As Jack and I approach our six-year anniversary as restaurant owners, I decided to share some of the many things we’ve learned along the way. Not the warm and fuzzy stuff – follow your dreams, if you are passionate you will succeed, if you build it they will come, etc.; but rather the nuts and bolts of running a profitable business, thus keeping your doors open. If your doors aren’t open, passion is irrelevant.
A – Always be a student of the industry. Know the latest trends in food, beverages and marketing. Know what restaurants are opening and closing in your area, and why. Know what is going on across the nation in the business. Travel and take notes everywhere you go. Bring ideas home with you and implement when appropriate. Never stop learning about what you do.
B – Buy wisely. This is step one, and key. It will be the beginning of your success, or the beginning of your failure. Most restaurants I have watched fail in the Tampa Bay area over the past six years did not buy/lease wisely, and/or jumped in undercapitalized. It will ALWAYS cost more than you think it will.
C – Count. Everything. I cannot stress this enough. Count bottles, buns, mop heads, labor hours, plates, guests, parking spots, temperature logs, steaks, apples, bottles of truffle oil, bar towels, ramekins, and on and on. You must know what you have, what you sell, and if money came in the door in exchange for what you no longer have.
D – Don’t do what others do better, but rather focus on what you do well. There is room for all of us who are doing it well.
E – Everything goes through your Point of Sale system. Everything. Period. When an employee doesn’t agree with this, or refuses to abide by this, he/she is an employee you don’t want to keep.
F – Find a good plumber and electrician, especially when you’re in a 140+ year-old building.
G – Grow thick skin. You will be attacked from every direction.
H – Hire a good accountant. We have a referral if you are local.
I – Implement procedures and checklists for everyone; host, dishwasher, bartender, managers, servers, cooks and yourself!
J – Just do it. Utility guy calls off Saturday morning and there is no one else to clean? Just do it. You wake to yet another schedule change request email and have to re-work the weekly schedule for the 11th time? Just do it. You must be willing, and able, to do every job in your restaurant if necessary.
K – Knoweth your limitations. You can do anything, but not everything.
L – Laugh. At yourself, and with others. A sense of humor will definitely help during the tough times.
M – Maintain a budget. There is always something that needs fixed, replaced, freshened up, could be new and improved, etc., but you cannot afford it. Replace and upgrade only within budget.
N – Nurture good people. Skills can be taught and learned. Bad people will probably remain bad people.
O – Obsess over nothing but observe everything.
P – Push yourself to understand the P & L.
Q – Quell negativism among staff fast. I learned this one the hard way! The “one bad apple” proverb is real.
R – Run it like a business, not a hobby or a personal social spot.
S – Stay close to your staff. You don’t have to be BFF’s, and it is not necessary to be close to your entire staff, but you should stay close to a portion of your staff. Remember that Michael Corleone said, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
T – Trust your gut.
U – Understand the laws, codes and regulations, that apply to you. Do not trust the government inspector to understand them for you. Most of them don’t, or at least have no interest in helping you understand them. Don’t be afraid to question them. Jack is a lawyer, litigated for 28 years before retiring, and still has to work to understand sometimes.
V – Value and reward loyalty.
W – Welcome input and ideas from staff and guests. And then trust your gut.
X – Xanthan gum [zan-thuhn] noun. To quote its Wikipedia page’s definition: Xanthan gum (/ˈzænθən/) is a polysaccharide secreted by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Translation: Xanthan gum is a sugar derived typically from corn (can also be from soy or wheat) that has been pooped out by a bacteria that produces rot on various vegetables. Read labels, research, know what you are buying and choose well. Don’t skimp on quality products. It is easy to spot.
Y – “You get what you pay for” does not necessarily apply in this industry.
Z – Zealously seek to please guests, but be realistic with what you can give. You WILL NOT please every one, every time, every day.
This industry is not for the faint-hearted. There are much easier ways to make money, believe me. I would not want to do it alone. Jack and I are a tag team, and that works for us. Just when he has had enough, I pick up the ball and run forward. When I feel as though one more day will push me over the edge, he takes over and I focus on our home for a few days. We balance one another, most often. Balance, reason, consistency, level-headed thinking, along with knowledge, passion, and a hell of a lot of work, is our formula for success. Again, remember, it will always cost more than you think. One can be passionately bankrupt or passionately profitable. There will be sacrifice and compromise either way.
Cheers to restaurant owners everywhere!
Ken Z. says
Another “raw” sharing. Great advice for business owners of all sorts, but definitely good hospitality stuff here. You all have been here 6 years? Hard to believe. Three Birds is like home. Thanks to you and Jack for all you do.
Robin King says
Thanks, Ken. I do agree that some of these tips crossover into other industries. It will be six years in June, believe it or not. Where have the years gone? We’ve had lots of highs and lows, more highs than lows, but we’ve survived, learned a bunch, and are growing. We are grateful for the support of so many, like you and your family. Here’s to another six, or twelve!
Emery Hanley says
and some choose passionately bankrupt – perhaps unknowingly, but just not willing to make the tough decisions
Thank you for sharing. Informative and entertaining, as always. Next?
Robin King says
There are tough decisions to be made, that’s for sure. I am thankful that I have Jack’s support, advice and guidance through those times. I don’t want to make it sound as though there are no fun times, because there are, for sure.
Next? I have a few posts I’m working on so stay tuned. Thank you for reading.
Everybody in this industry starts out under-financed and then wonders why it doesn’t work. And, they spend their money on decor over product and labor. We watch those “pretty” places close every day, don’t we? Or they go into a location that has failed a half dozen times before them, and wonder why it doesn’t work. I should write a book.
Thanks for sharing. Makes me think, and reminds me to go work on my check list.
Robin King says
My husband and I were just talking about the location factor again yesterday. Another place closed, and yet another struggling, in spots where several others have also failed. Hope your check list is going well. Stop in for lunch one day soon.