Among the industries one could jump into to make their mark in the world, few are tougher than the restaurant business. Conventional wisdom focuses on the supposed failure rate of new restaurants, but more recent studies suggest that restaurants fail about as often as other service-driven businesses.
The success of a restaurant is more dependent on how patrons enjoy their dining experiences and the state of the economy. Any restaurant has the power to succeed, but few restaurant owners know what's needed to move their business beyond keeping the ship afloat.
New restaurants pop up all the time, and competition is fierce in almost every corner of the world. However, maintaining the status quo and lacking the drive to stay ahead of the curve is a death knell for any restaurant.
By implementing these 11 tips, restaurant owners can futureproof and foster a deeper connection to their customers.
1. Consistency is the name of the game
If there's one thing that every single restaurant owner should take to heart when trying to run a strong business, it's the idea of consistency. No matter if you're a charming greasy spoon on a country back roads diner or the hottest new bistro in the heart of New York City, providing consistency will ultimately determine your success over time.
From food quality standards to the customer experience, consistency is a concept that will come up over and over again. It can be extremely hard to maintain consistency every single day, but it's worth it. If consistency seems impossible to maintain, it may be time to rethink what steps need to be taken to make it more achievable.
2. Sweat the small stuff
Thinking about the responsibilities that fall on restaurant owners, no single restaurant is alike. But as the owner, it’s your job to keep the ship on course or hire a crew you can rely on.
For everything else that has nothing to do with food service (e.g., finances, HR, payroll, accounting, etc.), owners have to run a tight ship. Many owners are former chefs or attended culinary school where these small business basics may not have been taught.
It is your responsibility to take on these administrative duties or to surround yourself with people that will help you.
3. Carefully weigh expanding your location
Many restaurants are fortunate enough to have enough success where they can think about expansion. More customers can lead to more profits, but only if expansion is done correctly. Unsustainable growth can bring down just about any business in any industry, so restaurant owners need to be particularly careful.
If your current location can't handle expanding on the existing location due to building codes and zoning laws, you may be thinking about a second location. There are a lot of dangers involved with opening additional locations – the most important of which is taking on more risk when using more funds for construction.
For new owners looking to open a new restaurant, location matters, but keep in mind whether or not a location can be expanded with ease later on. Research the necessary building codes and zoning laws if the day comes when your restaurant is lucky enough to grow.
4. Embrace your critics
Whether you love it or hate it, the internet plays an important part in acquiring new customers. Many feel that dealing with online review aggregators like Yelp can feel unfair or a waste of time, but there's too much at stake to ignore them.
When someone leaves a review for your restaurant, acknowledge that person – good or bad. Especially if the review was left in a place where users can see your engagement with reviewers, this shows you care about improving the customer experience.
Another important thing to keep in mind is to encourage customers to leave reviews. If consistency and high-standards are adhered to, your overall review score will be higher with over time.
5. Be smart about purchasing
There are always ways you can save on certain costs, but don't let that desire sacrifice quality. Customers may not vocalize it all the time, but many can pick up on the quality of ingredients.
This also means not going in the opposite direction and buying the best ingredients or opening your wallet to overpriced furniture and decor. For example, if you feel like your restaurant could benefit from a new line of chairs and stools, it's very easy to spend too much. It may be tempting to buy some trendy furniture from a popular designer, but certain vendors have trade programs where you can get volume pricing and get connected with a curated list of designers and architects for consultation.
6. Establish your online presence
Every restaurant needs to establish a consistent, online presence. This means claiming every single business profile you can on social media, Google My Business, review aggregator sites and other local driven directories.
If there's one thing that many restaurants fail at, it's their website. With so many affordable options for hosting and website design, there's no reason why your restaurant's website shouldn't be regularly updated with your menu, location and hours, social media links, and images.
Since many new customers will visit your website before first before sitting down for a meal, not having the most current information on the website can lead to potentially inconsistent experience.
7. Implement rigorous quality checks
It's easy to get into a rhythm when running a restaurant. Day in and day out, your guests may be happy with the food and service they get, but your quality may be slowly slipping over time.
Establish regular times where every menu item is tasted and checked for overall quality. This means having periodic menu evaluations, random taste testings or even sending in "secret agents" during peak hours to give feedback on their experiences.
8. Acknowledge your weaknesses as an owner
Self-awareness is one of the most underrated qualities a person can possess. Having a true understanding of your strengths and weaknesses allows you to focus on what you do best and leverage the skill sets of others to do what you can't.
For example, if your time is best served focusing on the kitchen, then you probably need someone to manage the business end of things.
Self-awareness also means understanding what your restaurant is capable of and what sets it apart from the competition. There's no sense in trying to do what a competitor can do better, so focus on a menu that you can do well and consistently.
9. Revisit menu item pricing
Generally speaking, the cost of goods and ingredients will increase over time. From a business perspective, failing to price items appropriately will only harm profitability, so it can't be ignored for long.
This is a challenge most older restaurants face, but menu pricing changes can be tricky. Retention is overall the most important consideration for established restaurants, and many guests have somewhat concrete expectations for what they usually spend.
Still, because pricing is a necessary evil, it's still important to review costs and whether or not an item is still profitable at its current price point. Instead of implementing changes all at once, it's better to make them gradually.
10. Value retention over acquisition
Customers are what keep your doors open. But for restaurants, if you're only able to bring in new customers rather than returning customers, you won’t stay open for long.
Restaurants typically rely on repeat customers due to the local nature of dining establishments. Unless you run a restaurant for tourists, the pool of potential customers is mostly restricted to your immediate area.
This is where consistency will help bring those customers back time and time again. If a guest is given a consistent experience every time they sit down and they like the food, they will probably return. But it's not just the food: quality of wait staff service and overall cleanliness play a huge part as well. Every facet of their dining experience must be consistently good if you want them to come back.
11. Treat staff like family
Your staff is the last piece of what will keep your restaurant successful into the future. While they are your subordinates, if you abuse these relationships, then they will likely put in less effort or find work elsewhere.
Much like larger companies that have great perks for employee appreciation, see how you can make your staff feel like a family rather than co-workers. Through team building and outside social events, you can foster a stronger relationship with your employees.
Don't become a statistic
Restaurants fail all the time and most often it's because they fail to address factors that are within their own control. And for restaurants who get too comfortable, they'll most likely be unprepared for the future and will eventually become another failure statistic. Fortunately, these tips can help restaurant owners of all types and take your business to the next level.