I am not a chef and I have never owned or managed a restaurant. Bartending and serving throughout and post college are my only experiences of the inner workings of the business. That, combined with my experience as a “customer” coupled with my background in PR and marketing communications in general is the basis for this post. So take it with a grain of salt.
Well before I started this blog, I’ve been fascinated with the food scene in Cleveland. I pay attention when places open and close. I try to support the independents as much as possible versus the overflow of chains in the area. It’s not that I’m totally anti chains; it’s just that I believe I’m getting a better quality product from the independents. Plus I like to support Cleveland and keep my money here.
As I’m writing this, many places are preparing to open in the next few months or have just opened. I’m scared for these owners and chefs. According to Zack Bruell, “…there is a 90 percent failure rate in this city for a restaurant within the first six months.” Battuto is the latest casualty in a string of wonderful dining options to close its doors. From this blog and from getting to know the behind-the-scenes people a bit better, I’ve gained some insight into why some of these places fail to succeed. While only a few really know for sure, a few insights include: the kitchen doesn’t know what the front of the house is doing, staff isn’t trained properly, the chefs egos are too big and become unwilling to give customers what they want, people don’t market themselves, inconsistent service/food, etc. Not to keep going back to Zack, but I think he said it best when he commented that “…the cooking part is easy, knowing how to run a business is not.”
It’s frustrating to me as a fan of many of the places that shut their doors that they just don’t seem to get it. I just heard a story about Paladar where the server couldn’t answer a question from a patron about the rum menu because they themselves don’t like rum. And this is a restaurant that has been highlighting its rum bar and extensive offerings of rum? Wouldn’t you properly train your servers on rum if this is a specialty? And I love the story about Battuto where the chef refused to provide fresh bread for people to soak up the sauce because that’s not how they do it in Italy. The list goes on. But one thing about all of these stories and learnings is the same: the kitchen doesn’t monitor the staff, chefs have too big of egos for our beloved city, people don’t market themselves properly if at all, etc.
If I owned a restaurant, I would spend just as much time training my staff as I would on the food. After all, they become the face of the restaurant and next to the food, are responsible for the customer’s experience. Good experience equals happy customer and positive word of mouth. When that person has a negative experience, believe me they will tell even more people and it becomes that much harder to overcome those negative perceptions. Why not stride to make each and every person that comes through your door your personal evangelist? And why not listen to what your customers are telling you. Seek out feedback. Learn from it. And if someone wants bread, give them bread! Finally, I would study from those that have made it work and seek to find out why others did not. There is a big talent pool here and a lot of successful stories. Don’t let egos hold you back and allow one of them to become your mentor.
Like I said, I’m not an expert and certainly have never been faced with the challenge of running a business. Hats off to those that do – I give you a lot of credit, especially in this market. These are just one customer’s thoughts, so take it for what it’s worth.