I was tuned in to ‘Talk of the Nation’ just yesterday and Neal Conan decided to feature Nina and Tim Zagat of Zagat.com fame! What a treat. The conversation all of about 20 minutes was rich in content, and stories that users called in with. The focus was on opening restaurants or should we say not opening restaurants.
The interview was based on an article in the Wall Street Journal that the Zagat’s wrote. The whole premise revolved around what it takes to open a restaurant and be successful. Tim opined that being a good cook is good, but not good enough. In opening a restaurant one has to consider a lot of things. From choosing prime real estate to attract the best of and most frequent clients, to ensuring that the decor is just right – not too gaudy, not too shabby. Restaurants need good PR as well. Don’t expect to be just found by folks walking into your establishment! Tim also pointed out that a restaurant owner better have good business skills. Skills such as being a shrewd buyer who knows how to run their inventory tightly is key. Elsewhere I have blogged about how for every calorie consumed 10 go waste or into creating it (depending on your viewpoint). Waste endemic as it is to the restaurant business is not something to be taken lightly! Owners need to be on top of their game as to their usage patterns, buying patterns, and costs therein.
Tim and Nina also pointed out that a restaurant needs to be heavily capitalized. There is a lot of front end investment which does not see a return for a while. Also, they mentioned that the owner needs to be a jack of all trades. Be an electrician one day, a plumber the next. A broken faucet or a leak needs to be attended to immediately and cant wait for your roto-rooter to waltz in. All in all long days (some starting as early as well before sunrise, and ending well past midnight) are the norm, and this means missing out on your favorite holidays – valentines day, thanksgiving, christmas etc! This is all of a sudden not looking to be that enticing a proposition is it? Nina also pointed out the need for good overall leadership. This point cannot be emphasized enough. From the runners (those who deliver food to the table), to the wait staff, from chef to cleaning staff and front of house folks, you need team work, efficiency, and reliability. A successful business hires well and hires for the task that needs to be performed. In fact surveys have pointed out that a majority of complaints about a restaurant do not relate to the quality of the food, but more to the quality of the service. I see the chefs smiling!
So you may wonder whether doing all of the above things guaranteed success. Unfortunately not. Even if you did all of the above, chances are according to the Zagat’s that you will still fail with a 60% chance that you wont last 3 years in the business. Neal the host went on to ask them about what are things folks could do to improve the odds. The Zagats pointed out that having a partner who would focus on the business side was one way to spread the responsibility. Having family as an integral part in the initiative was another way. And of course publicity is very important. To the last point they gave the example of ‘George’ who opened a Chinese restaurant and who knew all about Chinese cooking. There was a fire the first week and the restaurant reopened a month later. However there was no publicity and 6 months later they were out of business. On the contrary they found a new restaurant very close to where they work which had some really good food. Having lunched there, they called up all the food critics in town that they knew and asked them to visit the restaurant and write about it. Today that place is a huge success.
All in all opening a restaurant may seem like a very romantic idea. I will be the first to admit that the thought has crossed my mind. It almost feels like being able to throw a rip roaring party every day and getting paid for it in the bargain as Neal put it very succinctly. Alas! If only things were so easy. So while the food channel may get your adventurous side going Tim and Nina Zagat advise you to not to gamble just on the basis of your dreams or a romantic notion. Instead go out for a walk and stop by your favorite restaurant for that best of entrée you desire. You can leave the cooking to them!