Making Success out of Your Restaurant

By Jhuma Biswas

Running a restaurant is an apparently glamourous and inherently challenging business, which on the whole can be very exciting and thrilling for the restaurateur and her/his staff provided they have a passion towards food service.

Look Before You Invest 

However, before running a restaurant comes the challenges of opening a restaurant. Before opening a restaurant several factors need to be taken into account. According to Nandini Nneeraj, the Proprietor of Mother India & Bokan Cafe, “There are many factors that need to be considered before investing in a restaurant business, but the three core factors that matter the most are location, concept and a strong & experienced team.”

The right location is definitely one of the most important factors towards opening a restaurant business. For example, opening a fine dining restaurant in a lower middle class locality or in an unauthorised colony in the city will be a losing proposition. Similarly, it is not advisable to open a restaurant focused on exotic cuisine, say Greek or French cuisine, in an area where majority of the people are not expected to have much global exposure. 

Especially, in the competitive and continually evolving organised food service industry of India, the concept of the restaurant also needs to be sharply defined and of course, food & beverage, ambience, décor, music and even uniform of the staff of the restaurant operating in the organised sector should also ideally align with the concept. This holds especially true for a theme restaurant. Unless the proposed restaurant’s concept is precisely defined, the restaurateur shouldn’t embark on the restaurant business, especially if her/his restaurant is expected to operate in the organised sector of India’s food service industry.

And of course, without a team of expert staff it is very difficult for a restaurant business to achieve success in India’s food service industry; simply great food and ambience wouldn’t do, they need to complemented with great service too. One should have the requisite staff with the requisite expertise ready before launching a restaurant in the organised segment of India’s food service industry.

“A good team can not only cover each other's weaknesses but also add to each other's strengths,” explained Dhruv Dutt, the Owner of Era Bar & Lounge.

At the same time, background research is also very important before investing in restaurant business. “One must do a proper study of the restaurant industry, its demands, its pros and cons and the finances that are involved before investing in the restaurant business,” asserted Jasneet Sahni, the Owner of the two restaurants, Lanterns Kitchen & Bar, and Pikkle.

Factors for Success 

Even after the restaurant is opened the million dollar question of how to make it a successful venture continues to persist, perhaps with louder notes than it did before investing in the restaurant business was being done. Nandini  rightly believes the ambience of the restaurant has extremely crucial importance in the success of a restaurant. According to her, “It helps the food to taste better, the services more likeable and the overall experience a memorable one. A good ambience helps in bringing the customers to the restaurant.”

Of course, one needs good food, the right ambience and décor and quality service staff for making your restaurant business a success story, but these are basic factors which nowadays even a layman knows. There are several other latent factors to be considered to facilitate success in the restaurant business. 

“One needs to have enough working capital for the initial few months as a restaurateur because it will take time to spread awareness and bring in the required footfalls. If all the funds are invested in the construction of the place then it would be difficult to acquire quality ingredients, work on the marketing and promotions, etc. One needs to get into the waters and be completely dedicated towards achieving the targets by focusing on your USP and controlling the costs,” elaborated Dhruv, while discussing the factors needed to be taken into account while running a restaurant business.

“Keep looking at new opportunities, new trends and the new ways of promoting your restaurant. Accept all the challenges that come your way and always be keen to try new things,” advised Jasneet, when I queried him on the factors necessary for making an operational restaurant a successful business proposition, in the context of India’s food service industry. Yes, restaurateur should have a great sense of enterprise to explore new opportunities and trends but at the same time she/he should refrain herself/himself f r o m taking unnecessary risks.

Intelligent marketing of the restaurant these days is one of the keys to its success. In this digital age, marketing of the restaurant on social media platforms can pay rich dividends with very little costs. “The right strategy of promotions & marketing, a unique menu, and a funds backup in reserves to be used during emergencies or to meet unsaid expenses are needed for the operational success of the restaurant,” averred Nandini. 

An important factor that can contribute towards the success of a running restaurant business is cutting down on unnecessary costs and wastage wherever possible.

“Certain factors that can facilitate your restaurant business to be a success story are way in which you position your restaurant brand, how you treat your customers, knowing your customer acquisition cost, knowing your fixed costs, consistently working towards your vision as a restaurateur, maintaining consistency in your brand value and quality of food and services, cutting down on unnecessary costs and maintaining a good rapport on digital media,” articulated Dhruv.

Every age has its own set of challenges and opportunities. In this digital age, it would be wise of the restaurateur to keep a history of her/his guests’ food & beverage preferences, feedback on what they liked or disliked in the restaurant, and what they would like to improve in the restaurant, on computer (the process can be initiated by letting the guests fill a short form where their F&B preferences and what they liked or disliked in the restaurant and what they would like to improve in the restaurant would be asked for). 

In case of repeat guests, their F&B likings could be gently suggested by the waiter or the manager to them.  If more number of guests do not like a particular aspect in a restaurant that can be changed over time. If more number of guests like a particular aspect of a restaurant that can be retained or even heightened, if possible. Guests’ pragmatic suggestions to improve the restaurant can also be adhered to. Succinctly, digital power can facilitate greater involvement of the guests, and this can be explored upon to garner additional revenues for the restaurants. 

Harnessing digital power is becoming more and more crucial towards operational success of restaurants, for if you don’t do it be sure that your competitor would do it and you may end up missing the bus.

Guests are not only becoming more experimental and discerning in terms of their eating out choices but have also become more health and hygiene conscious than they were a decade ago. This is very much true for India’s organiesd food service industry. In light of this trend, maintaining of impeccable hygiene is becoming more and more important in the functioning of the restaurants. 

For example, if the restaurant’s washroom is unclean or if its tablecloths are dirty or if its waiters are unkempt, then the guests are not only likely to avoid giving the restaurant a repeat visit, but may also post their ire about the restaurant on the social media. If the post goes viral, it may irreparably damage the future business of the restaurant concerned. Of course, the same holds true if the food and service of the restaurant is below par, but the effect of bad hygiene can be even more serious on the bottomlines of the restaurant. than the effect of bad food.

For example, if a guest or a group of guests suffer f r o m food contamination because of the restaurant staff’s lackadaisical attitude towards hygiene, then their Facebook posts regarding the same can even lead to legal actions and eventual closure of the restaurant concerned.

Therefore, in the post-modern organised food service industry of India, maintenance of impeccable hygiene is necessary for the operational success of restaurants or for that matter, of any food service outlet.

“Hygiene & cleanliness is the utmost important aspect and I would personally give it more weightage than food and service,” asserted Jasneet.

Though fulfilling all these above-mentioned factors does not guarantee the success of your restaurant, but they can surely facilitate your success story in the restaurant industry. And not fulfilling these factors can facilitate your failure in the restaurant business really quick.

Challenges to Grapple

Of course, there are challenges towards the success of restaurant business too, and they can and will continue even if all the above-mentioned factors are being met. Operating a restaurant is a challenging business even at the best of times. And if the times are tough, of course the challenges would be manifolds. In the Indian context, running a restaurant in a macro business environment that is characterised with shortage of high quality raw materials, shortage of quality manpower, prohibitive real estate costs in metros, inadequate cold chain infrastructure and with fast evolving tastes of guests, is an uphill challenge. This writer conversed with some industry players to get beneath the surface of this issue.

According to Nandini, the major challenges towards running a restaurant in the context of India’s food service industry are attaining performance consistency, changing government policies, and retention of guests. 

Both opening and running a restaurant business in India are hugely challenging tasks. In this regard, Dhruv gave quite a holistic perspective. “To start with, I would say that launching and running a restaurant business is like driving on a bumpy road. There is not one, but multiple roadblocks and speed breakers that one needs to pass-through. Starting f r o m government licensing that is difficult to acquire considering the heavy-duty regulations, finding a property which is suitable and comes with rentals to suit the budget, handling the restaurant construction, training and managing the staff, assuring good quality to customers to retain them, managing the fixed cost in running the restaurant, focusing on structural requirements, promoting the brand in the right direction, managing customer reviews by working on day-to-day marketing, and paying attention to staff retention rate by keeping them happy and content are only some of the challenges of this business,” he smilingly expressed.

“Problems that I have myself faced in the initial stages included staff crunch and challenges towards pitching in the right crowd,” disclosed Jasneet.

The feature is written especially in the context of India’s organised food service industry and the inputs of the restaurateurs also adhere to the same context. The restaurants whose restaurateurs’ inputs are taken here, are all based in Delhi-NCR.

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