11 Jan Cheque, please!
A guidance counsellor (or therapist, not sure which) once asked me the following question: “If nothing stood in your way – not money, talent or experience – what would you do, workwise?”
My immediate response, without hesitation: I would run a small bistro-style eatery. I was, of course, asked to qualify my response. It’s quite simple: I am passionate about food and wine, I love experimenting with new recipes (whilst working to perfect old favourites), I am inspired by fresh, seasonal ingredients and most importantly, I am immensely satisfied when people enjoy my cooking.
I dine out frequently – mostly with companions, and sometimes alone. In fact, I am penning this article at my neighbourhood bakery – at a table for one. Grateful for the solitude, I started thinking about the parallels between corporate businesses and restaurants.
What do they have in common? In short, everything. I believe that a successful business should be run like a restaurant:
- There needs to be a passionate restauranteur at the helm. If the passion is lacking, why are you doing it?
- The entire team – from front of house staff to the dishwasher – must be obsessed with service. Without returning customers, there is no restaurant. There is never an excuse for poor service. Never.
- Look after your team. A happy team will look after your patrons. Happy patrons will talk about your establishment – and return. It’s the simplest logic.
- Things need to be kept fresh (pun intended) and relevant. How often have you returned to a restaurant after a two year absence to find that the “specials menu” written on the blackboard is still exactly the same. Nothing special about that. Innovate, experiment, stay relevant!
- First impressions matter. If I get handed a tattered or dirty menu, we are off to a very bad start. Place yourself in your patrons’ shoes. What kind of experience does your restaurant deliver?
- Walk the floor and listen! Never become so busy that you lose touch with your patrons. Listen to their feedback, suggestions, complaints. And then do something about it.
- Every now and then, things go wrong. That’s life. What sets a great restaurant apart from the one you will be unlikely to return to is how the situation is handled when something does go wrong. Accountability and sincerity matters.
- You will never be all things to all men, so don’t try. A menu that carries burgers, pizza, sushi, seafood, pasta, sandwiches, pastries and whatever else – all labelled “artisan” – enrages me. Focus on what you’re good at and work relentlessly to perfect your craft.
- Be aware of trends, but remain true to your restaurant’s ethos. Trends come and go, but an exceptional meal, a beautiful setting and great service never goes out of style.
My list of parallels is by no means exhaustive. You can probably write a book on it if you wanted to. The next time you’re in a restaurant though, give some thought to what makes for a great dining experience and how this translates to the daily running of your business, your interactions with clients, your suppliers and your own menu.
As American chef Thomas Keller so eloquently put it: “A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe”.