Anyone who’s ever worked in the industry will tell you: Operating a successful restaurant is an insanely difficult task. According to a study commissioned by Ohio State University, three out of every five restaurants fail within a year of opening, and four out of five of them fail within five years.
Still, everyone needs to eat every day—three times a day, at that—so it’s not exactly as though restaurateurs are selling a product no one’s interested in any more. So why all the failure? Many novice owners fail to observe the following essential tenets of a successful restaurant.
With an endless amount of options at their disposal, all it takes is one unpleasant experience for your customers to decide that they’ll never return to your restaurant. Fisun Ercan, a chef who operates two Turkish restaurants in Montreal, says that a restaurant’s success – or lack thereof – has a lot to do with the caliber of its wait staff.
“I strongly believe in training,” Ercan explains. “When we hire a waiter, they may be coming with experience, but they don’t know our concept. If the waitstaff is not strong enough, doesn’t have enough knowledge about your concept, and if they say to the customers, ‘I know you are right but Chef says do it this way,’ it’s a problem.”
Restaurants need to employ courteous and knowledgeable staff, particularly in today’s digital age, where all it takes is one terribleYelp review to cripple your earning power. So strive to cultivate strong customer experiences with every meal you serve.
2. Good dishes are all about balance.
Maybe you’ve made your spouse killer dishes you’ve both loved for years. Maybe your friends have devoured your cooking, too. But it’s one thing to eat a meal at a friend’s house. It’s a whole different thing to open up your wallet and drop $100 on a meal with your significant other.
Great dishes are eclectic and flavorful. Some cooks say that the key to a good meal is having a keen sense of flavor. These kinds of dishes will feature a balance of the following four flavor categories: meat (or cheese, fish, mushrooms, etc.), seasoning (sweet, sour, salt), spices (curry, garlic, paprika) and freshness (vegetables).
You might love the buttered pasta you make at 3 a.m., but no one else besides your drunk buddies will.
3. Don’t make your menu too large.
Whether you fancy yourself a chef capable of cooking every dish under the sun, or you just want to attract and appease customers, you should think twice about becoming the restaurant with an ever-expanding menu.
According to Chef Robert Irvine of the Food Network, expanding your menu too much and forgetting to focus on your core offerings can ruin your restaurant.
“Very slowly, your most popular dish can start to veer off its intended flavor profile and your cherished execution can stray from what is best for the end product,” explains Irvine.
To make sure you don’t suffer a similar fate, you should regularly taste your dishes to ensure they retain their deliciousness and live up to your standards. You can’t please everybody, so stick to the dishes you know best. After all, those are the dishes that made you open your doors in the first place.
4. Never forget what’s important: location, location, location.
Even if your joint has great food, a spectacular staff, and killer ambiance, no one is going to dine at your restaurant if they have to travel 17,000 miles out of their way to get there. (Well, even seven miles.)
The location of your restaurant will play a huge role in how many customers come by, particularly when you open your doors for the first time. You should look for properties that are highly visible and very accessible, and locations with adequate parking.
It’s important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t open up your family-friendly restaurant next to four strip clubs in the seediest part of town. Find a space that makes sense for your restaurant’s vibe. A craft brewpub is better suited to downtown than in a strip mall, and a high-end sushi restaurant will find more success in an urban center than on the outskirts of farm country.
5. If you build it, they might come.
It seems many restaurateurs think that all they have to do is open their doors. They imagine that word-of-mouth advertising is all that’s needed to take their business to the next level.
Your new restaurant is just one of countless other ones, so who’s to say even the hungriest person will choose to fill up at your place?
Being a successful restaurateur requires much more than the ability to cook well: You need to be able to manage your revenue and expenses, you need to make sure you have proper insurance and comply with laws, and you need to effectively market your business to attract new clientele.
You should consider promotions and other discounts – 2-for-1 dinners, happy hours, or similar – to get people through your doors, especially when you’ve just opened. If you build it, they might come. But if you proactively incentivize them to come, they’re probably more likely to show up (and stay!).
Running a restaurant is hard work.
But it shouldn’t be any more difficult than it needs to be. Keep your wits about you, and you’ll find your seats filling up every night.