People always ask me what the secret is to running a successful restaurant. After so many years in the business, many of the smaller elements are so seamless and well executed that I forget they are actually the building blocks and strength of my business. Running a restaurant is hard work; there are no short-cuts, you have to put in the hours. However, there are a few things that I have learned over the years that I think are the reasons for our continued growth.
For me, its all about attention to detail
There are so many things happening all at once that you have to be on top of everything all the time. If one area is not functioning optimally the whole operation can come to a grinding halt. If your dishwasher goes on the blink and you are running out of plates and cutlery you’re in seriously hot water. You want to make sure that you have systems in place that keep the whole “machine” turning seamlessly. There must be flow in the space. There shouldn’t be an area in your restaurant that creates a bottleneck or seems to use up unnecessary time. The choices you make for the way the restaurant operates must make sense to the people who have to navigate it and create magic within it.
That means I am always open to suggestions from employees who have great ideas about how to streamline a process or alleviate a pain point. Their advice has made everyone’s lives easier at the end of the day.
As a restaurant owner you always have to be on your A game
You can never drop the ball because word of mouth can make or break you. Every customer that chooses to dine with you must walk away having an unforgettable experience. You wear many hats when you run a restaurant; You have to know every part of your business completely so you can always ensure that the quality of the food is remarkable and that the service is exceptional. You have a hand in creating the menu and bar list. Make sure that the front of the house is functioning in high gear. Then there is all of the behind the scenes elements that includes everything from banking to bookkeeping, HR to payroll, insurance and utilities. You name it –you must be on top of it all.
You have to be disciplined and organized. I think the biggest strength you can have for this industry is the ability to work under pressure. I think that in times of high volume and high stress, great communication and an excellent streamlined structure is going to see you through to the end of the evening with ease. I think we do the basics very well.
You have to go the extra mile for your customers
It sounds like that is what you are supposed to say if you are in a customer service industry but I know it to be the bedrock of my business. I want to build enduring relationships with the people who have chosen to eat in my “home”. They are my lifeblood. They are my first thought. My motto is, “Yes, is the answer, what is the question?” I remember many years ago when smoking was still allowed indoors, one of my regulars asked if he could bum a smoke. I actually ran across the road to the convenience store and got a pack of cigarettes just for him. He’s still a customer. Every happy customer is a walking billboard promoting your business. It’s all about consistency. You want people to experience a high standard of excellence every single time they dine with you. It’s difficult sometimes, but never impossible.
I would not be able to run my restaurants on my own
My employees are the force that fuels my business. You have to take exceptionally good care of your people and they will take care of your customers. Your staff are your ambassadors and representatives of your restaurant both on duty and off. If you treat them well and with respect, they will do the same for your patrons. This means that you also have to employ the best people at the outset to represent you. I find the best chef, the best waiters, the best managers and I get the best business growth. It’s not always easy to find the right people who are the right fit for your workplace culture. But when you find people who create a strong team, hold on to them for dear life. Keep training them, promoting them, engaging them. This time and money investment keeps your doors open because they share the same passion to see the restaurant succeed.
I always buy and provide the best ingredients, even if it costs a little more
Customers know the difference between great ingredients and average ingredients. Don’t be cheap – quality always costs a little more. We make everything from scratch. There are no microwaves in my kitchens. I like to create signature Italian dishes but also have my staple recipes I collected from my grandmother and mother. I am always about quality and authenticity.
I always choose the best possible space for my restaurants even if it costs a little more per square foot
Location, location, location. You want a space preferably in a well-traveled area. You want to make it easy for people to find you. I like to make sure my signage is really visible. A parking lot or parking garage close to your restaurant is also great. You also don’t want to be sharing the same street as too many restaurants as you might be constantly competing for customers. I spend money to make the inside and outside beautiful with authentic Italian décor. Carrabba’s was one of the first restaurants that had an open kitchen.
I never forget where I’ve come from
I remember this one night the waiters were not following the right process of putting dirty dishes away to help the dishwasher so I went to the back of the kitchen and washed dishes with my dishwasher. You can always jump in to assist when things get tough. Don’t get into believing all of the hype that people say about your restaurant. Don’t let all of the great reviews go to your head. I always try to remember that tonight we will start all over again trying to make sure you have an awesome meal out with family or friends.