4 Things Only Restaurateurs Know About Running a Restaurant

Many dream of owning their own restaurant: A place where your friends and family can call home, where you call the shots and have the freedom to run operations your own way.

© Copyright  Steve Tague
Written by: Donald Burns
Be very careful what you wish for.
Owning a restaurant is not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s hard to earn your stripes in the restaurant industry (which is probably why 26% of new restaurants fail in the first year).

So you’ve got a few yummy drinks on your menu, customers are loving your food, and you’ve got long wait times each night. Big whoop – that’s only a fraction of what it takes to run a successful bar or restaurant.

Looking for the inside scoop? Here are four secrets to running a successful restaurant that only restaurateurs know.

1) You Still Report to Someone
Even though you own the business and can come and go as you wish, you still have a boss: Your guests.

You need happy guests spreading the good about your restaurant on all channels possible. Traditional word of mouth marketing has been replaced by marketing on social media and travel review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Remember: anyone can find anything on the internet, including bad restaurant reviews or opinions of your restaurant.

A bad review and an accompanying defensive rant by the owner on the internet can make your restaurant’s name viral for all the wrong reasons.

Not all publicity is good publicity.

Likewise, videos on social media of restaurant staff doing stupid things have a way of getting eyeballs faster than you can imagine. Your restaurant’s reputation will go down the drain just as quickly.

Dealing with disgruntled customers on the internet is tricky business. It is the world’s stage, after all.

The best strategy? Pick your battles. Your guests provide the vital, life sustaining cash flow needed to run your restaurant. The last thing you want to do is alienate your customers by mishandling customer interactions on the internet.

2) Being a Restaurateur is a 24/7 Job
The majority of restaurant staff get to go home at the end of one shift, and don’t have to think about work again until their next shift.

Being a successful restaurateur is a 24/7 gig. Even when you’re not within the four walls of your restaurant, you’re thinking about your restaurant.

Ideas and inspiration for your restaurant will come in all shapes and sizes, at even the most unlikely of times.

Say you’re out to dinner with friends, and the conversation sparks an idea for new entertainment at your restaurant, or, say you’re out to eat at another restaurant and you have a lightbulb moment after taking note of how a specific dish is served.

Great ideas might even come to you in your dreams!

In today’s competitive market, you need to be obsessed with improvement, innovation, and adaptation to stay above water. Being good is not good enough!

If you aren’t constantly on the lookout for ways to delight your guests in new, fresh ways, you will quickly be outsmarted, out-strategized, and outmaneuvered by your competition.

Being set in your ways is being lazy, and a surefire way to kill your business.

As a small, independent restaurant, be agile and test out new things. Bigger well established brand’s  don’t have this luxury, their operations are often far too bureaucratic to institute change quickly. When you see a trend hit the big brands, its at the end of its 15 minutes of fame.

Use this to your advantage.

3) Sometimes, Knowledge Can Be Limiting
While talking to Jeffrey Amoscato, VP of Supply Chain & Menu Innovation for Shake Shack, at The Hospitality Innovation Planet Conference in Madrid, Spain, our conversation shifted to discussing how hard it is to “unlearn” things.

When you start a restaurant, you may be confident in the operational aspects of running a restaurant; building a business is completely different. Likewise, as time goes on, the ways you know how to run a successful restaurant will become outdated and stale as new techniques and technology come on the scene.

Creating and growing a successful business is impossible without a solid foundation, also known as your vision. Though your strategy and operations will change as you gain perspective and insights, your business’ vision will always remain the same.

To this day, Shake Shack still has the original napkin Danny Meyers wrote on to draft out the ideas for the brand (it’s framed in his office). It serves as a constant reminder of their original vision for the Shake Shake brand.

As you grow as a restaurateur and experiment with new entrepreneurial ventures, you’ll realize that clinging to your old ways of thinking may be holding you back from exciting, profitable new ideas.

This is why it is essential to approaching running a business with what is known in the Zen philosophy as “a beginner's mind.” Always stay open to new ways of thinking, new strategies, new technology. This philosophy will help you run the restaurant of the future, not the restaurant of the past.

4) Keep Your Eyes Open
The restaurant industry is both extremely rewarding and extremely brutal.

If you go into running a restaurant thinking your concept is going to become an overnight success story, think again. Solid, successful, customer adored brands that stand the test of time take time to develop, just ask McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. “I was an overnight success all right,” he says, ”but 30 years is a long, long night”.

As a restaurateur, be honest with yourself and always keep your eyes wide open for new ways to innovate.

Why do so many restaurants close? They didn’t stand out from the fold. Being average (or even slightly above average) is a death sentence in an industry that is overwhelmingly over-saturated.

Keeping your eyes open for fresh takes or insights, listening to the word on the street, staying up on trends, and adapting quicker than your competition is your recipe for survival in the restaurant industry.

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