When Mickey Meece called from The New York Times and wanted my opinion on whether I thought restaurateurs should close for a week or two to go on vacation I had to chuckle. Meece was working on an article for her “Practically Speaking” column and had noticed a restaurant in her neighborhood actually had closed for a week.
Are people that own restaurants that insane, I thought.
The notion crossed my mind on occasion – the vacation part – I know the answer to the insanity question. But, leaving your restaurant in the hands of the professionals you hired to run it while you are gone is a move that some owners may consider even more risky than placing a sign in the window with the words “Gone Fishing” scribbled in marker.
Eventually, you will have to take that break. The first time I left Chez Foley in the hands of executive chef Scott Maanum I was petrified. Upon my return I asked if anything happened while I was gone.
“Nothing you should know about.” His reply put me at ease. Knowing I had someone in charge that could handle situations that arose on a daily basis boosted my comfort level.
Over the next few weeks business will slow down. Kids are back in school, parents are spending time at home, it may be aa good time to take a break. Unless you are hat special person and have that culinary gem like Joe Rombi, a friend who is highlighted in Meece’s article, don’t think of closing. Few restaurants are that authentically French.
Here are ten tips on taking that needed break….
1). Realize from the beginning that building a qualified team not only leads to success but allows you the time to get away, periodically, for a day, a weekend, or a week.
2). Train everyone on your staff, through empowerment to operate the restaurant as though you were not their.
3). Do not ever consider closing down for a week in order to go on vacation. Few restaurateurs can accomplish this without affecting their business. Even the good ones who schedule a traditional closing throughout the year suffer a revenue loss when they reopen.
4). Competition is fierce in the culinary world. Do not make it easier for your loyal customers to switch their affection down the street to Mario’s.
5). Although it may seem as though you never get a break, learn to take a day off during the week. Start out by staying away on the slowest day and analyzing how your staff handles the business, the food and the problems. This will also build a trust and responsibility factor for your staff.
6). Don’t wait until you are at your breaking point to take a vacation. Schedule it just as you would your chef’s or manager’s or waiters.
7). Once away, do not continually call. That will make it seem like you didn’t have a vacation.
8). Remember that you always see more- if you are a good operator- than your customer. The minimal missteps the staff makes – the ones that make your job stressful – are probably invisible to the customer.
9). Use the time away to create new menu ideas. Get to know the owners of the restaurants you frequent while away. Restaurateurs love others who share the joys and misery. Pay attention to how other restaurants are run. Pick up the tips you like and implement them upon your return.
10). If everything went smoothly while you were gone, let the staff know how pleased you are. Reward them. Enjoy bottle of wine or a dinner together and discuss the success of you being able to leave. No matter how bad things were while you were away, do not let anyone but the manager and chef know your displeasure. If you voice it to the entire staff you will never be able to go away again.