I was at a friend’s dinner party recently, and over some delicious food met a completely new bunch of people from very different backgrounds – a banker, a chemical entrepreneur, a fashion designer, an MBA student, a film maker and even a cricketer thrown in for good measure. When I told them what I did for a living almost all of them, after asking me a few questions, animatedly began sharing their views on the restaurant business, and a few of them even confessed that they secretly wished they would open a restaurant one day.
I wasn’t too surprised, since over many years now I’ve found that the food business and restaurants in particular have attracted the attention of even the most surprisingly unlikely people. I’d say one out of every 9 people or so that I meet, professes their desire to start a restaurant. While one can’t be sure how many of them will actually attempt it, everyone certainly has an opinion. Whether it’s because they see food as a sensitive topic, since it’s something we must put into our mouths discerningly... or because they see food being cooked in their homes everyday and believe they know what it takes to produce it... even commercially.
But if you take the time to study it, you will find that the restaurant business is one in which many fail, few survive and even fewer thrive.
So “What Makes a Restaurant Tick?”
I’ve asked myself this question a thousand times, and over the past two and a half decades of having studied and worked with both successful and unsuccessful food brands, here’s what I’ve discovered...
Restaurants that succeed have a few things in common:
All of this is not to say that Bukhara does not also deliver good service or Swati doesn’t also serve good food. Successful restaurants may deliver on all or many of these areas, but may be best known for one or two things in particular. You will notice that the first three points need to be endorsed by their guests, the fourth by their accountants, and the fifth by their team and other stakeholders.
I find that it is the earnestness and personal attention of restaurateurs, in most if not all of these areas, that makes restaurants prevail.
If you look at restaurants like Flury’s in Kolkata, Karim’s in Delhi and others like them that have thrived for more than half a century, you will find that each of them are known for something special that they promise their respective people – guests, accountants, teams and other stakeholders.
Their continual delivery on their respective promises to each of these people groups, and their ability to adapt to the changing times, is what makes them continue to attract & retain people and also to stay relevant.
That, in my view... is the secret.
Some eateries like the Kohinoor Restaurant in Bangalore or Cafe Samovar in Mumbai, despite delivering on all their promises were forced to shut down due to legal or rent related issues that were beyond their control. It is therefore important to distinguish between matters which are within the restaurateur’s control and those which aren’t.
Remember from the outside one can only see which promises a restaurant is delivering on to its guests, very little of how it treats its team privately, and nothing at all of the extent to which it is keeping its accountants and other stakeholders happy.
So the next time you start imagining how wildly successful a restaurant is, or how long it will tick, don’t forget that from the outside one can only see the tip of the iceberg.