How to make a restaurant survive in 2015

In his regular blog, Bill Main gives three key steps for any successful restaurant start-up

I suppose that, within Emily Starbuck-Crone’s recent article for Nerd Wallet, “4 Secrets for Survival With a New Restaurant”, there are certainly industry insights that are helpful at some level. And I commend her for a good, basic, boiler-plate summary of information that any college student already knows.

In the age of the Millennial (aged 18-35), who gets information from the internet combined with the explosion of reality shows like Shark Tank, The Profit, and Restaurant Start-up on TV, her piece is a good start…circa 1975. So, my comments here are “Stage two,” if you will, and you can take them to the bank in 2015.

1) Systems, systems, systems

Almost all (90%) of my start-up clients hate the “drudgery side” of running a restaurant. You know what I mean, boring and tedious operating disciplines like: taking an inventory weekly, instead of monthly; checking the trash cans at shift end; having a prime vendor relationship with their broadline distributor; gathering daily metrics like guest counts, average check, menu mix; and even a signed-off line check, as you transition between lunch and dinner shifts. It’s real work.

2) Guest back, not concept forward

There are many ‘insider techniques’ that can measure guest satisfaction, not the least of which is some form of guest comment card, which doubles as a tool to build a database. Happy guests tell three people, unhappy ones tell 14. In this competitive market, with Yelp as a primary example, guest satisfaction can be instantaneously broadcasted. The guest comment card is a quick indicator that is easily implemented. Too many new restaurateurs are self absorbed, ego-driven and arrogant. They assume that what they like is what the guest will like. Wrong—really wrong—and a recipe for disaster.

3) Mood, morale and motivation

Restaurant management is a dictatorship, not a democracy. However, no one knows more about how the guest feels than the frontline servers actually interacting with the guest. Yet, most start-ups don’t even consider asking for their opinions in an anonymous manner. My Server Focus Group Survey, Employee Pulse Survey, and Employee Evaluation of Management can pull data quickly and efficiently, offer early warning signs of problems, and cost virtually nothing.

Consultants should be able to implement tools like these in the start-up phase, as well as part of an ongoing management discipline. They are not fun, but they get to the heart of the business quickly. Successful operators are constantly adapting, modifying, adjusting. The learning curve never ends as the makeup of our guest base continues to skew younger with the Millennial, who, I promise you, will vote with their feet…fast.


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