You have unlocked the door, turned on the lights, prepared your team, and you have a full supply of food. You have opened your restaurant, and you can barely contain your excitement to tell the world so customers can join you in your new restaurant. You just know you will get great reviews, so you want to invite the press, food critics, and Yelp Elite right now as well as start your advertising and marketing.
Stop! Don't get trigger happy!
There are still things you need to work through before you have a horde of people walking through your door to eat. No matter how wonderful it would be to be sold out every night with every table full, you don't want that to happen yet. This is part of the process of working out all the kinks. You need to embrace the trickle of customers so you can continue to work at your restaurant to make it and keep it successful.
You must now ask everyone's honest opinion. This is why you need to reach out to everyone you know, even if they attended “friends and family night,” and get their opinion about the restaurant after the very quiet soft opening. You need to read the reviews that will pop up and speak with customers. Listen, just don't hear what they say, and write it all down.
You have your social media pages up, and you've launched your profiles on review pages. You are going to be bombarded with opinions and advice. Take a step back, catch your breath, and get ready for one of the most intense steps.
You need to navigate other people's opinions, especially criticism, know how to handle it, and make it work for you to really bring your restaurant up to the next level.
As the founder of Food & Beverage Magazine, I really understand the effect that critics, reviews, and buzz can have on the success of a restaurant. From the professional critic to the average backseat restaurateur, you need to listen and use their opinions as a chance to improve. Long ago I learned about successes and failures from talking to many people.
Yes, the “F” word—failure.
The reason I'm writing this book is that I know what I learned from my failures, and I quickly learned that success doesn't teach us as much. Sometimes we don't know how or why something worked, or why something didn't. You have to give credit to some luck with the planning. Other times, you can only see what failed after it happened.
I have had some big failures for sure. While this example is not restaurant-related, it is just as relevant. When I was working in the floral business, my ego took over, and I leased locations from failed flower shops thinking that I had the “it” factor that could make it work. Well, looking back, it didn't matter what I had. These were just bad locations that cost my team and me lots of hard-earned money and time trying to make them successful. I should have simply focused on what was already successful, instead. Did I really need a huge box truck when the vans were delivering everything just fine? No: it cost us a fortune because the truck would not fit into parking garage delivery entrances, battering the fiberglass roofs. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
We have all witnessed restaurants that open multiple locations without planning properly, just to close a few months later. There are the epic restaurant fails that I have watched, and some I have even tried to stop. One of them was a fried chicken fast casual restaurant concept in a Vegas outdoor shopping center by high-end restaurateurs selling a chicken breast priced over $5 with no sides in the 110-degree summer heat.
This is your livelihood, your dream come true, and your passion. However, you have to take everything told to you in the right light. People are talking about your food, not your family. They will love it, criticize something, or hate everything. They will “advise” you to add items, change the recipe, do this, and don't do that, and they will point out more than you can ever imagine. You must make sure you listen to opinions and write them down—but don't implement anything new yet.
I've seen restaurants adjust something because someone told them that it should be changed. For example, someone might say to the owner that instead of cooking French fries one way, it should be done another way. The next day, the restaurant changes how they cook their French fries. Why? One person told them to change it. Don't do that.
Once we sold the hamburger restaurants to a new restaurateur, and people told him that he needed to add nachos. I tried to tell him that this was not a Mexican restaurant, and he didn't need to add nachos. Well, he added nachos to the menu. Then he added chicken wings because someone else suggested it. Every time somebody suggested something, he would add it to the menu. Do you know what happened? He went out of business because he wasn't true to himself and the vision, which was owning a fun hamburger place.
Many restaurants place cards on the table for people to rate the restaurant and write their opinion. But the reality is that they're going to tell you instead of writing it.
Recently my family ate at a great Italian restaurant, Roma II. I had to tell Fausto, the owner, that I love his pasta, my wife (who was a baker) loves his pasta, and the kids love his pasta.
I know where I can get a good bottled Alfredo sauce and Fra Diavolo, but I can't buy his pasta in the grocery store. This is why we return as customers. He told me he makes it fresh every day, and that is one of his secrets to his success.
I don't know him and how he operates, but I would advise him to write down my comment in a book with all of the other comments he receives. If he had asked me my name, I would have told him that I am Michael Politz, publisher of Food & Beverage Magazine. Then he really should have made a mental note and written down that the publisher of Food & Beverage Magazine loves the pasta. This should be in his notes, so if more people comment on the pasta—and I would imagine those comments would be positive—he knows to continue to make it fresh.
Yes, people will tell you positive things as well as negative. Remember to write everything down and think about it. However, don't let one person influence you to make a significant change.
Let's start with those 5-star reviews. Your friends and family are going to pump you up, especially if they think they will get free food when they go to your restaurant. They might have tried to dissuade you or talk you out of opening a restaurant, but now that it is a reality, they not only want you to be successful but also want to be the reason for your success.
Then there are those 1- or 2-star reviews, maybe from your competitors, people you chose not to hire, and customers. Unfortunately, a lot of competitors have their employees post against other places. You still must read the reviews and be ready! There will be reviews from customers who either didn't like something about the meal or had a problem with service. If somebody writes a negative review, you can reach out to them and ask them to come back in. If they give you a great review, then you can thank them with a free appetizer or dessert on their next visit. That will make their next visit sooner.
It is critical, though, to embrace everything, positive and negative.
Everybody wants to be successful. When you have to read a negative review, don't take it to heart, and don't take it personally. However, if the same criticism comes up again and again, it is certainly time for you as the owner to fix the issue. Are multiple customers complaining about the meat being too rare or overcooked? Get on the grill with the cooks, and fix the problem. Are people complaining that the chicken is too dry or the vegetables are overcooked? Then fix it. One complaint is too many complaints; but if you get two, then there may be a grain of truth in what the customer is saying. Take action immediately. Don't re-create your menu or go into some sort of down-the-rabbit-hole tailspin; simply fix the issues. Remember, you want to give and be of service to everyone. You are doing fantastic things, and your work is consistent, so remember: do not take any of this personally. Keep that top of your mind while reading reviews, to take the sting out.
What if the reviews are off the charts on all the different review sites? People are reading and talking about the reviews. But you also need to read those reviews with a grain of salt and not let them go to your head. You still need to be of service and work hard to become successful and remain successful.
Remember that everyone has different likes and dislikes as well as different expectations. Some will criticize if the taste is bland to them, they may compare the pasta to SpaghettiOs, or maybe they don't like the butter cold. Any of these negative personal experiences can show up in an online review. Some people writing these reviews don't even realize that they are giving a poor review. And many people don't understand that a bad review can be very detrimental to the owner, chef, and staff and their families. You as the owner must deal with this issue immediately. Again, this is a fine line, and you always need to find a way to turn a negative into a positive.
The more consistent you are, the less chance that a problem behind the scenes (including someone's bad day) will ruin a customer's dining experience. For example, if something spoiled came in from a vendor, throw it away and take it off the menu (or tell the customers it is not available that day); that is one problem you can avoid. In Chapter 5, I wrote that if the staff is invested in the success of the restaurant, they can quickly take care of any problem. These steps will help to mitigate many bad experiences. If a customer complains while dining, you must—and I mean must—attend to the issue immediately. This will turn any bad comments into positive ones. They may say they had an issue, but they will also say you handled it like a champion, and you will get a shining review.
The owner of a small Italian restaurant told the story of how a customer complained that the tomato sauce was “not red enough.” Instead of rolling his eyes, the owner took the time to speak with the customer and found out their concerns. It turns out they believed that canned sauce was used and not fresh tomatoes. This particular restaurant did make their sauce from scratch, so the owner took the customers on a tour of the kitchen to show them. It took time and effort, but it was worth it. There was no bad review, and he probably cultivated these customers (and their friends and family) for life. This is why you write all comments down and why you interact with everyone.
Of course, when people criticize, you will listen and decide if it is something for you to change or if someone is being overly critical.
If the same dish has numerous issues that need to be addressed, find another restaurateur who can give you some advice, and don't be afraid to ask for this help. If there is someone in the industry whom you admire, you can write to them or call and ask for advice in such a way that you're not bugging them. And it's incredible how, when you reach out to people, they want to help. Once you start receiving advice, please respect people and their time and really listen, take detailed notes, study them, and decide what changes you need to make based on the knowledge of those you respect. My advice is that when you ask for suggestions, you need to follow them. Nothing is more obnoxious to me then when people ask for advice and then do the opposite and fail.
When I created Food & Beverage Magazine, I had the chance to talk to great chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, David Burke, Piero Selvaggio, Paul Prudhomme, and Kerry Simon. I would speak to them separately, and we would engage in the hospitality industry. I had a great opportunity to learn from them, and I am sharing those insights with you.
In 20 years of publishing Food & Beverage Magazine, we've never criticized anyone. This is why we don't do reviews. We only want to report the positive. While many others don't share our philosophy, many do. Bad reviews are painful, and criticism is harsh, but keeping a positive attitude, no matter what feedback you are receiving, will always make your restaurant that much better. Customers love to see restaurants take action on any feedback, and they feel honored to be the catalyst of that action.
Here is a scenario: you are getting rave reviews and taking care of any negative ones, and everyone is urging you to push the word out and get media and food critics to come try your food.
You are thinking, “I can't fail. The reviews are all good, everyone loves my food, and I am the greatest.”
That is the path to failure.
I witnessed this lesson personally with my friend Mike Tyson, who was once called the greatest boxer in the world. His fans would say, “He's going to kill everyone in the ring; he's going beat everyone.” Mike received accolades from the media and fans constantly.
Mike didn't believe the hype at first. He knew he still had to train and work hard. He used to wear a jacket that said, “Don't Believe the Hype.”
However, Mike made a detour on the road of life. His entire world shifted. He wrote in his autobiography that he started to believe the hype from everyone that he was the greatest boxer, and his brain told him he didn't need to go to bed early or train as hard as he could before a fight. He admitted that it was a big mistake, and now he goes to bed early, works hard, and operates a big corporation. He might not own a restaurant, but the concept is still the same. When you get great reviews and accolades, please stay humble. Always maintain the work ethic that you have now. Do not take one customer for granted; and know that a full restaurant and great reviews are amazing, but that doesn't mean you can rest now.
Chef Kerry Simon was one of my greatest mentors. We talked almost every day for over 20 years until his passing. He was handsome, charming, charismatic, and known as the rock ‘n’ roll chef. He became friends with every rock star and movie star you could imagine. I saw female movie and rock stars fall at his feet, and his attitude was, “Let me help you up and give you some of my food.”
He never believed any of the hype, and he became more and more successful. Kerry wasn't a great TV star chef because that is not what he wanted. He always worked harder and created more dishes, built brands, and grew his restaurants. He also loved it when rockers like Quiet Riot's Kevin DuBrow, Justin Timberlake, and Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick ate in his restaurant.
Kerry would travel with Lenny Kravitz or Vince Neil of Motley Crue to help cook for the guys traveling on the road. He wasn't getting paid; Kerry just did it because he loved it. His love of the industry and his creativity opened up a whole other world for him, which was terrific. Kerry was the most unassuming human being you've ever met. He was very Zen, and I can share now that his password was always bluezen.
Kerry commanded the Edwardian Room at The Plaza. He was the chef there; celebrities joined the round table of people, and everyone had a great time. In his restaurants, nobody ever stayed at their table. People worked the room, and it was a crazy group, including musicians like David Lee Roth, Taylor Dane, Matchbox 20, U2, and the Rolling Stones. You never knew who would be in his restaurant.
When all these people were in his restaurants, do you think Kerry was hanging out with them? No. He was in the kitchen cooking, and he very rarely came out.
Kerry loved to cook, and he worked hard; that is how he rolled. He wanted to get the food perfect, and that is how he developed his reputation. He was happy to be doing what he was doing without all the accolades. He never ate dinner until well after dinner service was over; usually you could find him sitting at his bar talking to his staff around 11:00 p.m., eating his dinner. He softly held court, going over the night's events. He had the perfect attitude, and this is a good one for you to cultivate, fitting it to your personality.
In the next chapter, you will get ready for the big opening when you invite all your friends, the media, and the general public so you can dazzle them with your food.
The curtain is ready to go up, and it will be opening night for you.