Are You Running a Restaurant or a Business?
A 20-year restaurant veteran shares insights on his success.
I spent 20 years starting and operating restaurants. When I first began, I had virtually no experience, so I needed to give myself every advantage. The biggest advantage (I called it my "Secret Weapon") was systems. I knew instinctively that creating systems would make all the difference between succeeding or becoming another statistic.
From the get-go, I decided to work on my business now so I could decide how I would work in my business later. This took some serious work up-front in creating the systems, but this ultimately led to freedom. Now, I could manage from afar (so many operators are so close to their restaurants, they’re missing a fresh perspective) and look at the big picture from 30,000 feet. These systems exploded sales, built my “Dream Team” staff, and created a dominant powerful brand that crushed my competition. They also allowed me to pay great people to run my business as “their own business,” taking “ownership” of the results. You have a system when you can leave your business for a week, a month, or a year, and it will be just as successful—or more so—when you return. I can show you how.
I’m talking about an Exit Strategy. Don’t get me wrong—you may be happy with your operation exactly as it is, and if that’s you, then great! But follow me for a moment.... whether you’d like to sell your operation sometime in the future, or just maximize its investment value and continue to expand, systems are the key to a restaurant’s fate and future.
You can probably tell that I have a passion for this business and helping others succeed. I can’t tell you how many busy restaurants I’ve worked with that weren’t making any money. I’ve seen so many owners and managers tied to their operations watching life pass them by, wondering why their bank account wasn’t growing and what to do next. How is that possible, you may ask?
The key perhaps lies in a simple question I ask owners and managers all the time. What business are you in, and what products are you selling? It’s not a trick question, but this is really a paradigm shift, so listen carefully. Most of the time, as you would expect, the answer I hear is: “Of course, I’m a restaurant owner or manager, and I sell food and drink.” Whoa, hold on there, partner. How about this: When I owned restaurants, I was in the business of Running a Business, and my products were Entertainment and Consistency. Can you see the huge difference here?
There are so many moving pieces in running restaurants, and the failure rate is legendary. So I continually ask myself, “Why are so many restaurants missing this simple concept: Are you running a restaurant or running a business?” The answer is, overwhelm and their approach. I call the restaurant business one of 1,000 details. It’s extremely challenging to keep all these balls in the air, and even if you get 990 of those details right, it’s the 10 you miss that the guest always sees.
So, what are these systems?
They’re a simple four-part strategy that begins with your people. The restaurant business is notorious for high turnover. This costs money, makes everyone else work harder (not smarter), and loses productive time...ultimately, this negatively affects the guest experience and your restaurant’s reputation and potential for repeat business. Hiring for desire to serve the public over prior experience, executing recognition and rewards, and treating staff like family will dramatically reduce turnover and build your “Dream Team.” On top of this, train your staff to notice: to see what the guest sees before they see it and then empower them to fix it.
Now that you’ve got a great staff, you need to train them to Serve & Sell! Think of it this way—new customers come into your restaurant every day. Maybe they drove by at lunchtime, or maybe someone told them to try you. Either way, they probably know absolutely nothing about your concept, your menu, or what makes your restaurant unique and special. Here’s where your “Dream Team” come in. You’ve trained them to know your menu inside out. They now know all about what makes your restaurant stand apart from the competition—and best of all, they know what your customer will enjoy. Train them, and keep training, to recognize “Opportunities Every Table, Every Time” and make suggestions your customer will enjoy. Your entire front-of-house team can do this—your hosts, bussers, and servers.
Okay, so you’ve got a great team and they’re selling, but what should they sell? Your most profitable menu items, of course. How do you know this? Cost out every menu item for maximum profit, and then learn which are your most popular sellers. Now, I know that not everyone’s a numbers person, but the third powerful system is all about the numbers. Taking regular inventory, monitoring your prime cost, and finding efficiencies across your operation are the foundation of these systems.
Lastly, I want to talk marketing. Now, most restaurants I know are dumping tons of money out the window on traditional marketing—radio, print, and TV. This is a shotgun approach that’s very difficult to track effectiveness and ROI, and this approach fails to leverage a restaurant’s most valuable resource—its own staff. I’m talking about the leverage and power of Internal Marketing, because I learned long ago that it’s far less expensive to reach and to market to an existing customer than it is to continually find new customers. Let your dream team staff and brand-faithful customers be your marketing ambassadors that sing your restaurant’s praises. Internal Marketing refers to everything you can do to market to your customer within the four walls of your restaurant. Dazzle your customer, wow them, and watch them come back again and again and spread the word. It’s called “buzz,” ladies and gentlemen, and it’s free, absolutely free! I’ve got a system for that, too.
I’d be happy to give you a personal strategy session to help you “Rock Your Restaurant.”
The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.