30 Keys to Restaurant Success

30 Keys to Restaurant Success

To run a successful restaurant you need to have an extraordinary mix of skills. Before starting your restaurant venture, build these 30 skills that restaurant owners always have in the back of their minds at all times.

There’s no substitute for learning from experience. But you can learn from restaurant owners and managers who have been there, done that, failed and won. These are the 30 most important, time-tested keys to unlocking the door to restaurant success.

1. Be Realistic

Dealing effectively with all the logistical challenges of running a restaurant business requires having your feet planted firmly on the ground. It means facing challenges head-on.

It’s especially important to be realistic about the things that are uncomfortable to deal with.

  • Be realistic about your financial situation
  • Address interpersonal conflicts
  • Admit when processes need to be improved
  • Address the root causes of less than excellent service

Constant improvement requires changing and adapting to meet the circumstances. Be realistic about what is going on in your restaurant and figure out what to do about it.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

2. Be a Dreamer

Never forget your passion for owning a restaurant. Stay focused on your goals. Don’t let the inevitable daily difficulties discourage you from dreaming. Remain optimistic about the possibilities and dream big.

The road is hard, but don’t forget why you’re running a restaurant. Imagine how great it will feel when your dreams come true.

3. Embrace Change

In the restaurant, things can change on a dime. So you should be no stranger to change. You’ll rapidly adapt to evolving situations when you put yourself in a mindset to expect constant setbacks. Nothing is guaranteed, no matter how much you prepare ahead of time.

  • Suppliers make mistakes
  • Staff call in sick (if you’re lucky)
  • Equipment goes down in the middle of service

The things you rely on are inherently unreliable. You should expect it as part of the business. Don’t spend your valuable emotional energy dwelling on the fact that it’s “not fair”. Life’s not fair. Focus your energy on finding a path to move forward

When you expect change you can evolve your restaurant processes to minimize the impact of sub-optimal situations. But never forget that something will always go wrong. You’re the leader, you’re the owner. It’s up to you to make the best of the moment.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

4. Know the Numbers

What does it mean to know the numbers? It means being in control. Sun Tzu said “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

In the case of a restaurant “the enemy” is delivering poor service to your guests.

To hit your targets you need to know:

  • What your operating costs for the year will be
  • How much food to order ahead of dinner service
  • How many servers to staff for each shift
  • What your guests’ wait times and table turn times are
  • How many plates your kitchen can push per hour
  • What the average check amount is
  • Lots more!

The answer to these questions aren’t some unanswerable riddle. The answers come from tracking your business closely and creating predictive models.

Numbers run your business. They give you a way to measure what’s going well and what needs improvement. If you don’t know the numbers, you’re in the dark guessing, focusing on things that won’t get you what you want.

5. Know When to Ask for Help

You’re “good at everything.” But it’s impossible to be great at everything. That’s why it’s OK to admit when you need to call in a specialist.

As an independent and driven person it can sometimes be hard to ask for help, but this creates unnecessary stress and takes your focus from other things you could be doing to help the business.

Know when to hire a professional

  • Bookkeeper or accountant
  • Web designer to build your website
  • An interior designer to get your theme right
  • A marketing consultant to nail your message
  • Technicians to service and maintain your network system
  • Management consultants to help put procedures in place

Then trust the people you hire to be experts in their field. Follow their advice. It’s based on experience you don’t have.

A good leader knows how to delegate. Don’t insist on being an army of one.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

6. Be a Leader

Some people seem like natural leaders but leadership is a skill that can be learned. To run a successful restaurant you have to take on the responsibility of being a leader.

A leader:

  • Gets out in front of problems, doesn’t hide
  • Inspires others through their conduct
  • Develops leadership in others
  • Recognizes their people's strengths
  • Challenges their people’s weaknesses
  • Inspires confidence in their brigade

Together, these traits inspire loyalty. If you want to be confident that your staff is doing all they can to serve guests, inspire loyalty through strong leadership.

You have better things to do than babysit. Ensure your team is following proper procedures when you’re not around by inspiring the leaders within them.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

7. Deliver Great Guest Experiences

The gravitational center that everything in a successful restaurant revolves around is superior guest experience. It’s make or break. So take your customers seriously. Have a conversation with your guests and get their real feelings about the restaurant.

Remarkable guest experiences aren’t just a reason for individual diners to come back. Their word of mouth creates your reputation. If you deliver on a memorable evening, your customers will detail the good time they had to their friends. This is the best marketing your restaurant could possibly have. Wouldn’t you like your name to be at the end of the sentence, “I had an amazing time last night, you just have to make a reservation at my new favorite restaurant named…”?

8. Marketing Matters

Getting the word out is vital to your success — especially as a startup. If you want a path beaten to your door it’s going to start with marketing.

The truth is it doesn’t matter how amazing your restaurant concept is if no one eats there. Your hard work and money fade into obscurity without anyone ever knowing you existed.

So how do you get butts in seats and start a food revolution? Your marketing plan is part of your restaurant business plan and deserves careful attention.

Effective marketing requires answering these questions:

  • Who is your target customer and how do they communicate?
  • What media do they consume? (TV, Radio, Internet, etc.)
  • What unique value can you provide to entice them?

These are the three essential elements that will drive your marketing. To learn more about marketing your startup restaurant download our free guide here.

9. Train Servers the Art of Upselling

Upselling increases average spend per guest, putting you comfortably into the profit zone. Higher tickets also mean more tips for your servers, rewarding them for their hard work and increasing morale.

Rather than order-takers, your staff should see themselves as responsible for creating superior guest experiences. They are consultants to your guests, making personalized recommendations that enhance the total guest experience.

Servers shouldn’t assume guests want a well drink unless they are told. Pointing out their favorite on the dessert card and making a recommendation opens the conversation. Your guests will appreciate the tailored service.

Breaking through the belief that they are “being pushy” can be difficult at first. If that’s how they see upsales then that’s how it will feel to guests.

10. Create a Unique Culture

Successful restaurants have a way of doing things that set them apart from the competition. They provide consistent service to guests no matter who’s on shift. This is because the restaurant has identified its strengths and intentionally created a culture.

To create your restaurant’s culture:

  • Identify what makes your restaurant special and communicate it to employees.
  • How are things done differently? Why?
  • What are your brand standards?
  • What are the expected duties and behavior from staff?

In large established restaurants and franchises these cultural values are expressed in training videos and employee manuals. But you don’t need a video to create a strong culture that drives your restaurant

If managers have a strong sense of the culture and adhere to the standards themselves, it will be understood naturally. The culture is cultivated with thorough training, consistent adherence to policies and positive recognition of those who maintain the standards.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

11. Do Something Unique

To get attention for your restaurant you need to offer something that’s currently under available. This is why someone will choose to dine with you, versus the competition.

Do you see something missing from other restaurants?

  • A better way to run operations
  • A new type of guest experience
  • An underserved target market
  • An exciting and well-priced cuisine
  • Amenities that aren’t offered elsewhere

Finding your niche in the vast food-service landscape requires thinking creatively, doing market research and delivering to guests something a little different than your competitors.

It’s also vital to your marketing message. By associating your business strongly with something extraordinary, it becomes unforgettable!

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

12. Don’t Be Too Unique

If you’re thinking of opening a peanut butter and lasagna restaurant because it’s always been your dream, you’re going to have an uphill battle.

Remember, while it’s fun to be creative, your primary job in the restaurant business is to serve the preferences and expectations of a target customer in your community.

Identify a substantial target group in the area that can sustain your business and help you grow. Your goal is to appeal directly to their interests.

Carefully balance your uniqueness against the tastes of your guests or you’re completely missing the mark.

13. Hire Great Staff

You depend on your employees to deliver on the promises you’ve made to your guests. All the work you’ve done planning and training comes to this. Execution rests on their shoulders.

It’s important that the people you bring onto your team:

  • Have a strong work ethic
  • Are friendly and sociable
  • Have a sharp mind
  • Can deal with stress
  • Are reliable
  • Are empathetic
  • Value honesty
  • Have a sense of duty
  • Show potential for greatness

When interviewing for positions ask questions designed to test that they possess the traits most important to your way of running the restaurant. Have trusted managers or other owners interview candidates with you to get an alternate perspective. They may see something you missed.

Always be hiring. Restaurant turnover is notoriously high.

But if you create an environment that is attractive to high quality restaurant staff you can reduce issues with turnover.

14. Lead a Team of Leaders

There are so many things going on in a restaurant that need to be coordinated. What happens to many restaurant owners is that they never seem to be able to leave. That’s why it’s so important to develop leaders in your organization right from the beginning.

For things to run smoothly when you’re not there, you need restaurant staff that you can trust to enforce procedures and train new employees

To build leaders, identify the individual strengths and weaknesses in your staff members and encourage them to grow through challenges and responsibilities.

Just because your staff take the lead doesn’t mean they don’t take orders, follow procedures or respect hierarchy. In fact, a leader is going to enthusiastically enforce processes that work and find new processes to improve quality of output. The focus of a leader is victory for the team, not scoring alone.

Leadership is such a vital skill for achieving restaurant success; consider taking a leadership course for yourself and using the same techniques to train your staff.

15. Put Systems in Place

A successful restaurant runs on systems. It’s part of your brand and your restaurant culture. It ensures consistent delivery of high-quality food and amazing guest experiences.

Restaurant systems establish the “right way” to get things done. Every job in the restaurant needs a system:

  • Busing tables
  • Refilling guests’ drinks
  • Greeting guests at the door
  • Organizing the walk-in freezer
  • Cleaning the kitchen
  • Taking calls for reservations
  • Etc.

Everything needs to have a right way established. Standards need to be in place so that “good enough” doesn’t cut it.

With the fast pace and ever-changing dynamic of a restaurant, there need to be clear expectations for staff. Establish systems and procedures. Provide thorough training, coaching and mentoring to managers and staff.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

16. Make Sure No One is Standing Around

Labor is one of the highest costs to cover in the restaurant business. There is WAY too much going on for someone to be scratching their ear looking for something to do, especially in the middle of service.

Everyone needs a clear understanding of their primary responsibilities. Assign secondary tasks that they can perform when waiting or are otherwise unoccupied with primary tasks. Give people clear procedures to follow so that they can’t say “I don’t know what to do.”

Even worse than standing still is staff that are chatting, socializing or using their phones. Not only is this a complete waste of your money, it gives a very bad impression to your restaurant guests.

17. Don’t Over Staff

If staff have completed their primary and secondary duties take note. You may be over staffed. Unproductive staff hours that you’re paying for is like flushing the restaurant’s cash down the toilet.

Don’t be afraid to send someone home, especially if they’re standing around, chatting or distracting other workers. If there is not a single valuable job this person can perform in the whole restaurant then they need to clock out and go home.

18. Don’t Under Staff

This is one of the biggest challenges for restaurant managers to balance. Sometimes a slow night picks up unexpectedly. But your guests still require the same high quality service they’ve come to expect.

Although labor is expensive and you don’t want to over staff you need enough staff to get the job done. Any position missing key players has the potential to create a serious bottleneck. And service quality can suffer.

When one person calls in at the last minute it can put a serious strain, when two or three call in you might be wondering how you’ll ever get through it. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead for these events.

Have “clutch players” you can call in at a moment’s notice. Ex-employees, friends and new hires. Also, cross train your staff. Bussers can sub for cooks. Bartenders that can sub for servers. By cross-training your staff, you have more options in an emergency.

19. Don’t Ignore Trends

If you just do things the way you always have, you can get passed by. Remember rule 3, “Embrace Change”.

The demographics in the area around your restaurant will shift over time. Tastes change. Dietary trends change and what’s considered “healthy eating” today may be completely different in a few years. When the needs of your target market change you’ll need to adapt your menu and your service to stay relevant.

Don’t ignore innovations in technology and new systems for managing your restaurant. iPad based front of house management apps and table side POS ordering have revolutionized service for many restaurants.

Stay in contact with other restaurant owners. Attend trade shows. Keep an eye on what’s happening in the restaurant industry. Don’t get left behind while your competition has a party without you.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

20. Don’t Follow Trends

If you chase every “next new thing” your restaurant concept will be unfocused. No one will know what you’re about.

Never lose sight of a well defined and researched target guest. It takes time to build up a regular clientele so have patience. Jumping from trend to trend isn’t going to fix root issues behind lack of guests in your restaurant.

Focus on providing superior service to guests, having a clear marketing message and delivering it across relevant channels to your target guests.

21. Run Your Kitchen Like a Machine

The kitchen is intense. The heat and the action come with the job but activity should not be chaos. To be successful, your kitchen crew needs to run like a machine. That means there is a clear system and established hierarchy. Order must be maintained even at the height of a busy service.

When the kitchen gets backed up the dining room suffers. Guests are waiting, servers seem inept, food is sent back or comped--and don’t even expect a tip!

Make it as easy as possible for your kitchen staff to do their job efficiently:

  • Give them proper equipment
  • Ensure safe working conditions
  • Make sure they have clear complete tickets
  • Provide great training
  • Most importantly — hire a great kitchen manager to expedite

By supporting your kitchen to be their best, you can ensure that when the heat and the pressure build, your team will stay cool and keep moving plates out of the pass.

22. Excellent Communication Is Key

Any team that is going to earn victory together must have effective systems of communication in place. At every level of the organization, outstanding communication is one of the most important goals to achieve.

As a restaurant owner you must communicate clearly with:

  • Investors
  • Managers
  • Staff
  • Vendors and suppliers

Additionally, communication between:

  • Front of house and back of house is vital to getting orders out right
  • Wait staff and managers during service must be brief, yet friendly
  • Cooks in the kitchen working together to coordinate

When designing processes for your restaurant, determine how you want staff to communicate with each other. Encourage clear communication. Never sweep things under the rug. Identify barriers to communication and address them head-on.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

23. Show Appreciation

When your employees do a good job it’s very important to recognize them for it. Recognition for a job well done encourages repeating the behavior. This is how you build a culture of excellence and encourage your team.

Restaurant work is inherently stressful. A little recognition can go a long way to boosting the spirit of your staff. A manager and a leader that rewards positive behavior can disarm some of the tension present in a busy service.

A smile and a “thank you” will show staff their work does not go unnoticed.

Staff appreciation events can also make a big difference in morale. A gift card, preferred parking or another little perk rewards the behaviors you want to encourage, making it a habit.

24. Dining Room Lighting Matters

How you light the dining room has a significant impression on guests and cannot be overlooked.

Lighting creates the mood you’re providing to guests. But there are also practical considerations. You don’t want your guests to be uncomfortable.

Your guests don’t want to eat in the dark. Seeing your food is part of enjoying it. You can still have a “dark” restaurant by providing precise overhead task lighting. Guests can still see their plates but the overall ambiance is cozy.

Bright or harsh light can cause stress. Make sure you have adjustable sun shades for windows, especially those that can get hit with blaring afternoon sun. Cold, bright office-style overhead light can make your restaurant look more like a hospital than a place to relax. So ditch the tube lights. Consider your guests’ comfort at all parts of the day. More light in the morning and less in the evening will make it easier for guests’ eyes to adjust. By providing appropriate lighting for diners they’ll be much more comfortable.

25. Think About Noise Levels

Sound is also an important aspect of guest comfort. Too much noise or too little can both set the wrong mood. The type of restaurant sets some expectations about sound, but there are some general rules.

If the restaurant is too quiet it can seem a bit uncomfortable. When guests are speaking to each other their voices will carry farther. If can also make breaks in conversation seem like an “awkward silence”. A restaurant that is too quiet can also be uncomfortable for diners who overhear another group’s conversation while they eat.

If it’s too loud in the restaurant communication becomes difficult. This could be:

  • Noise from the kitchen
  • Machinery or equipment
  • Poor speaker arrangement
  • Echos from bare walls or large spaces

Ask your guests directly how they feel about the noise level. Pay close attention when deciding where speakers are located. If they are placed far apart, you may perceive the music as quiet. But for guests seated nearby it could be quite loud.

26. Negotiate Everything! Get the Best Price

Running a restaurant is cash hungry. You need to get the best price for the services you receive, especially if they are recurring.

Come in with the perspective that every price is negotiable.

  • Rent and leases
  • Food supplier contracts
  • Other vendor fees
  • Loan interest rates
  • Other services (internet, music, security)

If you don’t ask for a discount or a break then the answer is already “no”.

Think of creative ways to exchange value in ways that don’t take cash:

  • Can you give drivers free lunches for a delivery discount?
  • Provide star employees with better parking instead of a raise?
  • Cater discounted events for service providers in exchange for a break?

Reducing cash outflows every way you can helps you build a good cushion if you ever need it. Think creatively and always ask for an extra perk when you’re spending money.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

27. Don’t Try to Appeal to Everyone

You can’t make everyone happy, so stop trying. This is the easiest way to lose your shirt in the restaurant business. You need focus. You need to know your strengths and your target customer.

If a potential investor asks who your target customer is, you should be able to identify the unique traits that define their lifestyle and how your restaurant has adapted to fit their needs.

Your target customers should make up a large enough demographic in the surrounding area that they can sustain your business. Focus your business on appealing to their unique needs.

Another downside of trying to target your restaurant to everyone is you’ll have no marketing message to emotionally connect to your customers. Without a clear band your restaurant will fade into the landscape.

28. Keep Everything Clean

It can’t be overstated how much a clean restaurant is vital to your success. You’ll never walk into a filthy restaurant that’s doing well. It’s the first sign that processes have broken down.

Keep everything in your restaurant clean. The dining area should be tidy and organized. Tables should always be free of grease and crumbs.

A clean kitchen runs better. Well maintained equipment lasts longer and protects your assets. Take pride in your establishment and cultivate a culture of cleanliness among your staff.

Your goal is to provide guests a respite from the chaos and clutter of their daily life. Not only does cleanliness enhance guest experiences, but it’s also important for staff safety.

29. Connect With Guests

Successful restaurant owners know how to connect with guests. They build personal relationships, make their guests feel special and build loyalty.

Use a Loyalty or CRM (customer relationship management) system to collect personal information. Stay in contact with notifications of events and promotions.

Constant contact is a critical component of your restaurant marketing strategy. Send surveys to diners to find out what they really think. Customer engagement can be facilitated by advanced restaurant management software that helps you collect, store and track your guests.

Rezku POS has integrated loyalty and CRM for your restaurant. You can learn more about it here: Rezku POS Loyalty & CRM

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

30. Use The Latest Technology

The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive. To be successful you need to spend your efforts where they’re needed most. When advanced technology can make your life easier you need to embrace it.

Sometimes it’s modern kitchen equipment that can increase your productivity. Sometimes it’s restaurant management software that helps you get more out of service. Don’t struggle with unreliable systems that waste your precious time.

Restaurant management systems from Rezku can simplify:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Inventory tracking
  • Labor and payroll
  • Reservations
  • Table management
  • Customer outreach and marketing
  • Much more!

Innovative processes like table-side iPad ordering eliminates many unproductive steps in the guest service workflow. And online ordering and delivery open up new opportunities to serve more guests.

Rezku is a leading systems developer for the food and beverage industry, providing reliable and affordable technology to restaurant owners since 2012. Find out more about Rezku on our home page and contact us for a free restaurant management technology consultation.

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