Last month in this column, Jim Balis, a food-service adviser and SCORE volunteer, listed the essential elements of pre-opening preparation that are key to a profitable and sustainable restaurant. This month Jim discusses post-opening keys to survival.
1. Deliver greatness
a. Deliver on the exterior. That’s a guest’s first impression of your restaurant. Make sure it is clean, well-kept, welcoming, with lights on.
b. Deliver on the interior. It must be clean and properly lit, with appropriate music at the right volume, promptly bussed tables and the smell of food. Maintain restrooms regularly – that’s how most customers judge kitchen cleanliness.
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c. Deliver on the food. Make sure each dish is prepared to perfection, looks its best and is consistent. Do not run out of items to save on food costs. Use prep charts and par levels to manage menu preparations.
d. Deliver on the service. Make sure your staff is properly trained on the ingredients, food preparedness, your expectations and meal timing. You don’t want guests to get their appetizers after their entrees. Wow the guest. One bad experience gets shared 10-20 times, one good experience 2-5 times.
e. Deliver on the experience. That’s why people go out to eat. The food, the service and the ambiance are your trifecta. And be present: Everyone loves to see an owner or chef on the floor, greeting and mingling with guests.
2. Be equipped.
a. Make sure you have a point-of-sale system that manages your business to its potential. This may include online ordering, delivery and other features and must include robust reporting for managing your business.
b. Know your volumes, what food items can be prepared, how long they can be held, and that you have the right equipment to accommodate these projections.
3. Make money.
a. Make sure recipes are prepared to their specifications with no over-portioning. Count your pennies.
b. Make sure you have sufficient labor for your peak periods. Labor is one of the toughest costs to manage. When people are not needed, scale down right away. But don’t sacrifice guest experience by understaffing.
c. Understand marketing costs. Know how much business you must generate to pay for them.
d. Make sure you make enough money to succeed. You work a 7-day week and most holidays. If you are not making enough money, the business will not be worth your human capital.
Test various strategies and review results. Make sure the efforts pay for themselves. Don’t forget guerrilla marketing, often the most cost effective: Getting into the community and talking about your restaurant, handing out materials, bringing free food so people can test your product. Consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yelp, and an email club, along with an easily navigable website.
5. Keep learning.
a. Use your point-of-sale system to continually analyze your business.
b. Shop your competition for ideas, pricing and general data about your business segment.
c. Pay people to eat when you are not there to get honest feedback on how you’re doing.
c. Constantly check in with your guests and seek insights you can act on.