When considering whether to open a restaurant, financial gain is rarely the sole motivator for budding restaurateurs. They’re also motivated by a desire to  create and share great food, deliver impeccable service and leave patrons with a memorable dining experience. Achieving all of these things requires the ability to multi-task and endure some of the challenges inherent in the foodservice industry – a sector often defined by the relentlessness and tenacity of its operators.

Early in my career, I worked in both Seattle’s and San Francisco’s highly competitive hospitality industries;  I’ve seen first hand a variety of restaurant businesses evolve, from the highly successful to the less fortunate. This, combined with my experience working for OpenTable, has provided me with a deep understanding of our industry and the characteristics of its successful businesses.

Here are five key insights that over the years I’ve come to realise are crucial elements of a successful foodservice business.

  1. Local knowledge

An important factor to consider when setting up a restaurant is finding the right location and creating a ‘vibe’ for the business you want to run. Go deep into understanding the community and its habits, such as the neighbourhood demographic, what’s popular and what drives trends. What have the site’s previous operators thought of the location and the area? Interaction with locals is essential  in developing a plan to get your  restaurant off the ground.

  1. The team

Engaging the right people to help make your dream a reality is crucial, but sadly the fundamentals are often ignored or forgotten. Building a reliable and skilled team that understands and embraces your vision is critical. Regardless of whether your food is impeccable, what matters is how the customer felt when they walked out the door (and were hopefully given a “thank you” and a genuine smile). Once you have hired a team, consider them a crucial part of the success of the business.  Driven and engaged staff will push your business forward and act as a safety valve when the uncontrollable and unforeseen happens.

  1. Getting the word out and creating a buzz

Once you are confident that you have all the moving parts in place, the next step is to get the word out. The power of social media is well documented – if you use it to your advantage, you can quickly and effectively spread news about your restaurant to your target market.

Conversely, social media has meant that the affect of bad service or food can spread far beyond your business’ four walls –  negative reviews can easily tarnish a business before it’s even found its feet.

Work hard to develop a social media strategy that can help create an army of loyal customers. Be sure to take advantage of free marketing channels that are available to you such as descriptions on your website and your online restaurant profiles.

Furthermore, do not underestimate the power of word of mouth which can be generated through an effective public relations strategy, by connecting with influential food bloggers or simply by encouraging happy diners to spread the word.

  1. Listen

Remember to take time to measure and reflect on your successes and your misses. Are you listening to the feedback of your customers, both in person and online, and incorporating new ideas to improve your business? Are you engaging your staff and garnering their input to improve processes and become more efficient?

  1. Set long term goals

The most successful restaurateurs in the world are always thinking about what’s next, adapting to change and constantly evolving their brand. You too will want to remain curious about your business and be open to change. Embracing procedures, and building a well-trained, well-treated team (plus a little bit of magic!) are all ingredients to a healthy restaurant operation.

Lisa Hasen will offer more business tips at this year’s Restaurant Leader’s Summit.

Lisa Hasen, APAC Vice President of OpenTable

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