Anyone who’s worked in restaurants has heard of the Ohio State University study - which found 60% of eateries close in the first year, and 80% fail in the first five years.
This study is cited all the time. But it’s missing some important details.
For example, it doesn’t delve into why all those restaurants fail so quickly. And isn’t that more important to know than some scary statistic that makes it seem like every restaurateur is destined for failure?
In five years time, what side of these statistics will you be on? Are you part of a team that works together to make great food and work towards a shared vision for your restaurant? Or do you feel like there is a lack of vision and poor leadership that’s contributing to inconsistent food and unhappy diners?
Will your restaurant be one of the 60 percent that fail in the first year? Or one of the 80 percent that fail in the first five?
Is your team working together to make great food and work toward a shared vision for your restaurant? Or is there a lack of vision and poor leadership that’s making the food inconsistent and the guests unlikely to make a return visit?
In short, are you running your restaurant, or is it running you?
If you’re worried your restaurant won’t succeed, it’s time to start asking yourself some hard questions to get to the bottom of why.
Hard Question 1: Are your values and mission clear and consistent?
Your team needs to know what they’re working toward, and why. Your customers need a reason to believe in your concept. You need values and a mission, and they need to be clear and consistent.
Maybe you already know what your restaurant stands for and wants to achieve. But if you haven’t written those ideas down and communicated them with everyone on your team, they won’t know what they’re working toward. It’s like you and your team are standing in a valley surrounded by mountains. You all need to climb one of those mountains, and you know which one. But you haven’t told your team which one. Instead, you’ve just told them to start climbing.
A few of them will go in the direction you had in mind. But most of them will go in the direction they want to. Your restaurant is the same way. Without clear direction on where your restaurant is heading, most of your employees will choose to go their own way.
Writing down and clearly communicating your values and mission to your team and customers gives everyone a common goal. It’s the first step toward success for your restaurant.
Hard Question 2: Is your menu contributing to your success?
Which restaurant would you rather go to for a meal: One that has an expansive menu so you can order a mediocre plate of whatever you want? Or one that has a smaller menu, focusing on making a few specialty dishes that consistently taste great?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to please everyone by offering tons of menu choices. But not only is that expensive — having ingredients on hand for that many menu items increases overhead costs and waste. It’s also not what diners want.
The most important thing about your menu is that your kitchen can execute every item on it perfectly, every time. The food needs to be delicious and consistent in order to win over guests with taste and keep them coming back for more.
The best way to achieve that is to have a menu that’s containable. It’s about quality more often than choice — you don’t see Portillo’s adding tacos or steaks to its famous hot dog menu. There’s a reason for that.
Your menu should support your values and mission, and that means keeping it short, sweet, delicious and consistent.
Hard Question 3: Are your staff committed to your goals?
As the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel. Are there any bad apples on your staff? If so, it’s time to cut them loose now before their bad influence spreads.
It’s easy to end up with poor performers on your staff. Maybe it was getting close to opening day, and desperate to fill positions, you made some “panic hires.” Maybe you advertised in the wrong places and were left feeling like there are no quality staff out there. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself to keep those bad apples on, because their replacements might be even worse.
It’s a lot of work to fire and hire new staff. We get it. It’s easier to convince yourself the staff you have isn’t that bad (even if it is) and hope for improvement. But hope isn’t a good business model.
Your first step to correcting a staff full of bad apples is raising your standards — and making sure your staff meets them every shift. That alone may help weed out some of the poor performers; once your staff can’t run the restaurant their way anymore, they may choose to move on to another restaurant with lower expectations. Offset this by actively recruiting. Rather than hoping good people come to your through job ads, identify the top talent in your area and try to hire those people. Don’t sit back and hope the best people come to you. Go after them, make the first move and ensure they’ll want to work for your restaurant.
Hard Question 4: Are you putting in the effort?
The best team in the world will get nowhere without quality leadership. The culture that will make or break your restaurant? It starts at the top. It starts with you.
When asking yourself what about your restaurant may be getting in the way of its success, it’s all too easy to blame outside factors when, in reality, you may need to look within. Are you putting in the time and the work? Or are you expecting your staff to do it for you?
All too often, restaurant owners don’t put in the work themselves. But this is your vision, your concept, your team, your restaurant. If you don’t roll up your sleeves and get to work, how can you expect it to come to life?
A great tip for restaurant owners who are struggling is to find a coach or mentor. Someone who can look in from the outside might be able to see things you can’t. They might be able to see things you refuse to acknowledge, because it’s no fun to realize that you’re holding yourself back from your dreams. But it’s a necessary step toward running a business that thrives.
If your restaurant is running you, it’s time to turn it around.
But that won’t be easy. It’ll take a lot of work and big changes. Start with the questions above, but always be open to asking yourself other hard questions as they arise.
Just by asking yourself those questions and working to answer them, you are already running your restaurant.