It is going to happen. We all go through it. It is almost a right of passage. A fellow restaurateur and friend, Joe Rombi, owner of La Mia Cucina on the Monterey Peninsula fought it off for a decade. A single unit operator, with a restaurant that runs like a well-tuned Ferrari, he finally succumbed to the second location bug bite two years ago. But Rombi, who sits on my top ten restaurateur’s list, had prepared for the location he purchased two doors down from his current eatery. He had a plan. Most of us don´t. Here´s what happens.
First the symptoms. Everything appears to be going smoothly. Aside from a few staffing problems the front of the house is running like clockwork, the kitchen is purring along at a regulated pace.
Customers are enjoying the atmosphere. The food presentation is consistent and the quality better than the competition´s. Your finances are in order and you seem to have a lot of time on your hands. You think you´re getting bored. And, since you are making a small amount of money- enough to take a periodic paycheck- you calculate that without much more work you could be getting a paycheck every week with a second source of income.
The Diagnosis. You have been bitten by the Second Location Bug. Unfortunately, the weekly exterminator hasn´t found any chemical or trap-treatment for the critter that lurks right next to the cash register in most first locations. You really don´t even know that you have been stung. But you have. Those late night demons that most of us consider thoughts appear periodically. You will begin to fantasize about a different concept with the same ingredients; quality, personality and service. It could suddenly put you on the map. And, you will justify this by believing it will be the first big step to the rollout company that you know you can manage. Plus, with two locations, you would have some vendor bargaining power.
The prescription — travel to a secluded island for two weeks. No phones. No computers. No Starbucks. Well, forget the Starbuck´s part- they´re everywhere. Once at your destination, forget about your restaurant. Do other adventurous things. Sail. Hike. Read a book on anything but the restaurant business. Come back two days before your scheduled return. Don´t let anyone know. Go to the nearest restaurant, possibly your competition. Have dinner. Watch the missteps that the staff is taking. Remember the same thing is going on in your restaurant. Think about that throughout the entire meal. Go home. Think about the meal you just ate. Analyze the entire experience. Then, go to work the next day. Upon your return, find out if anything went wrong while you were gone. Ask a few customers how their meals were while you were in therapy.
Make sure that the manager did the weekly inventories while you were away. Has the bookkeeper completed all of the paperwork over the past two weeks? If not, is it because the front and the back of the house never got it to them.
Have the checklists- the opening and closing pieces of laminated card stock paper that everyone is supposed to complete, been completed? Is the restaurant as spotless as when you left? Are the floors polished? Are the wait stations free of clutter and accumulation? Is the kitchen clean? Are there a lot of old papers lurking behind the bar? The hoods, the vents, the stainless on the front of the refrigerators should sparkle. Right? How about that walk-in box? Is everything currently rotated and marked? Or, is the chicken above the beef? It usually is because the beef box is always heavier. How about that dark far corner that nobody ever really looks in. What´s back there?
How are the bathrooms? Are the phone receivers clean or packed with finger marks and lipstick? Are the front windows, clean? The door. Clean?
The checkbook, in order? The bank balance, all there? Have all the deposits been made? Have the credit cards been transferred? Any vendors mad? Have there been any inspections- health, fire, building- while you were gone? Are the bar stools straight? Is the wine cabinet dusted? Are the bottles on the bar all facing the same direction? Salt shakers full? Clean? Any crudy ketchup under the caps of the bottles? Any finger marks on any of the bottles? Is the dish station clean? Are the mats on the kitchen floor greaseless? Are the dump buckets clean?
Are you happy with the answers to these questions? Can live through the constant task of asking yourself these questions every waking moment about the restaurant you are not in? The one you don´t own yet? If the answer to all of the above is yes, then get in your car and begin the hunt. The bug´s got you and the only remedy for the disease is a blank lease. But, don´t take my word for it, call Joe Rombi at La Mia Cucina. 831-373-8116.