The Characteristics of Successful Restaurateurs

By Doug Radkey

What does it take to be a good restaurateur? It takes sacrifice, a high-level of creativity, social skills, system management and stress management, all fuelled by a hell of a lot of passion — and not just for the industry, but to win in it, too. At the 2018 CR&B Show, I sat down with a panel of independent operators to learn how they adapt to change and maintain brands that are memorable, scalable, sustainable, profitable and consistent.

The engaging session included Penny Nunn and Jim Loshaw of The Crepe House, a Port Dover, Ontario-based café serving sweet and savoury crepes, and Zena Polin, owner of The Dish and Dram bistro in Kensington, Maryland. Together, they highlighted a number of socioeconomic and personnel challenges, marketing plans, pricing strategies and operating systems unique to independent restaurants, and the research, thoughtful design and multiple levels of planning, execution, and accountability it takes to reckon with them. Strategies vary, but everyone agreed that operations and planning need to be geared toward five, interrelated characteristics: scalability, sustainability, consistency, profitability and, of courcse, it needs to be a memorable place to visit. How do they relate to vendors, suppliers, and distributors within the restaurant, bar, and hospitality industry?

Depending on the size of your business model and menu, dealing with vendors and developing a supply chain management system can be locally scaled and simple, or a large, complex undertaking for a corporate or chain restaurant operation that demands more time and more resources. For equipment, supplies and technology, the service sequence plus kitchen and bar planning process can be one of the most exciting, exhausting and confusing aspects of starting and running a restaurant. But stick with it: it determines the long-term success of your venue. For food and beverage, transparency, traceability, and accountability must be the top concern when deciding on vendors. After you, they ensure all products entering your restaurant or foodservice business are not only safe for your customers, but for your community. Knowing them, their practices and their stories is imperative toward pursuing the big five characteristics.

Scalability

Scalability means providing your concept with a system can proportionally handle very small to very large usage and service levels. When customer numbers fluctuate, it needs to react almost instantly and with no significant drop in cost effectiveness, functionality, performance or liability. For food and beverage, this means proactively developing a relationship with a primary supplier and secondary distributor for each of your core food and beverage products and ingredients to reduce the risk of not only running out of your par-level inventory, but being quickly prepared in the case of any type of shortage or product recall.

While developing those relationships, ensure you’re also meeting with vendors that will be able to scale with your business model to ensure there is no drop in performance. Sure, they can supply you that product now, but what about 12 months down the road when your purchases have (hopefully) doubled? Or how will they react when you can’t meet your minimum order threshold during a cold snap in January? How can you protect your consistent quality and flavour profiles as your business scales both up and down? These are the questions that need to be answered that will lead your business to sustainability.

Sustainability

Whether it’s a restaurant, bar, cafe or food truck, the producers, manufacturers, delivery drivers, owners, managers, kitchen staff and service staff ultimately share the responsibility to create a safe, memorable, and enjoyable experience within your concept.

Working with prime vendor programs or large foodservice distributors like Sysco can be a match made in heaven for many operators, but a smaller foot-print is often better for independent operators. As much as possible, they can deal directly with local or regional growers, co-ops, artisans and distributors who also meet a high level of quality assurance standards. Eliminating third parties can also reduce the risk of shortages, delays, spoiled product and food safety. The opposite of risk is opportunity; dealing directly can provide any concept with the opportunity to sustainbly grow until they’re performing optimally and have reached cost effectiveness.

How? Working with local and regional growers, suppliers and artisans enables operators to engineer a more strategic, compact menu with 10–20 items, keeping it innovative, fresh, profitable, sustainable and memorable.

Memorability

Freshness and seasonality play a large part in many restaurants — even in humble pubs and bars — and that’s dependent on vendors. Outside of just delivering quality product and rotating menus, it’s important to meet with them and tour their facilities. But how can your vendors help you create a memorable venue that stands out from the crowd? It can be as simple as building a strong relationship with your vendors, who should, in fact, play a large part in your marketing efforts. Why? Because of the profound effects of storytelling!

Where did that product come from? How did it get from there to the plate or glass in front of me? Showcase these stories through the use of video and photography on your menu, social media channels, website and anywhere else that you can tell your story. You can even take it one step further. Guests today are looking for one-of-a-kind experiences, so imagine the memorable impact of an educational food and beverage tasting series, local collaboration or a dinner and tour at the vendor’s facility.

Finally, vendors should also play a part in your staff training program, whether at the vendor’s property or yours. This provides staff with their own memorable experience and an opportunity to develop a story that will help sell the product, resulting in memorable guest experiences and sustainable profits for your concept.

Profitability

Most of you reading this can agree that the paying customer wants high-quality product at the lowest price point possible. Rising food costs — and the known requirement of keeping these costs within a certain percentage of your sales — can lead to a link within the supply chain breaking. Poor decision making and haphazard quality control can end any effort to adapt, leading to lower traffic levels and a confusing concept.

If you provide yourself with scalable and memorable opportunities for storytelling, you can begin to control your costs and offer price points that your market can sustain, leading to profitability.

It takes innovation, the right mindset and open communication between the leaders of the kitchen and bar, in addition to the vendor, to sustain a profitable supply chain. Out of your available suppliers, who’s willing to communicate? Get everyone involved in the process by working together through collaboration to control your costs and to drive profits by elevating your guest’s variety of senses through product innovation and to develop consistency in your operations.

Consistency

There are endless ways to lose money in this business, and one of the most vulnerable areas is in dealing with food and beverage. When it comes to design, the supply chain, work flow, and storage, there’s little room for trial and error. The quality and price of raw materials can fluctuate, new food safety regulations may be imposed, delivery logistics will get more complex and even changes to packaging that once coincided neatly with your limited storage capacity might blow up your careful arrangement. A once desirable system that drove consistency can become one that sticks together or untangles on you in the blink of an eye.

A simple mistake could cause serious problems in your supply chain that can result in lost revenue or wasted product, hurting your brand and losing otherwise loyal customers, or worse. Your once-loyal customer may be exposed to food-borne illness. All your sacrifice and passion would all be for naught.

This is where having the correct systems in place. Through means of design, communication, equipment, storage, flow and technology will equally position you and your team to operate consistently no matter the concept. This is where having the right strategy and mindset in place for food and beverage product, kitchen and bar supplies, equipment suppliers, schematic designers and point-of-sale vendors along with everything else it takes to run a restaurant, is invaluable.

It then takes ownership and the right leadership to enforce the importance of training and holding everyone accountable on these systems and how they relate to keeping your concept scalable, sustainable, memorable, profitable, and consistent.

Planning early through feasibility studies, concept development plans, and strategic business plans while instilling standard operating procedures in your day-to-day operations will create consistency, increase your businesses value, and improve your capital investment.

It should be no surprise, however, that the choice in the right vendors and supply chain management systems is the means to enhancing food & beverage quality and safety, consistency, and marketing all while reducing and controlling your costs. At the end of the day, the right vendors and choice of supply chain can actually be used as one of your best marketing tools and simply cannot become overlooked or cheated upon. Finding vendors that compliment your concept is an integral part of a successful restaurant or bar.

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