Nothing stimulates the senses, pulls at the heartstrings, and invokes visions of successful grandeur more than the initial development of the first draft of a restaurant empire’s business plan. It?s how dreams are born. It’s how simple cooks and ex managers become pseudo celebrities in small towns across the country. I have spent many hours, days and weeks with a team of experienced enthusiasts planning spaces, developing menus, brainstorming concepts, running numbers, projecting lunch customers and dinner covers in order to tweak numbers to predict success. Aside from the location factor, I learned how o multiply chairs and convert those two tops, four tops, six top rounds and eight top rectangles into dollars and cents.
Looking back, this exercise was more important to my existence and my future than any recipe or menu I ever developed. It mattered not that the plan may not have worked in reality. The paper projections gave me the hope and drive and fuel to keep going. How then, could my Monday night predictions, done at another time, in another town, be so far off? And although many a night I was right on target, there were those Monday nights when I was so far off if I had been pitching baseballs I would be back at the little league field never being asked to stop in the minors.
Needless to say, the exercise I did again and again, on vacant space after vacant space became perfected with time and experience. Eventually, I could feel the frenzy, or lack of it, that could be generated from a space, once bustling, now vacant. In many cases, the numbers proved that I shouldn’t sign a lease or make a move on a location that had gone bad. But not everyone runs the numbers or performs the actual exercises to decide if the project is viable.
Many dive head first, without the inkling of knowledge or experience. Many decide the concept is workable, the product surely profitable and the name and concept so significant that it is a sure fired success. Little could be further than the truth. The restaurant business isn’t one that can be conquered or adopted because of a cut feeling.
The success or failure of a restaurant is not necessarily in the hands of the owner or the beholder ? of a lease. The public has the final say as to when the next steak or the last bread pudding will be served. And, there is little else an owner can do once the public speaks. I found out last week that out of each of my restaurants that I sold, they have all eventually either ceased to perform and closed, or they have gone through substantial renovation and repositioning in order to limp along in a style that seldom pleases the masses.
When I sold the vibrant eateries, they were not highly profitable, but had decent cash flow and a reputation for consistently well prepared creative menus. The numbers directed the fate of each eatery. The profitability was continually tweaked and fine tuned. The excel spread sheet was not my bible, but when my partner, Kranston, ran the numbers I looked at them to make sure my projections and predictions coincided with the future. Yes, beginning a restaurant is one of the most difficult tasks in business.