Opening Your First Restaurant – What You Need for Success

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Diccon Wright is a restaurateur and property specialist based in the UK and Spain. As a consultant and advisor he has guided many successful restaurant and property ventures. Here Diccon offers insider’s advice for those looking to start up their first restaurant venture.

A whopping 59% of hospitality facilities fail in their first three years. Over a quarter of these fold in their first year. With dismal success rates such as these, it’s a wonder that anyone would choose to open a new independent restaurant.

Launching any new venture involves a degree of risk. There are ways, though, to make this risk more calculated. I highlight below some key areas you’ll need to think about when planning your restaurant. These should help you to develop a clear strategy.

But all the plans in the world are unlikely to bring success without passion. Absolute commitment to making your restaurant as close to perfect as it can be is the first trait that any hardy – some would say foolhardy – restaurateur-in-the-making needs. If you have enough passion to keep both yourself and each and every member of your team inspired to be their best, every single day, keep reading.

SM - the carvery restaurant

Here are my four building blocks to creating a successful restaurant.

1. Define Your Philosophy

No matter the style of food you serve, or whether you run a street stall, a family-friendly diner or a palace of fine-dining sophistication, be sure about what you do and what you hope to achieve.

When you have this clear in your mind, aim for perfection. From the cooking to the serving, and the interior design to the budgeting, every detail should work towards the same goal: being the best you can be.

Your customers may be coming to you for an ice cream sundae, a vegan burger, your Singaporean laksa, or your world-famous chef’s 10-course extravaganza, but they all want to feel important and looked after.

And how do you make your patrons feel cared for? Through your staff.

2. Know Who You Need

Some of your biggest decisions will be choosing the right staff. Opt for people who love their job, who care about their colleagues as well as the customers. Having a team that takes pride in making patrons feel cherished is just as important as having technically talented staff.

In the highly competitive world of hospitality, this can be the difference between make or break.

Choosing the right chef is key to the smooth operation of your kitchen and the happiness of your entire staff. How your staff work together and treat each other inside the high-stress environment of the kitchen can affect the attitude of the cooks, which can damage the quality of the dishes being produced. The atmosphere in the kitchen can also have a knock-on effect on all other staff. So interview carefully and keep all applications until you’ve made your decision. If the chef isn’t a good fit for your restaurant, no one will be happy – including your customers.

Of course the front of house team make an immense impact on a restaurant’s success. It is a joy to watch wait staff in a great restaurant go about their job. They might silently go about their business, or be the life and soul of the restaurant – this depends on each venue, its atmosphere and patrons. But as long as the goal remains to make diners feel treasured, let your staff show their personalities.

Customers will notice if your staff works well as a team, and whether they like and support each other. This can have a big impact on the atmosphere of a restaurant and keep diners coming back to a place that feels positive, caring and successful.

3. Know What You’ve Got to Do

Running a restaurant, especially at the beginning, means being there every day. Be prepared to be this committed.

Management covers a host of different aspects of running a restaurant, from hiring and managing staff, to menu creation, to handling finances and accounting, and even doing the marketing. Whether you will be heading the restaurant yourself or will be hiring someone to handle the day-to-day running of the establishment, be aware of how much impact a manager can have on a restaurant’s success.

How management staff feel about their job is just as important as their qualifications. How they treat staff is critical. Managers should be supportive, approachable, enthusiastic and entirely professional. If staff members are constantly unhappy and you have a high turnover, then it is worth taking a good hard look at yourself and your business to see if there is room for improvement. A critical eye to your own strengths and weaknesses is important.

If you’re planning on running the restaurant yourself, make sure you have an excellent grasp on the finances. Plenty of great restaurants fail, not because of the food, or lack of customers, but simply through mismanagement of the general day-to-day running costs. If you’re located in an expensive neighbourhood and you have to pay a hefty ground rent, then you’d better be sure that your food standards, price and expenses are well in sync. Not having a firm grounding in this area and not knowing the profit margin per plate and per cover, with all the expenses including rent, bills, staff wages, produce costs and so on, is a sure-fire way to run your business into the ground.

4. Understand your location

Where your restaurant is located can have a huge impact on its success. So do your homework: how many people live in the area? Local residents will likely become your most loyal customers unless you’re a ‘destination’ restaurant. What type of person lives in the area? Are there many professionals? Families? Pensioners? Office workers needing lunch? Find out and design some offers that will appeal to these demographics.

Is parking available? In a capital city such as London, which has great transport connections, this isn’t a problem, but in a country location then invariably your customer base will either be very local, or they will need to drive to you. Unless you’re a well-known ‘destination’ restaurant, being located somewhere that can benefit from walk-in foot traffic can help fill tables in quieter moments. Understanding the customer demographic that you are targeting is hugely important.

Choosing a location in an emerging area can mean that rents are more affordable, but this means committing to the location for the long-haul, banking on the area becoming more popular over time. You also need to consider the layout and size of the space. You’ll need to ensure that you will have enough customers to cover your rent and other business expenses.

Final words

A restaurant’s success is as much to do with attitude, hard work and commitment to a common goal as it is the food that is served, and the environment in which it is served. Of all the guidance I can give budding restaurateurs, my biggest advice is: no matter what you do, do it brilliantly.

About Diccon Wright

Christopher Diccon Wright is a restaurateur and property specialist who has established and grown successful operations in the UK and Mediterranean. He has also worked on a consultancy and advisory basis for a wide range of food and property clients.