If you are an investor or a business owner looking to open a new dining spot, you’ve probably considered the ever-popular fast-casual restaurant option. The fast-casual business model has been steadily gaining momentum and popularity over the past few years, and for good reason. In uncertain economic times, it is a brilliant way to trim the fat from your operation while remaining true to your culinary point of view. However fast-casual joints can quickly lose their charm, and the multitude of social media outlets these days coupled with a multitude of outspoken, tweet-happy guests can make it pretty difficult to recover. But: knowledge is power, and knowing where you might run into trouble could potentially save you from an epic restaurant failure. Outlined here are the main problems that these spots tend to run into along with ways to fix them.
1. Rude Staff: First of all, if you are opening a fast-casual restaurant, you automatically have a staffing advantage: you get to hire a smaller, tighter staff. Therefore, you also have the luxury of handpicking each and every member of your team. Hence, if you are getting complaints about them, you really don’t have an excuse. Do your homework, take your time, and hire folks who will do you proud.
2. Poor Service: Just because you are cutting back on the number of team-members does not mean that you have less need for attentive, effective, and warm customer service. Even fast-casual spots must view customers as guests in their homes, rather than business transactions in their lines. Keep this is mind and your business will thrive and your guests will keep coming back for more.
3. Menu Blunders: One of the things that makes a fast-casual restaurant great is its ability to use fresher ingredients and to do more inventive things with them than the average purely fast-food enterprise. However, this opportunity easily becomes an impediment if left unchecked. Here’s why: Abundance often leads to over-complication, and over-complication is rarely listed amongst the fast-casual keys to success. Take advantage of your resources, but keep it simple, keep it clean. . . which leads us to #4.
4. SLOW-Casual: When fast-casual restaurants get overambitious with their menu offerings, their guests are often forced to wait longer than they’d like for their (thoughtful, beautifully-composed) dishes, and you’ll hear about it on Yelp. Also, sometimes having a smaller staff means that when things get busy, your food-runners get overwhelmed and orders begin to fall by the wayside. Don’t get carried away with slashing your staff-size, and make sure to hire enough folks to get the job done well and in a timely fashion.
5. Communication (or lack thereof): When you choose to operate a fast-casual restaurant, you are also choosing to limit the amount of interaction you have with your guests. In many ways this can be a very good thing, but it often means that if someone has a complaint, you might not hear about it until it’s all over the internet. First of all, be sure to greet each and every guest as they come in. If you’re wondering how you’re doing, make a trip out to the dining area every so often and check in with your patrons. If you’re still unsure, place a highly visible comment box next to the door and encourage your guests to weigh in.
6. Impersonal Environment: One of the benefits of operating a fast-casual restaurant is that you don’t have to hire servers. However, servers make guests feel special by paying them individual attention. Even without servers, it is important to remember that you are still in the service industry. No matter what type of restaurant you run, connecting with your guests and making them feel at home should be one of your top priorities. There are many ways to do this, but one great idea is to take your guests’ names, rather than giving them a number that corresponds to their order.
As a business model, the fast-casual concept has so many advantages. The problems creep in, though, when we focus only on business, neglecting the personal aspects that are so vital to running a successful company. What are some of the problems (and solutions) that you’ve found with the fast-casual genre? Have you tried or implemented any of the tactics discussed above? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below.