In this final installment of her How to Open a Restaurant series, hospitality consultant Alison Arth shares what happens after opening night — and what you should be thinking about going forward.
You did it! There’s fire in the kitchen, your team is trained, the doors are open, and you’re serving paying guests! So, now you can relax and just let things fall into place, right? Nope.
Once you’ve gotten through opening, your biggest priority is to tackle that mounting list of to-dos you’ve been building for months. These are the formative days of your new restaurant, and everyone from your GM to your dishwasher is establishing their habits that will become the standard for how things are done. Focusing on building your standards and culture is incredibly important, so you must have a plan in place. Here’s my list of five priorities you’ll need to address post-opening.
1. Get your house in order.
Focus on implementing structured communication, efficient systems and proper reporting immediately. Set up a weekly manager meeting that allows your entire leadership team (front and back of house) to get on the same page about changes, service goals, finances, and upcoming events. That will help to create a rhythm for how you work collaboratively and also provide a necessary sounding board for your key stakeholders.
Tidying and perfecting systems like inventory, ordering, cash handling, and side work should also be a top priority at this time. Even if you had standard operating procedures set up for these things in advance of opening, they will likely need to be revisited to reflect the way the restaurant actually functions.
And you know that wine by the glass that’s been reporting as beer? Now is the time to take care of that, too. Neglecting to keep your POS clean and up to date will skew your financial reports and cause unnecessary confusion for your service team.
2. Do some quality control.
Now that you have some room to breathe, your objective should be to guide your team and operation from good to great by spending time on the floor, finding points of improvement for your staff and managers. Come up with weekly service themes to discuss at pre-shift meetings and reiterate during service in order to generate measurable change. Set up weekly one-on-ones with your managers where you discuss individual goals, give recognition for work well done, and provide critical feedback on their performance.
3. Take a step back.
Once you’ve been in operation for a month or two, you can evaluate your initial hypotheses. What’s working? What isn’t? Replace some dogs on your cocktail menu and take a look at the margins on items that are selling really well. If everyone in the bar wants the dinner menu, revisit your policy. Stay nimble and don’t let stubbornness get in the way of your success by refusing to make early adjustments to the operation. Think of those early days as critical data points that you can use to run your business more accurately.
4. NEVER STOP HIRING.
The one constant in any business, and especially a restaurant, is change. Chances are you’ll have people to replace and you’ll want to ensure you don’t burn out your opening team, so keep the hiring funnel going. Your restaurant just opened and you’ve hopefully gotten some good press that will help with recruitment and attract intrigued talent. Being understaffed puts additional pressure on your entire team at a time when they’ll be least prepared to handle it gracefully. Keep any candidates that just missed the cut for the opening team in mind, as well as referrals from employees that are standouts early on. If you meet great people, hire them and find a way to fit them in.
5. Start planning for steady state.
You’re new and you’re busy, which is great. The reality is, however, that you’ll only be the newest thing going for a short while, as restaurants sprout up all around your city and likely your neighborhood. Knowing that buzz will only anchor your business for so long, it’s imperative to start mapping out how you’ll drive traffic a few months out by putting a plan together for holidays, events and promotions early on. These things are much easier to execute when you’ve planned ahead and made it a point to keep the momentum going. Stay on top of social media and inform the press before you plan to roll out something new (and invite them to experience it!).
Everyone tells you that opening a restaurant is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and they’re right. But any great restaurateur will tell you that the period post-opening is when new establishments really hit their stride because they can hone in on who and what they want to be. Creating an environment where you and your staff know well what expectations you’ve set for yourselves, and feel empowered to meet and exceed them, is the stuff that great leaders are made of. By preparing for a new challenge each day and focusing on being great, you have the opportunity to build something that guests will appreciate for many years to come.
Photos courtesy of Bonjwing Photography.
When it comes to opening a restaurant smoothly and running it successfully, Alison Arth is a pro. She held leadership positions on the opening teams of multiple restaurants within Daniel Boulud’s prestigious Dinex Group in New York before working as General Manager ofLocanda and Director of Food and Beverage at The Battery in San Francisco. Now, as the founder and principal of hospitality consulting firm Salt & Roe, she partners with restaurants to create consistent, genuine guest experiences and build long-term success. To date, she’s been involved in 13 restaurant openings; most recently, she has consulted on the opening of Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. At Open for Business, we’re thrilled to partner with Alison for a new series on starting and growing a restaurant business, step by step.