You’re a phenomenal cook. Your culinary work has received accolades since you were a teenager armed with an old frying pan, two eggs, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. In the years since then, you’ve been assured by your mother, your siblings, your neighbors, and even your sister’s oddball boyfriend that you could make a living off of the food you cook. Now, you intend to do so.
You kick off your business and wait expectantly for the waves of customers to roll in. The clock ticks on, and your confidence begins to waver somewhat as a bare trickle of diners comes through the door. As your investment money erodes away and you frantically attempt to bail out your business, you wonder what you did wrong.
Unfortunately, all too many restaurateurs make the mistake of conflating good food with sustainable business. Restaurants are some of the trickiest ventures to keep afloat; according to statistics provided by a Cornell University study, 19% of restaurants flop their first year, and as much as 60% go under within three. Many of these would-be culinary successes made common, deadly mistakes. Here, I outline just a few that enthusiastic new restaurants make when they expect their culinary masterpieces to matter more than business strategy.
Attempting to Serve Everything
Odds are, your Americana-Mexican-Ghanian-French-Swedish-German bistro-steakhouse will confuse more customers than it attracts. Moreover, widening your focus to everything will leave you unable to delve into the complexities of each subsection of food; your menu will ultimately become one that disappoints rather than inspires.
Stick to one or two easily-recognizable styles, and make sure that every dish on your menu is delicious!
Being too generic
On the other hand, being overly generic can be just as bad – if not worse – than being overly specific. Most restaurants serve great food; what sets your establishment apart? Think of a unique, memorable way to brand your food and culinary message. As a writer for O’Dell Consulting notes, “People remember emotions long after they remember food and service. If you make a real, emotional connection with your customers, they will remember how you made them feel for decades to come, long after they forget what they ate and who waited on them.”
Set yourself apart; make eating at your establishment an experience, rather than a forgettable chore.
Favoring menu over management
A restaurant is a business – and like any business, it needs to be managed effectively. An entrepreneur in the hospitality industry can’t tinker in the kitchen for hours on end; they need to spend time gauging their ingredient and labor costs, setting staff hours, balancing the budget, and assessing projected profits. Without a firm foundation, even the best restaurants find themselves hanging a permanent “CLOSED” sign.
Forgetting to market
You might have the best food in the city – but how will you sell if no one knows it exists? Setting an effective marketing strategy is a vital part of any restaurant. Establishing a healthy social media presence and circulating flyers to the community at large is an excellent way to start putting your business’s name into local conversations. Great food won’t advertise itself – so start planning your marketing campaign!