3 Tips for Restaurant Success

Date: June 04, 2013

Restaurant SuccessSuccessful restaurants make the most of their people, personality, and resources

You've heard the statistic: 90%of all restaurants fail. And while starting any business has its risks, new research finds that well-known figure rather inflated and over-dramatized. Approximately 60% of all restaurants fail, according to a 2012 study performed by researchers at Cornell University. So what helps keep the other 40% afloat?

1. Know Who You Are

When Ray Jenkins and John Cordell took ownership of The Reel Café, a three-in-one bar, restaurant, and entertainment venue in Wilmington, North Carolina, in the mid-2000s, they quickly learned the value of consistency. "If you’re a bar that serves food, don’t try to say you’re a restaurant," says Jenkins. "You have to know who you are, and stay on top of that." If customers frequent your restaurant for a particular sandwich, they are going to expect the same quality and taste in that sandwich at every visit if they are going to keep coming back.

At the same time, it’s important to constantly reinvent yourself to keep things fresh and draw in new clientele. This doesn't mean changing who you are, but rather expanding your approach, menu, or atmosphere to offer a little bit of something for everyone. The Reel Café, known as "four bars, three floors, one great place," has managed to reinvent itself from the inside out—recently introducing a new lounge space, welcoming a new chef, and moving to source as many items from local farmers and growers as possible.

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2. Get Your Hands Dirty

Reinventing your establishment is a little easier if you’re handy and able to fix things when they break. Jenkins and Cordell completed a total renovation of The Reel Café in January of 2013, doing all of the work themselves. They refinished the floors, repainted, cleaned up decorations, created the new lounge and more.

This is just one way the duo is able to control costs. If a toilet breaks, says Jenkins, I can check out the problem and fix it without having to call in a plumber. "We've really learned to get more from less," he adds.

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3. Put People First

Working with the physical space, the menu, and the ambiance is one thing, but taking care of the people involved is key. “The most important aspect of a successful business is hiring and retaining the right people,” says Laura Farmer, manager of Sirloin Stockade, a well-established, comfort-style buffet in Marion, Indiana. "They are the face, personality and salespeople for the entire package you are selling: food, atmosphere and experience."

With a happier wait staff and organizational culture in place, it’s safe to assume customers will end up happier, too. After all, if they don’t like what you have to offer, they can go somewhere else. The key to making it in this tough economy, says Farmer, is giving people good value for their money, and not being like everyone else in town. It’s also important to listen to the customer, adds Jenkins. And there’s no need to guess; they’ll tell you what they want, or show you.

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With such big hype over coupons and giveaways these days, it’s also important to pay close attention to costs, and analyze what you can really afford to pass along to the customer. For example, says Jenkins, several years ago restaurants and bars could offer 20-cent chicken wings, but as costs have climbed, that price isn't feasible anymore. While you may not always be able to offer the lowest price, customers will return if the price is fair and on par with the quality of your menu—and if the experience they've come to expect from you is delivered every time.

Above all, to survive in the restaurant business, "you have to love what you do," says Jenkins, who met his wife while working at The Reel Café. "And be prepared for everything."

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Next Steps: Visit the Restaurant Owner Resource Center

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