Customers love to give restaurant owners advice. And frequently, their comments are worthwhile and can go a long way in helping us succeed in our venture. But there are also those customer´s opinions that don´t hold water. The Halibut needs more Hollandaise. The walls need more paintings; more pictures would warm the place up. The chairs need to be replaced. The waiter is too young. If you charged less you´d make more money because you´d be busier. All of the aforementioned advice came free of charge from customers who had never stepped into a commercial kitchen other than to meet and greet the chef. But, the words planted a seed that made the owner question whether he was doing the right thing when it came to Hollandaise, staffing, décor and pricing. It doesn´t take much to put a fledgling restaurant operator into the recurring act of questioning his every move, looking for the nod of approval from someone, anyone. I enjoy processing data. So for me, free advice from customers, vendors, and friends, is a gift. However, if you do not have a thick skin, frequently free advice can be more aggravating than helpful. Where then, does a person look for the answers to difficult questions? Advice is tough decipher. Owners have the luxury, however, of having a captive audience at their disposal. And, it isn´t unfathomable to utilize customers as a constant focus group. When attempting to approve a new menu item, let your customers have a say in whether they enjoy the dish or not. Sample the customer and get their opinion on whether or not a dish garners enough accolades to appear on your menu. One of my first experiences with customer input occurred immediately after Kranston and I began operating The Cottagewood Store. One of the store´s largest supporters, Dick Corson, a neighbor who frequented the store as much as possibly as a show of friendship and support, came into the store one morning on his way to work. He ordered a Mrs. Feldman´s Cranberry muffin. When I asked if he wanted a cup of coffee he told me that he didn´t buy coffee at the store because of the Styrofoam cups we used. He suggested I switch to paper cups and said once I did he would stop for coffee daily. When the case of paper cups was delivered, he received a huge sleeve on his front porch. He became more than a regular coffee drinking customer. Over the years, we looked to him for advice. And, whenever he gave it, it was focused and on target. He methodically processed the problem before he offered possible solutions. But customers like Corson are few and far between. Fellow restaurant owners are also a sound platform for advice. Both successful and unsuccessful restaurateurs have a wealth of knowledge they have gained from practical experience. Get friendly with them and begin to tap into their knowledge. I have never met a restaurant professional who wouldn´t help a professional peer. Get to know your competition. Share some time together. Discuss the market. Learn from each other. Share some marketing ideas. And, when you need a bit of guidance, ask a guy who has been through it. What could be better than ordering a tasty entrée and finding a solution to a problem during dessert?
Areas of Expertise: Restaurants
John Foley joined AllBusiness.com in 2005, bringing with him an extensive body of communication, culinary, and business expertise. He is a successful entrepreneur whose interests focus on food, publishing, and communications. He has published weekly and daily newspapers and magazines, has owned and operated eight restaurants, and has begun two Internet companies. He honed his Internet development, sales, and marketing skills as Publisher of IzmoMedia, a Bangalore, India-based content provider. He is a noted culinary and business columnist whose work appears in the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner.com, and a variety of other Internet sites. He has consulted on numerous restaurant, newspaper, and Internet startups. Foley recently joined crowdfunding company Foodie Tout to develop, launch, and publish FoodieDaily.com, a new Internet food site covering the who, what, where, and how in the world of food.