Saturday, August 30, 2008

Polar Opposites From the Last Post

So, this young couple comes into the store on Friday, and since I was only partially weeded at the time, I jumped up to help them out. They were young-ish, mid to late 20's, Asian in origin but obviously have been here many years ( no accent, but would communicate to each other in a foreign language [ I hate when they do that!]).

"Hi, how are you? What can I help you find?"

The female half waves a list at me. "We're opening up a new Marble Slab Creamery (or whatever it was) and have a list of things we need to open next month."

I ask to look at the list and see that it's a fairly straightforward list of every smallware item they will need to run their new place. So I start at the top and show them what each item is. (They've obviously never run a restaurant before. They don't know the difference between a 1/6 or 1/3 pan.) This list has every little thing listed, you don't need to know what you're doing.

Which is what I was talking about in my last post. People who have never run a restaurant before should start small and easy. Buy a franchise. Work in someone else's place and take notes. These companies selling franchises already know everything you'll need. They have support people who will guide you through the basics. They have a package of equipment and probably have a deal with distributors who will get it to you at the lowest price. I've had people come in to start a new restaurant and they don't even know if they need gas or electric, 110v or 220v, 1phase or 2phase, etc. It's hard to quote prices when you don't know things like that.

I chatted with this couple for awhile, told them what we had to offer, and congratulated them on starting with the right idea. (Although, an ice cream place is not the best franchise to own. It's very limited, and is considered a luxury in these rough times)

Although they've done a lot of homework and started small and smart, I think they may be a little too unprepared in a lot of aspects. Hiring the right people is a skill learned over a long period of time. Dealing with the public takes time and experience (and mucho patience).

Since this new place is on my way home, I may take an interest in how it does, and post about it. It may prove interesting. If not, I don't have a life anyway, so I won't be wasting any time ;)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust

I've written before about people wanting to get into the restaurant business, and how most of them have no clue what they're getting themselves into. This is a story about a young couple who should have asked someone for some advice. My place of employment is in the business of selling restaurant equipment and supplies, so talking someone out of their dream really isn't on our agenda (I know this sounds callous, but McDonald's wouldn't be in business if it talked fat people out of eating Big Macs and fries). Alas, I saw this one coming from a mile away.

So, this young couple comes in to the store for some design help with their bistro. It's a smallish restaurant in a strip mall kinda thing. It'll have about 15 tables, a small entrance/waiting area, and a small, but manageable kitchen. They've had the menu planned for about 3 years while they were saving their money and dreaming of fame and fortune. The menu consisted of basic sandwiches with creative touches, soups, salads, and appetizers for lunch and the addition of some proteins on the dinner menu. Nothing spectacular, but a step up from your basic diner/deli food with a few neat twists. Something your basic line cook could reproduce easily. I thought at the time that they had a decent chance of making it. Their bistro was located in an up-and-coming area, the couple were personable, and they seemed to have they're act together...until I visited their place for lunch on a week-end that I was in the area.

Their first mistake? In my humble opinion, first-time restaurateurs should start small and easy and buy a franchise. It's a good way to learn the ropes of ownership while having the support structure newbies will need. This couple had very little experience in the industry. The husband was ex-military with no experience. The wife had been a waitress for a few years, with a little time in management until her kids came and she became a housewife for about 4 years. Not the kind of experience you need if you are sinking your life savings into a risky business.

Their second mistake? Location, location, location. This bistro was in a small strip located about 200 yards off the main drag, with no direct access. Driving from the West, you had to drive past it, turn left across 2 busy lanes of traffic, and do a big circle around this small campus of businesses. And the small sign atop the business was undecipherable from the road, especially where everyone drives 45mph+ right past it. Cars coming from the East would never see it, as it was on the backside of the building. If no one knows you're there, how do you expect to thrive?

Their third mistake? Failure to invest the sweat equity needed to ensure success. Yes, they had two small sons, but this place did not have overly-long opening hours and was closed on Mondays. Two weeks after opening, they hired a Front of the House Manager and a Back of the House Manager to run this small bistro so they could spend more time at home. When you are opening your own restaurant, you should be devoting all your time to your enterprise and putting the money saved back into the restaurant. That is the first rule for success in this kind of undertaking. Six months minimum up to a year or more is the time frame before you start sitting back and enjoying the spoils of your hard work and money spent. It took them two weeks to fall prey.

Their fourth and most fatal mistake? If you have not saved enough money to operate your restaurant for a full year, you should just wait until you have it. After only 6 months in operation, this small place was shuttered. I take no glee in their demise, for they were a nice couple who were perhaps a little disillusioned about what it takes to start and run your own place. Perhaps if one of them had worked outside the restaurant to bring in a stable paycheck to fund shortfalls in profit it might have worked. I only know it was a decent idea poorly executed. If there is a "next time" for them, hopefully they've learned what not to do. Or maybe learn to get someone more knowledgeable to help. Or buy a Domino's instead.