The Ingredients for a Successful Restaurant

Why do some restaurants succeed whilst others fail? What do successful restaurants do that their unsuccessful counterparts don’t? Even successful restaurateurs say there is no guaranteed, repeatable formula to creating a profitable restaurant. There is always an element of luck. However, there are many elements that can maximise your chances of success. Get more right than you do wrong and you have a good chance of succeeding.

It goes without saying that we assume you will be serving good food, have good service and be in a good location. Beyond these three essentials, here are other ways you can tip the balance in your favour.

Creating a successful restaurant

  1. Have a hands-on approach. Operating a restaurant is bloody hard work. If this is your first restaurant, it is essential you take a hands-on approach. That means being there every day to make it a success. If you have a fantasy of having a restaurant to call your own where you and your friends can drop in when the fancy takes you, forget it. You’d be better off eating out at other establishments. But if it’s a business you’re committed to and you’re prepared to put in the insane hours and effort, you dramatically increase your chances of success.
  2. Be consistent. Successful restaurants are consistent. The service, the quality of the food, the atmosphere, the menu – they help build your brand. People won’t frequent a place where the standards are a lottery, swinging widely from poor to great. You need to be consistent in everything you do.
  3. Have a tremendous grasp of operational details. You need to know what everything costs in your business, right down to the bottled water. You need to know your profit margins for each dish. What sells well, what doesn’t. Which items are the most profitable. This knowledge won’t come immediately but it should be something you work on acquiring. Nothing should be a shock to you.
  4. Build a good team. Too many restaurants take anyone off the street and let them work the next shift. You need to train your staff. You need them to understand and respect the culture of your restaurant. You need to teach them how to deal with customers and how to handle complaints. Your team can make or break your business. You need them to care and you do that by leading by example; creating a professional atmosphere; and recognising and appreciating your team members’ individual contributions. Pay attention to the staff members that delight your customers and be willing to pay more to keep them if necessary.
  5. Staff training goes a long way. Teaching your staff how to take orders, serve food professionally and deliver great customer service pays dividends. Quality shows. Staff training can’t be an afterthought. If you don’t care, why should the people who work for you?
  6. Teach your team the value of money. Coffee shop consultants Hugh Gilmartin and John Richardson outline the following exercise in their book, Wake Up and Smell the Profits. Gather your team around. Explain to them that the money that goes through the business is, sadly, not all yours. To demonstrate the point, take one dessert. Say “20% goes to the taxman” and cut and discard 20% of the dessert; “30% goes on salaries”, cut and discard 30% of the dessert; “20% goes to inventory and ingredients”, cut  and discard 20%; and “20% goes on rent and utility bills”, cut and discard 20%. Show your team the slither of dessert left over. “This is our profit. As you can see, it’s not a lot of reward for all the hard work you put in and the risk we as owners take. Please help us run a tight ship and delight our customers because they’re the ones who keep us afloat.”
  7. Teach your staff to upsell subtly. Good staff can upsell customers, i.e. entice them with starters, more drinks, desserts, coffees. A good team member should be able to make suggestions to encourage customers to spend more. Promote certain dishes, cocktails, side dishes. Don’t just take the customer’s order, try to sell a little extra. It all makes a tremendous difference to your bottom line.
  8. Keep your menu simple and manageable. The more choice you offer, the more inventory you need to buy and the more waste you will have. Keep your menus small, say, five starters, five mains, three desserts. Do a few things brilliantly, rather than a large number to a mediocre standard.
  9. What type of restaurant do you want to create? What do you want to achieve? Michelin-star standard? A welcoming after-work meeting place? Comfort food or haute cuisine? Sophisticated or simple? Have a clear vision in your mind’s eye of what you’re trying to create.
  10. Master social media marketing. Social media is a hugely powerful tool to promote your restaurant. Run promotions and competitions; engage with customers; advertise on Facebook; post images on Pinterest; make announcements on Twitter. There’s a huge amount you can do to build a fan base online and turn them into loyal customers.
  11. Produce a cookbook. This is a great way to stand out from the crowd. It’s easy to self-publish a book and having one will elevate your restaurant and give it immediate credibility.

Takeaway points

  1. Opening a restaurant is a serious commitment of time, money and effort. Are you prepared to put in the work? Is it really what you want to do?
  2. The quality of food is a given. Your team is your secret weapon.
  3. Have a strong grasp of the figures.

Action steps

  1. What is your vision for your restaurant? What type of food do you want to serve? What atmosphere do you want to create. Summarise the type of restaurant you want in one sentence. A useful exercise is to create a “mood board” for your restaurant. Collect images of any items, colours, designs and interiors you want to replicate in your restaurant.
  2. Draw up a training plan for your staff. Your customers might forgive poor food once. They will never forgive poor service. Have a program for training staff in all aspects of how you want customers to be served and the restaurant to be run.
  3. Draw up a social media marketing plan for your restaurant. Know how you will promote your restaurant once it’s open. If you’re not familiar with the topic, there are many social media marketing books on Amazon or you can hire an experienced freelancer on Upwork or Elance to manage or design a plan for you.


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