Thinking about opening a restaurant? Possibly the mystique of watching Iron Chef or the manic excitement of Hell’s Kitchen somehow seduces you. Perhaps that box of great recipes from your Grandmother combined with your love of food compels you. Then again, you may want to put fire in your life in an industry that is brimming over with fame and fortune…for the right people. Keeping that flame at the right height means the difference between a great success or getting burned.
Even in healthy economies, the restaurant failure rates offer a grim tale fit for Halloween, but in a major recession, the industry turns even more unforgiving. Expensive food spoils, labor costs are high, restaurant-goers are harder to come by, restaurants close…maybe your dream restaurant.
Then again, you are one of those special people; the ones known as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs have the passion, drive, and determination to go where and when no one has gone before. They shake the dice and their fists at the ruthless odds in this merciless business. Oh, don’t think for a moment we are discouraging you!
We simply believe you need to equip and train yourself for the battle ahead. Otherwise, the war could be very short lived. To help you get started, Synergy highly suggests you contact us right now to review your business plan.
Start with a Pan full of Reality Though you may be anxious to start cooking up business, you can’t afford to skip this first main ingredient: build a solid foundation. There are those who try what is known as the ‘Polaroid Syndrome’–here’s a snapshot of me in my restaurant and here is a great shot of me with my chef. The restaurant business does not work on the “Field of Dreams’ theory of ‘If you built it, they will come.’
Starting a restaurant requires tremendous in-depth knowledge about much more than food. There are financials, marketing, service, training personnel, and people skills. Possessing the right knowledge is only part of the equation. Having sufficient capital comprises much of the rest. You really need to know not just how much money you need to open the restaurant, but also where the rest of it is coming from. Make certain you have enough capital to endure the first six months. As well, set an additional source of capital to get your business through several months after that. Yes, plan a year in advance.
Add a Good, Lean cut of Concept and a Dash of the Right IngredientsWhile the restaurant industry, like many sectors in the economy, has taken a big hit, one segment in food service in particular seems to be faring better than the others. The fast-casual category is capturing customer dollars by offering healthier options at more affordable price points. That spells value for consumers. So, how important is having a health themed menu? Take a look at the ten hottest food trends from the National Restaurant Association’s “Chef Survey: What’s Hot in 2009.”
- Locally grown produce
- Bite-size/mini desserts
- Organic produce
- Nutritionally balanced children’s dishes
- New/fabricated cuts of meat (e.g., Denver steak, pork flat iron, bone-in Tuscan veal chop)
- Fruit/vegetable side items for children
- Superfruits (e.g., açaí, goji berry, mangosteen)
- Small plates/tapas/mezze/dim sum
- Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
- Sustainable seafood
Comfort Food is IN
While it is clear that fast-casual and healthy menus have potential, success isn’t so clearly guaranteed. Regardless of the segment, restaurant managers need to focus on making their customers feel good about choosing their restaurant. Believe it or not, that is the number one reason people go to restaurants.
So, whether its good food or good service, ensure that customers will feel comfortable. And take note of what customers enjoy. It is a fact that people craved comfort foods, such as mashed potatoes, after the economic crash in ’87 and sushi after 9/11.
And now? The American icons of this economic period are 1) a really good hamburger with really good meat and bacon because it’s an American birthright. 2) We are entering the macaroni-and-cheese economy, but with better cheese. Try serving up these American favorites with in-season, local, heirloom and organic ingredients.
So, what is a prime example of all that we’ve just preached? Try J. Dean Loring, 51, and Michael Gilligan, 52. In 2007, they founded Burger Lounge, a fast-casual hamburger restaurant in La Jolla, California, down near San Diego. They use only organic, grass-fed beef served on a proprietary bun,. They focus on presentation and deliver it all with an elevated level of service designed to exceed their guests’ expectations…remember what we said about feeling comfortable. While other restaurants around them are contracting or downright going out of business, Burger Lounge is expanding. It’s opening a fourth location, with averages sales of $1,100 per square foot. They project year-end sales of more than $5 million. “A lot of people are sitting on the sidelines and are nervous about what’s going to happen,” Loring says, “but we see a lot of opportunities both in real estate and in presenting a product that dovetails with people’s needs now. I wouldn’t say our company or product or model are recession proof, but they thrive in that market.”
In an economy where banks are tight on their lending and credit card companies are slashing credit lines, getting the cash you need to run your business may simply be out of your control. If that’s the case, think outside the box–and more along the lines of a truck.
In our blogs and other articles, we have written about street food. No, those vending trucks are not what they used to be. Fancy concoctions, fresh ingredients and unique offerings have raised street vendors to a whole new level. In fact, they’ve become such a part of the restaurant environment in New York City that they have their own awards, the Vendy Awards. For the last four years they have recognized the city’s best street vendors. This is a new generation of kiosks, trucks and a temptingly low-cost way of entering the restaurant scene.
Jerome Chang and Chris Chen, 32 and 25, respectively, opened their mobile food concept, DessertTruck, in 2007 with about $100,000 in startup capital. (Chen has since left the company.) From the side window of their custom-made truck, customers can order delectable $5 desserts such as slow-baked apples and cinnamon, molten chocolate cake, and vanilla crème brûlée right on the street. Year-end sales are projected to reach about $500,000. Yes, half a million dollars from a truck parked on the street!
True, there are drawbacks. Chang has had to fight to secure one of a limited number of street vending permits that New York City grants. Nevertheless, starting a mobile food concept allowed Chang to establish a reputation and create a healthy buzz. Indeed, surviving the hard times will enable you to get through almost anything. Keep in mind, the restaurant business is a business of money. That money breaks down to pennies, nickels and dimes. Dollars come soon. If you open now and learn how to do it successfully, you’re well prepared for all times.