Partner at Amano, Union Chicken, The Carbon Bar & Loding.
It is common to hear that 80 per cent of new restaurants will fail within three years of being open. Depending on who you talk to, this number may vary, but one thing that's for sure is our perception that it's easy to fail in the restaurant business.
I think that this percentage is highly exaggerated and there is more potential than ever.
All around us restaurants are thriving because of dedicated teams consisting of talented chefs, bartenders, kitchen staff, managers and upper management who work passionately around the clock. Regardless of the size and the location, it seems that the food-service industry has never been stronger.
Restaurant tenants are in such high demand that all major landlords are competing to attract well-established brands and celebrity chefs to their properties. Look no further than Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre, CF Sherway Gardens or the redeveloped Union Station.
My partners and I also saw that opportunity and opened three restaurants in the past year – Union Chicken locations atSherway Gardens and Union Station, and Amano Pasta, also at Union Station.
At the street level, restaurants are hot, too. Trendy restaurants run by "instagrammable" celebrity chefs help uplift entire areas – the most famous to date is probably the success of the Ossington area in Toronto. The Carbon Bar that we opened four years ago in an "up and coming" part of Toronto is another example that great restaurants help elevate an area.
There are many great leaders on the restaurant landscape and they all have their own tips for success. I try to keep things simple and follow these principles that can also be applied to any business.
Create a culture that is fair to all parties: guests, owners and employees. This is a balancing act. I believe that sharing ownership's goals and struggles helps balance decisions that will affect both guests and employees. I try to share as much information as possible about the ownership state of mind with the team, so they can appreciate what is at stake.
Corporate culture matters. Acknowledge staff; let them know you appreciate their work, ask for feedback so they feel included and offer incentives when you can. It adds to the guest experience when your team is happy, engaged and productive.
Give your team a chance to shine. Too often talent is wasted in too many corporate layers of approval. Look around – you are not the only one with talent; allow the people running the show to make decisions and to come up with solutions. I love it when someone suggests something that blows my mind.
Look after your patrons, always. It takes great effort to create a culture where the guests come first. Too often managers get caught in their daily clerical duties instead of being focused on what is going on in the restaurant during meal periods. I remember an instance when I was a young restaurant manager working for Four Seasons Hotels when I sent an e-mail to my boss at 12:15 p.m. His answer was short and to the point: "Why aren't you in the restaurant looking after our guests having lunch?" I tell that story often.
Manage your cash flow and prepare for the bad times. Many restaurants that fail don't close because the product was bad but rather because they did not have a financial backup when times got hard. All new restaurants go through hot and cold periods; save when you can but start with a good backup plan. A credit line from your bank is always a good place to start.
The last piece of the puzzle is to always remain relevant. Boredom is the number one enemy in business. Stay excited about your business and team. Creating different experiences for guests will also keep your team engaged and enthusiastic about the future.
I have always found similarities between the restaurant business and music industry: the ability to deliver a message, celebrity factor, ever-changing styles, general public awareness and how quickly you can go up – or down. Always remember that all iconic bands have put out a bad tune or even a bad album now and then, but their true followers and team support them.
Note: The annual Restaurant Canada show takes place Feb. 25-27 in Toronto.
Executives, employees, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.