”
Innovators are typically people who jump at the chance to try whatever is new and proclaim: “I was first”. Early Adopters are close behind and believe that their role in life is to define what is fresh and start the next trend. Most businesses would agree that attracting this audience is important if you are interested in creating a “buzz” around your business. Buzz does equate to new customers and many feel that the Early Adopter is the key to getting close to a new audience. Morgan Gerard dispels the belief that Early Adopters are the opinion leaders. He states: “this is only true if the Early and Late Majority actually follow their lead.” This points to the premise of this post.
As a consultant for restaurant operations I am constantly faced with the dilemma of the chef’s need to be creative and “test the waters”, versus the need to create a business model with staying power. Now, I personally love to try new restaurant concepts and unusual dishes. When I travel I tend to seek out those unique experiences and check them off my list. This is the challenge with Early Adopters (I consider myself to be one). Once they have experienced something new the need is to move on to the next breakthrough. Restaurants that have the ability to survive and thrive must appeal to the Early Majority (they don’t usually jump at new things until they are truly proven) and the Late Majority that move to a new concept kicking and screaming. These two categories of consumers represent nearly 70% of the potential customer base. To be successful, long-term, this is where restaurants need to be.
The challenge, of course is getting to that point. Certainly, restaurants need to evolve at some level and try new things, but it is imperative not to stray too much from what works: well prepared food, great flavors, consistent outcomes, attentive service and stellar hospitality.
I just finished filling out the annual ACF/NRA survey of “what’s hot” that will become a benchmark for chefs as they plan the next iteration of menus for their properties. What was interesting is how many niche (what I might consider short-lived) products or preparation concepts were offered as choices. There are restaurants, in large urban markets, that can take on the role of “innovator” and do well for a long time, but they are few and far between. I will leave this role to Grant, Ferran, Rene and Heston. To try and emulate these unique, highly sophisticated concepts, would be dangerous for most restaurants to attempt and likely lead to business failure.
Attention to ingredients, serious cooking, building on great flavors and beautiful presentations with the right amount of friendly service will always trump those restaurant concepts that come and go. If restaurants and chefs used the parallel of investing 2.5% of their menus and time to pushing the envelope and stay focused 97.5% of the time on cooking well, serving well, paying attention to customer needs and building a base of return guests they would have a much better chance of weathering the storm, surviving and thriving for the distant future.
Keep the innovation going, watch what the highly creative few are doing, experiment cautiously with your own operation, integrate ideas when that Early Majority feels compelled to “buy in”, build on constantly improving the great food and consistent overall experience that 70% of consumers are seeking, and enjoy the best of both worlds.
The picture attached is of Duck Confit resting after a few hours in duck fat. Serve this with flageoulet beans, or polenta, sautéed kale and a robust glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. All the innovation in the world would have a tough time competing with this flavor profile.
This is a day, as we all well know, that will always be remembered. September 11, 2001 was a day that changed all of our lives forever, a day when evil seemed to win over good. Each of us remembers where we were on that day and what we were doing. I was in a meeting when an administrative assistant stepped in to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Each of us thought that this was likely a small private plane that went astray and proceeded with the meeting. A few moments later the same administrative assistant stepped in to say that a second plane had crashed into the Towers. We were first in shock as our thoughts immediately went to our own families and then to those who we worked with. It was quite a few hours, as the day unfolded, before were were able to grasp what was happening. I was a teacher and after calling my wife and children, turned to our students to counsel them and help to make sense of what was transpiring. Was this the beginning of the end? Who was responsible for this and how far reaching will this event become over the next few hours, days, weeks?
I would later find out that one of my former students, Chris Carstangen was on the second plane that crashed into the Towers. My heart broke for his family and friends. America, of course, acted and reacted bringing our country to a place that we would not have dreamed: 12 years of war trying to find an answer and prevent this from happening again on our soil.
As we remember that fateful day I felt that it was important to reflect on one group of people who suffered and then united as a result of 9/11. When the planes hit the Towers, one of America’s great restaurants fell target to this unthinkable attack on innocent people. Seventy-nine employees of Windows on the World Restaurant died on that day in 2001. They were serving breakfast and preparing for another beautiful day overlooking Manhattan. Chef Lomomaco, through a twist of fate, was delayed in arriving at work that morning while he was getting his eye glasses repaired. As he began his trip up through the Towers, the first plane hit and diverted people on to the street. He watched in horror as his restaurant burst into flames and the Towers eventually collapsed. Seventy-nine beautiful people who were his co-workers and friends lost their lives, leaving behind families and friends of their own.
Kevin Zraly was the director of the Windows on the World Wine School and shared in Chef Lomonaco’s grief and deep sense of loss. He too lost his friends and colleagues.
In the days that followed, restaurant workers, chefs and restaurant owners from NYC and around the country descended on Ground Zero to help feed the hundreds of firemen, police, and other volunteers who were sifting through the rubble looking for survivors and recovering those who lost their lives. It was what restaurant people do. It was the one way that we all know how to help and give some small sense of relief to those who were stunned, but committed to the awful task of recovery.
It took many years, but the New York landscape is returning to a sense of normalcy, restaurants have come and gone, but the food scene is once again vibrant, the 9/11 memorial is scheduled for an opening in the near future, and fundraisers have collected money to help the families of the restaurant workers who lost their lives on that day in 2001.
Today we remember all of the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives on 9/11, the subsequent thousands who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting to make sense of these events, and especially those innocent restaurant employees who only wanted to make great food, serve the public, and bring a smile to the face of those who could view Manhattan from the top of the world.
We will never forget.