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So You Opened A Successful Restaurant. Now What?

new restaurant tips

Congratulations! How do you keep things rolling forward once the novelty wears off?

All that blood, tears, toil and sweat finally paid off. Not only did you open your restaurant, you’ve also kept happy customers coming in the door, day after day. It’s an amazing accomplishment few people ever get to experience. Congratulations! Hidden inside most goals are the first steps to the next challenge. How do you keep things rolling forward once the novelty wears off? To keep your restaurant running successfully you’re going to need a new set of skills. Here are a few things to keep in mind…

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All that blood, tears, toil and sweat finally paid off. Not only did you open your restaurant, you’ve also kept happy customers coming in the door, day after day. It’s an amazing accomplishment few people ever get to experience. Congratulations!

Hidden inside most goals are the first steps to the next challenge. How do you keep things rolling forward once the novelty wears off? To keep your restaurant running successfully you’re going to need a new set of skills. Here are a few things to keep in mind…

Embrace Change

Most customers are more forgiving on opening night. You may have your plans mapped out and your staff drilled on the menu, but mistakes happen and routines have yet to be established. Going forward, those mistakes are going to get noticed.

To keep on top of what diners really want out of your restaurant going forward, listen to your customers. When customers make helpful suggestions, accept them graciously. If you notice a lot of customers complaining about the same issues, it’s time to nip those in the bud, ASAP.

Your vision brought your restaurant to life, but there’s nothing that says you can’t smartly adapt to audience suggestions and local trends. Most restaurants in Wisconsin, for example, have game-day specials during football season. No matter the clientele, everyone wants to watch the game and eat (and drink)!

Your loyal and fearless team helped you get past the starting gate when your restaurant opened—and you can’t do it all by yourself as you move forward, either. The employees that deliver above and beyond during this stressful time should be rewarded with more responsibility and a slice of the success pie. Loyal employees should be treasured and given a chance to shine. It’s okay to expect a fair amount of turnover after your restaurant lands on its feet. Not every employee that works well as a pillar of a startup continues as a long-time employee. Some people thrive better at the beginning, but bristle when things get routine. Recognizing how your team might change over time will help alleviate the stress of hiring in a hurry.

Adjust Your Menu

You’ve likely built up an impressive inventory leading up to your launch. When the time comes to reorder, you’ve got an idea of what sells and what doesn’t. One of the best ways to keep your costs down in the early days is to carefully monitor your food waste. You’ll get a better sense of how often you need to reorder items so you don’t run out. You may also adjust orders for popular items on the menu. If something keeps running out, you may need to redo your freezer organization to stash more of those ingredients (or less ingredients for those less-popular items). Limit the number of menu items you offer to a realistic quantity that doesn’t overwhelm your staff or your customers – think quality over quantity.

Changing menu options early on in a restaurant’s run happens all the time. Your customers will tell you what they like and what they don’t. Give an unpopular item a few weeks to get to the heart of why that dish is unpopular. Is it that your customers don’t like it? Or perhaps there’s an external issue, like the season just isn’t right for the dish. Few people want a hearty chili in a sweltering summer, for example. Don’t be afraid to run a special or two to keep new ideas filtering onto your menu. You might have to remove an item or two, but a popular special will keep customers coming back, while also giving you an idea as to where you want your menu to go in the future.

Look to the Future

Increased revenue is the obvious goal of an open restaurant. Each place has its own path to success, but the reality is you have to either cut costs or increase sales when you’re not making money at the level you projected.

  • Some ideas for cutting costs:

    Try adjusting portion sizes, but be sure you’re still meeting your customers’ expectations. Are their certain ingredients you can purchase at a lower rate without sacrificing quality or flavor? Think economies of scale – purchase items in bulk if possible, then incorporate those ingredients into various menu items, to get more bang from your buck. Consider renting a commercial water heater. When your water heater fails (and it will), renting a commercial heater can eliminate thousands of dollars of up-front capital costs in exchange for a reasonable monthly payment.

  • Some ideas for increasing sales:

    After analyzing your customer base, you should have some ideas of what appeals to your audience. For example, lots of families coming in? Offer kids’ specials on a certain night. Lots of child-free thirty-somethings? Time to offer brunch. Packed with college kids? Offer late-night drink specials or student discounts. Most importantly: keep your website up to date. No matter what your clientele, they’re looking for you online. Be sure your website is updated with current hours, menus and specials. Be sure your website can be accessed on-the-go from your customer’s smartphone.

Success just a few months in? It may seem like a silly time to consider expansion, but answering a simple question can keep you thinking about your next big goal. (Hey, thinking big is what got you from your dreams to reality in the first place, right?) If your restaurant is doing well, would you consider expanding your current location…or would you look into opening a second one? (How about adding an on-site garden?) An in-depth answer is probably worth a discussion on its own, but even knowing the short answer to the question can help you take the first steps to making your next dream come true.

Opening a restaurant feels like climbing a mountain sometimes. Keeping it successful is the taller mountain in the distance. Keep your ears open for valuable advice from your customers. Adjust your hiring practices to place employees in the positions where they’ll be most successful. Adjust your menu to keep people coming in the door. Increase sales by using classic tactics. Think about the future. You’ll already be on the path to bigger successes before you know it.


Featured image “The River Cafe” courtesy of Flickr user Herry Lawford licensed under CC by 2.0.

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