5 Tips from 5 Top Restaurant Owners

 Restaurant Owners

Aug. 23, 2017 | 4

Who better to take business advice from than your own peers? From understanding P&L to staying close to staff, we share advice from five owners of diverse and successful restaurants. They’re insightful, and useful for any restaurant or bar owner.

Maintain Close Relationships with Your Staff

With over 30 chain locations, building a close relationship with staff isn’t easy. But the difficulty of the logistics never deters Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Boston-based seafood chain Legal Sea Foods. Every quarter, Berkowitz organizes a council meeting with hourly wait staff and bartenders to brainstorm and run through new ideas.

He describes these quarterly meetings: “I pose questions like, How can we make the restaurants more kid-friendly? Groups of workers hash it out for 20 minutes among themselves; then, they give their presentations and we discuss it together. We close with a forum in which anyone can talk about anything These guys have great ideas, and I act on most of them.”

Berkowitz suggests getting close to staff by engaging in a productive dialogue with them. To allow your staff to contribute to the business, set up brainstorm meetings and prepare a list of questions or issues in advance you want feedback on. With their experiences, you can make impressive improvements and fix problems.

Set Up a System to Improve Guests’ Moods

When most owners talk about guest experiences, external factors are rarely considered. Chef-owner Patrick O’Connell of the famed Inn at Little Washington in Washington, VA suggests that you consider another side of guest experience: how their day was before arriving at your restaurant.

At the Inn, the captain (host) is trained to assess every customer’s mood and assigns a number between one and nine. The mood rating is then shared with the staff—either through their computer terminal or by writing it on an order. Even the kitchen staff is told what the mood rating of a guest is. Then, the staff works together to improve their guest’s experience.

Complimentary champagne or tours of the kitchen are just a couple techniques the staff use to uplift their guests’ spirits. “If guests ran into terrible traffic on the way over here, or are in the midst of a marital dispute, we need to consider it our problem,” explains O’Connell.

The goal: Every guest leaves with a mood-rating of nine. With two Michelin stars and numerous more awards and accolades, the Inn is onto something special.

Have Space to Expand

Every restaurant owner knows the importance of a good location. What about local building codes and zoning laws? Chef-owner Gerard Craft of Niche in St. Louis, MO encourages owners to look into these details before making a decision.

“When selecting your property, even if you are purchasing, make sure you know in detail what rights you have to alter the space, including expansion possibilities,” he says. Every restaurant has the potential to make it big. For instance, Argentinean steakhouse Novecento first opened in the ‘90s in SoHo (before it was the bedrock of designer labels) with bar seating only. The menu was concise, just coffee, empanadas, and sandwiches. Today, Novecento has several restaurants in the United States, Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico.

You can’t predict how successful your restaurant will be, so don’t pigeon-hole yourself into a location. Make room (no pun intended) for expansion possibilities as you search for locations.

Craft offers one more piece of advice to restaurant owners, “And select the best contractor to build the space, even if it means spending a little more. Often, going with the cheaper bid costs more in the long run.”

Decide What Type of Owner You Are

It will require more than passion and vision to grow your business. Your staff and you need to work in harmony, and this requires you to decide what type of owner you want to be. There are many stories of owners who micro manage the duties of staff, and their businesses suffer. To be a strong owner, consider taking an active role in empowering your staff. It requires trust and patience, but the result is growth. 

Tom Colicchio, head judge of Bravo TV series Top Chef and chef-owner of the Craft family of restaurants, encourages every restaurant owner to find his or her own style. Yet he emphasizes the importance of entrusting staff with important responsibilities. In other words, to let go a little.

“It’s a matter, as a founder, of trying to figure out what you’re best suited to do,” he explains. “The second you think nobody else can do what you do, you’re not going to grow. You have to rely on the fact that you can train someone, and that he or she will put his or her heart and soul into the business as much as you would. If you don’t have that trust, it won’t work.”

Get to Know How Profit and Loss Works

It’s simpler to rely on your accountant, but Barbara Lynch of No. 9 Park in Boston, MA (named one of the 25 best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetit) says it’s the worth the effort to understand P&L on your own.

“The first few years at No. 9, I didn’t know the business part. It was tough enough trying to run a kitchen and deal with staff and not get overwhelmed,” she revealed. “I really didn’t know what P&L was. One of my sous-chefs had a business education, so she and I worked together to tighten things up, and I learned much more about business.”

Understanding how P&L worked helped Lynch to grow her business. Within four years of opening her first restaurant, she opened two more next door to each other. If you think the close proximity was just coincidence, think again; Lynch made them neighboring restaurants to save on construction costs.

With these five useful tips, you can make adjustments that led to these restaurant owners’ success.

Aug. 23, 2017 | BY Emma Alois

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