Louise Palmer-Masterton, Founder of Vegan restaurant Stem + Glory, gives her ten top tips to running a successful restaurant at a time when many are shutting their doors…
Lots of people dream of opening a restaurant, but many don’t survive. According to The Guardian, the number of restaurants closing was up by 20% in 2017.
The news is full of ‘restaurant chains in trouble’ stories. I think there are many reasons for this, including poor customer service, lack of interesting dishes, and perhaps an over-reliance on choosing expensive locations and just expecting people to walk past and pop in.
I don’t believe it’s ever enough to have a good location and just wait for people to pitch up at your door. However, alongside the demise of the chain, we are seeing the rise of the independent and our success is certainly testament to that.
So having opened two successful, award winning and profitable restaurants, what have I learned along the way? Here are my Top 10 tips to running a successful restaurant.
1. Find your passion
For me everything starts here. My current business, Stem + Glory, is a vegan restaurant brand, coming from my own 35 year personal story with plant-based cuisine. So, if you are thinking about starting your own business, first rule – always follow your passion. That way it will be a love affair.
2. Find your place in the market
With Stem + Glory I had spent 35 years trying to find a decent vegan restaurant, so it became increasingly obvious there was a huge gap in the market. As the movement grew the opportunity also arose to test this out.
But it was still the passion to share plant-based eating with the rest of the world that compelled me to take my ideas to trial; I don’t believe a gap in the market is sufficient on its own.
3. Have outstanding customer service
In hospitality this is of primary importance. I am a firm believer that making other people feel good is pretty much the answer to everything. One kind word can change an entire day; this is a powerful customer service tool.
Recruit on the basis of competence, confidence and kind disposition; the rest you can train. Your team are vitally important to you, nurture and care for them and they will care for your customers. Our USP is delicious food, but kindness and customer care are a very important part of our offering.
4. Identify your USP
Every business must have one. With Stem + Glory it is ‘delicious’. Again, based on my experience of trying to find decent vegan food, I knew that what was available was all too often rather bland and boring. Therefore. by providing exciting and delicious plant-based foods we knew we would very likely be on to a winner!
Our first location is very unusual. It is on the first floor, above a cycle shop, on a traffic island in a not especially good part of Cambridge. And yet it has worked. I sometimes think that its obtuseness has somehow worked in its favour!
I think that more important than location is having a mechanism to drive people to your location. For our second location we bought an existing business which has also worked well for us and there are advantages to buying an already fitted out space in that we were able to open very quickly.
For future Stem + Glory locations we will be looking at new build, ground floor, higher footfall, but we are still seeking unique locations since this has worked well for us to date. Always best to be a destination.
6. Spend money on photographing your dishes
We are hugely image focused and in 2018 you have to be able to entice people on social media with great images. Images of our food drive our Facebook campaigns and our recent successful crowdfunding campaign.
7. Themed nights and special events
This is hugely successful for us. Look at the calendar and create specials and special menus around events. You have all the classic ones (valentines, mother’s day etc.) but some of the more random ones have worked brilliantly for us – Burns night, Cinco de Mayo etc.
A themed special event menu with two courses for ‘x’ amount or three courses for ‘y’ amount is tried and tested and works. You can run elements of it for a few days around an event to maximise its power.
Remember to market your event outside of your restaurant though – don’t just put it on and not tell people! Our special fine dining events have also proved very popular and for those we literally run a special menu for one night only and presell all the tickets in advance. It’s been a winning combination.
8. Market the restaurant – and then market it some more.
There is a direct relationship between marketing and success. At Stem + Glory we are fascinated by marketing, and we literally do not stop. With the new GDPR rules this year, there will be a need for ever smarter marketing. If you can embrace new ways of marketing and new tools, you’ll be on to a winner.
9. Experiment with your opening hours
Analyse your sales per hour and costs to open. Every location will have its own rhythm and flow. Don’t just open at 8am because you think someone might come in for coffee!
Look at your peak times. Our restaurant opens at 12midday for lunch and 5.30pm for dinner. Our café opens 10-5 winter and 9-6 summer. In London we will look at early-late opening and see how it works.
10. Have regular special dishes on your menu
Having specials on gives you something to market on social media. We have literally filled our restaurant with a special dish. It also gives your chefs the chance to be creative, which is what they love most.
Being successful is as much about you as it is your product. If the going gets tough, approach the challenges with curiosity. Be authentic and stay true to your own vision. Let your passion infect your team. Be persistent, be ambitious, be bold, and above all, be kind.