How to Run a Successful Restaurant

Congratulations on your successful restaurant launch! Now, how do you build on your reputation?

All your blood, sweat, toil, and tears finally paid off. Not only did you open your restaurant successfully, but you’re ready to keep going—building on your triumph. A restaurant launch is an amazing accomplishment few people ever get to experience. Congratulations!

Hidden inside most achievements are the first steps to the next challenge. How do you keep the ball rolling forward once the novelty wears off? Running a successful restaurant requires a different mentality and skill set than starting a business. Here are a few tips to keep in mind…

10 Tips for Running a Successful Restaurant

After your launch, you’ll need to capitalize on your success to keep the ball rolling. It’s easy to assume customers will keep streaming in the door after a grand beginning, but the truth is many restaurants still fail after great openings. So, don’t assume the work is over. In fact, the hard work has just begun. You’ll need to keep promoting your business and connecting with customers. Here are restaurant manager tips and tricks about how to keep a restaurant successful after opening day.

1. Learn from Mistakes

A femal restaurant manager holding a clipboard is surrounded by her restaurant employees, holding a team meeting. The employees are dressed in black and white, some wearing chef coats and hats, others wearing white aprons.Most customers are more forgiving on opening night. Your plans may be mapped out, and your staff drilled on the menu, but mistakes happen, and routines are yet to be established. Yet customers are so excited to try your new restaurant they’re willing to overlook any shortfalls as growing pains.

Going forward, however, those mistakes are going to be noticed. If you haven’t held a debrief from your opening, now’s the time. Head off concerns right away and address any issues immediately. When the rubber hits the road, you may notice problems with your restaurant flow, front-of-house management, line speed, or communication. Now is the time to learn from mistakes and reroute.

2. Don’t Rest on Your Laurels

After your launch, chances are you will have a good idea of your average customer. Running a successful restaurant requires you to know your customer base and cater to what they want. Don’t sit back and expect the customers to stream in. You may need to adjust your plan to cater to your clientele—check your customer reality versus your customer ideal.

After analyzing and assessing your customer base, you should have solid ideas of what appeals to your audience and where you need to change up. For example, lots of families coming in? Offer kids’ specials on a specific night. More child-free thirty-somethings than you expected? Time to offer brunch. Packed with college kids? Offer late-night drink specials or student discounts.

3. Keep Up with Trends

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, offer game-day specials during football season. No matter the clientele, everyone wants to watch the game and eat (and drink)!

If there’s a trendy item or a crowd favorite, include it on your specials list. Of course, you should stick with your core dishes and focus (don’t offer ramen at your burger joint) but incorporate seasonal items and hot trends into your menu. Look at your most successful dish and find commonalities to expand on in other menu items.

4. But Don’t Chase Every Trend

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—trendy food doesn’t always mean success for restaurants. Give an unpopular item a few weeks to get to the heart of why the dish isn’t a hit. Is it that your customers don’t like it? Or perhaps there’s an external issue like the season isn’t right for the dish. Few people want a hearty chili during a sweltering summer, for example. Letting go of a favorite dish is tough, but it’s part of running a restaurant successfully.

Don’t be afraid to run a special or two to keep new ideas filtering onto your menu. Of course, you might need to remove items, 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.

5. Listen to Customers

A male waiter stands next to man seated at a restaurant table. The man sitting down is wearing a white shirt and black tie and is reading a menu while the waiter waits to take his order.To keep on top of what diners really want from your restaurant going forward, listen to your customers—they will tell you. None of us can avoid a negative Yelp or Google review now and again. You won’t please everyone every time but move past the sting and look at the problem objectively.

When customers offer helpful suggestions, accept them graciously. However, if you notice a lot of customers complaining about the same issues, it’s time to nip those in the bud ASAP. Managing a successful restaurant means managing customer feedback and responding to concerns quickly. Ensure excellent guest experience by listening.

6. Reward Great Employees

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. Employees who deliver above and beyond during this stressful time should be rewarded with more responsibility and a slice of the success pie. Treasure loyal employees and give them a chance to shine.

It’s common to expect a fair amount of turnover after your restaurant lands on its feet. Unfortunately, not every employee who’s the pillar of a startup continues as a long-time employee. Some people thrive with the fast pace at the beginning but bristle at routine. Recognizing how your team might change over time will help alleviate the stress of hiring in a hurry. If you hire good people, hold onto them and praise them.

7. Promote & Market

One of the most important tips for running a successful restaurant: keep your website and social media up to date. No matter what your clientele is, they’re looking for you online. Keep your website updated with current hours, menus, and specials. Don’t forget to test your website to ensure it’s accessible on the go from your customer’s smartphone.

Many restaurants neglect their online presence, but relying on foot traffic and word-of-mouth alone won’t get you past your launch. Maximize your buzz by posting your menu, sharing dishes on social media, and engaging with customers to remind them to keep visiting.

8. Watch Food Costs

Every executive chef and restaurant owner knows costing is critical to gauging your restaurant’s performance. One of the best ways to keep your costs down in the early days is to carefully monitor your food waste. As time goes on, 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. 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.

Right now, keep a close eye on profit margins. Increased revenue is the obvious goal of an open restaurant. Each place has its own path to success, but the reality is you must cut costs or increase sales when you’re not making money at the level you expected. Follow your business plan but fine-tune as you go.

9. Watch Equipment Costs

A restaurant chef stands at a stovetop, holding a sauce pan over open flame and tongs. He's wearing a dark demin blue apron and white shirt. Forearm tattoos are visible from under his chef's jacket sleeve.Equipment maintenance is vital. Of course, as you’ve procured the necessary items for your launch, chances are you feel your needs are met. Expect a lot of wear and tear on items, especially as your staff gets in their groove. Your line will go through pots and pans quickly. Critical appliances like your salamander, freezer and fryer shut down the restaurant if they go on the fritz. Keep them well-maintained, especially if you purchased any equipment used.

This same tip also applies to front-of-house equipment, especially your POS system. Nothing is worse than a constantly glitching, issue-causing POS system that slows down your wait staff. Incorrect orders—or worse, constantly incorrect checks—will make a bad impression on your guests. Invest in the best systems right off the bat so your staff is prepared.

One area to save money is through rental equipment. Consider renting a commercial water heater. When your water heater fails (and it will), renting a commercial heater will eliminate thousands of dollars of up-front capital costs in exchange for a reasonable monthly payment.

10. Look to the Future

Success a few months in? It may seem like a silly time to consider expansion but looking ahead will 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 to-go services or a patio expansion? An in-depth answer is probably worth a discussion on its own, but even knowing the short answer to the question of expansion and “what’s next” will help you take the first steps to make your next dream come true.

Opening a successful restaurant feels like climbing a mountain sometimes. Keeping it successful is the taller mountain in the distance. Seek valuable advice from your customers. Modify your menu to keep people coming in the door. Increase sales by using classic tactics. Show your employees appreciation and loyalty. Think about the future. You’re on the path to bigger successes coming right up!

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