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Successful Independent Operators: Working ON The Business, Not IN

Staying power…that’s one thing that matters a lot when you’re running an independent restaurant. And to stay right there after, say five, six years or more, restaurant consultants insist that there are indeed absolute patterns that need to be followed, as can be observed among those who succeed, and stay, in the restaurant business.

Washington Restaurant Association’s Jim Laube noted some of these patterns, citing some real-life practices (not mere principles) that successful independent operators have—those that allow them to accomplish remarkable results in the management of their restaurant businesses.

Here’s one that’s really worth contemplating on: successful independent operators realize the importance of developing a good system—working ON their business, and not IN their business.

And he says that this is a rule that applies to everyone, nearly without exception, seeing that successful indies today are those whose owners spend more time managing the business and not running it. As one successful operator said, “Donning chef aprons and cooking is not part of my job at the restaurant. My job is to fix the system.”

A good system builds consistency in the dining experiences of the customers. Why do restaurants have repeat businesses? Because the diners liked their previous experience at the restaurant, and they come back to experience it again. But once they return and experience service (or food) that isn’t at par with what they previously had, they’ll notice it. With a lot of other options just across the street or a few blocks away, there’s a big chance they won’t return.

There’s just got to be someone who should focus on the system. Without a good system, a restaurant would be unorganized and would continually generate inconsistent results. Systems such as the use of opening checklists, closing checklists, as well as cleaning; written guidelines in employee selection and hiring; standard recipes used by the chefs in their smart-looking chef aprons; and standard operating procedures in managing guest complaints, physical inventories and ordering products (you can read some of our tips for systems checklist HERE.) Once these are in place, the restaurant will function with minimum supervision, even without the owner around.

Restaurant owners are then free to think and do strategic ways to steer the business towards more improvement and success. Such strategies include possible creation of new lines of business (such as retail licensing and consumer packaging), coming up with new marketing projects and adapting to the continually changing conditions of the local market. (And we have plenty here that you can get inspiration from – restaurant marketing ideas, effective internet marketing ideas, how to maximize your restaurant’s Wi-Fi service, how to increase sales, how to reach today’s biggest restaurant market—the millennials, maximizing the use of social media to promote your restaurant, creating a continuous buzz for your restaurant, and many more.)

This, of course, is easier said than done, especially when the restaurant owner is indeed working IN the business. We just deem it highly important to ingrain an idea that’s worth planning about—as Laube emphasized, “Others need not do it at all, or make this a part of their checklist. But it’s important for them to know that this is one of the practices that make restaurants successful, and perhaps one of the changes that need to be done for restaurants not to stagnate, misplace their edge in a highly competitive industry, and in the long run, decline.”