Small Bites: Five Keys To Success For A Small Restaurant In A Big Industry

Small Bites: Five Keys To Success For A Small Restaurant In A Big Industry main blog image
Small business isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave, the patient, and the persistent. It’s for the overcomer. - Unknown

I’ve spent the better half of the last decade in various roles around the restaurant — from server and bartender to grill cook and manager. However, it was my time spent working for true entrepreneurs in small restaurants around Louisville that shaped my love for small business. My time in these restaurants taught me sound business principles that I can apply to the restaurant industry and many others. So if I may, restaurateurs, let me share with you five keys to success that I learned working for small restaurants.

1. Weeds Overrun A Neglected Garden

In the restaurant industry, it’s essential to set aside time for maintenance. When small, routine maintenance tasks are neglected, big problems can result.

I once worked for a small shop that serviced roughly 200 people. A month after we had opened, our minds were filled with things to keep track of, and it seemed like every question we asked ourselves had follow up questions. "What are our daily sales? What do we need our daily sales to be? Are we running low on anything in the kitchen? What are our top selling items? Are they profitable?"

Over time, as we worried about big stuff, the small, routine maintenance tasks fell by the wayside. Our equipment was used and old. We had obtained them from a previous business when we took its place. I was tasked with tracking maintenance schedules for our equipment. However, I was so focused on big things like sales and profit that I lost track of the routine maintenance tasks that kept our equipment up and running. As a result, the compressor in our main 3-door cooler went down due to a dirty condenser coil that we had not maintained. Since I didn’t take 15 minutes out of my month to check the coil, we had to find an alternative means of refrigeration for two weeks while we waited for our unit to be repaired. This incident taught me that even small, routine responsibilities can have a large impact on your business.

Whether you own a restaurant or work for one, it is important to stay on top of small, routine maintenance tasks to ensure that they don’t grow into larger problems.

2. Small Leaks Sink Great Ships

It’s important for restaurant owners to look for solutions that are cost efficient long term. Settling for a cheap solution up front may result in large costs down the road.

I once worked at a bar that brought in a couple of 35-pound fryers shortly after they opened. The bar’s owners wanted to convert the bar to a "Gastropub." However, because they were tight on money, they bought the cheapest fryers they could find. Since the fryers were cheap units, they burnt a lot of oil. We needed to change their oil three times a week, and by the year's end, the bar had spent a total of $6200 on oil alone. After we saw the cost for the first year, we tried to find ways to reduce our cost and save a little bit of money. We found out that if we had spent a little extra money up front on a better fryer, we would have only had to change the oil once week. That would have saved us nearly $4000 dollars a year. I wish I could say that we saved up money and bought a better unit, but the reality is that we were stuck with those cheap fryers for another couple of years. We lost thousands of dollars that we could have saved if we had spent the money needed to buy better fryers up front.

When making a big purchase, be sure to think through long term what your unit will cost you. Buying cheap up front can sometimes be more costly in the long run.

3. If You Want People To Follow, Show Them You Care

I had just turned 23 when I was given the title of "manager" for a local bar I worked at. It was a difficult transition for me as I wrestled with keeping an eye on the entire bar’s operation while continuing to perform my own individual duties. My biggest challenge was getting people who were my peers to do what I needed them to do. As my boss was grooming me for my new responsibilities, he imparted this tidbit of wisdom to me:

"People want to follow someone who is leading them rather than someone who is managing them. Don’t tell someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Just because you’re the boss man now doesn’t mean these people aren’t still your friends and family. Let them know through your actions that you are still on the same team."

Businesses make an impact in the community in which they serve and also on the employees that they hire. You can manage your business's growth well by building a team of individuals who share your same ambitions. The best way to make that team thrive is to show them you care about them by cultivating their talent and encouraging them through your leadership.

4. Work to Live, Don’t Live to Work

Vacation! Take a day or two off from time to time where you don’t think about your business. This can be helpful in a couple of ways.

First, if you have a family, they will appreciate you spending a bit of extra time with them. The hustle and bustle of the restaurant business can easily eat up your day, so make sure you make time for the people who matter to you most. Second, when you step away from the responsibilities of your business, you provide your mind an opportunity to reset. This makes it easier for you to think of creative solutions for your business problems when you come back.

Every great business is going to have its challenges. Take a moment to catch your breath so you can be the best you for your business.

5. Make Every Friday "Donut Day"

Every business has a "Friday." For some it is a Saturday or Sunday, but for others, it is actually Friday. Friday is a great day! The end of the week is around the corner and you are on the home stretch. Here at Prima, we have Donut Day every Friday. Our managers and owners bring donuts every Friday to show us, the employees, that they care about us. It serves as a dose of encouragement to finish the week out strong and a healthy reminder that the weekend has finally arrived. People love to be reminded that they matter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be donuts that you reward your staff with, but don’t forget to show them how much they mean to you and your business. Whatever your profession may be, find your Friday, and make it Donut Day.