10 Real-life stories from Simon Rimmer, Claude Bosi and more on running and growing a restaurant

2016 The Restaurant Show_Monday

Last week, OpenTable attended The Restaurant Show and hosted the business insight session ‘Running and Growing a Restaurant’ on Centre Stage. Adrian Valeriano, Vice President, Europe, OpenTable, facilitated the discussion amongst five influential chefs, operators and restaurateurs to share how they win guests, optimise operations and expand business.

The all-star line-up included; Simon Rimmer – Chef Patron of Greens and Earle, and Co-Presenter of Sunday Brunch, Claude Bosi – Chef/Owner, Hibiscus, Alex Wrethman – Owner, Charlotte’s Group, David Ponté – COO, Cabana, and Will Yarney – Restaurant Manager, The Woodford.

Whether you’re starting out in the industry or simply looking for new, fresh ways to generate business, here’s some of the key takeaways and real-life stories about how top restaurateurs have tackled business challenges, improved visibility and ROI, and expanded into new concepts and ventures.

Customer focus has to be number one.

‘First decide what you’re going to be. With chef-led restaurants, ego is a huge factor. Chefs will always insist on the type of food they want and will be convinced that they will have a line outside the door. If you’re talented then that might be the case, but the reality is you need to understand who your customers are and what they want, rather than focusing on what you’re about.” says Rimmer.

Blend your passion, vision and experience.

Ponté shares, “I try to deliver an authentic experience. My background and enthusiasm has influenced our business. We opened Momo 20 years ago because my family was from Morocco and we now have Cabana because I was born in Brazil. My best advice is to get a partner that compliments what you do. Together you can find the balance of commercialism and running a big, busy restaurant.”

Be honest.

“I try to satisfy my ego. I opened a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere with a certain style of food and it was successful. I was greedy and said ‘let’s try it in London’, but the reaction was ‘this is wrong’ because London is a different market. Without challenging my philosophy I had to step back, think about it and figure out a new approach. We redesigned the restaurant and reevaluated the food. I had the same drive to be successful, but if you don’t realise where you are and who your customers are then you will fail. Ultimately, be very honest with what you want to do and make it work.” says Bosi.

Find a newsworthy event to tell your story.

Ponté says, “Sometimes a newsworthy event is worth its weight in gold. When we opened Cabana in Newcastle we dug around for a story. We found out that back in the 80’s Mirandinha was the first Brazilian to play football in the English league for Newcastle. We were able to bring him over and created a fun experience for our guests that was in line with our brand and voice.”

Use a consistent voice.

“Whatever you decide to do, whether it’s newsletters, social media, or the way you write your menus, make sure you have a consistent tone of voice throughout. Don’t have dinosaurs like us tweeting one day and then next day have someone who’s 22 years old writing a message. You need to be clear and deliver a consistent message to your staff and your customers.” says Rimmer.

Make it personal.

Yarney shares, “Our social media channels are very personal. Our staff engages the public, from our demi chef to the hostess, so when people come into our restaurant they know a bit about them. We even do live feeds of the restaurant via SnapChat. We do this so people recognise us and the experience resonates with them.”

Be brutal.

Rimmer shares, “Manage and monitor your costs. It’s a business: yes, we want to have the best restaurant, and yes, we want to be the best place to work, however it has to make money. Work on the basis of getting X number of guests through the door and deliver a great experience, there’s your stage one. Next stage is to evaluate where you are.”

He adds, “Within the first six months, the honeymoon phase, you can expect 20% additional costs that you didn’t plan for. Overspending is one thing which you can cut back, but if you’re not getting enough customers through the door then you have to have a really hard look at yourself. Are we giving the customers what they want? It is about the service? Food? Be brutally honest. We will do anything but blame ourselves. If you are not hitting your numbers, then you’re the first person you need to look at.”

Feedback to grow.

Wrethman shares, “At the end of the meal our staff ask the customers to rate their experience out of a ten, what could we have done better and what their favourite dish was – through such a simple question you also end up learning what their least favourite dish was.”

Can you make me laugh?

“It’s about getting your staff to understand your concept. When we recruit, the first question I ask in the interview is ‘can you make me laugh?’ If they can engage with me then they can engage with our guests. Sometime we have people that tick all the boxes, but if they cannot connect with the customer then it won’t work.” shares Yarney.

Evolution not revolution.

“It is essential to continually evolve. Loosen the reigns of some of your key people so they’re not working within the framework so much. Let them voice their ideas and be receptive to their suggestions. Allow them to guide the evolution. This approach has been part of our success.” says Rimmer.

Bosi shares, “You need to pay attention to trends. It doesn’t mean you have to follow them. You can always move direction, but stay true to your philosophy and to what people want.”

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