Restaurant "Medic" Vaccinates Against Failure of Independents
By Lloyd M. Gordon
Thursday, 13th December 2007
Restaurant Consultants are like Restaurant Medics. However there are no quick fixes to ailing independent restaurants but there is a vaccination. As president of the Skokie-based GEC Consultants, Inc., I am often humorously considered to be the restaurant Medic for many sick restaurants that suffer from profitability or efficiency problems.

Twenty-six years ago as assistant president of Wimpy's Restaurants, I found that friends were calling me for advice on operating restaurants. Suddenly, I realized I could get paid for these restaurant house calls. When I left Wimpy's, I created this consulting firm which has "cured" more than 200 restaurants nationwide.

Nine out of 10 restaurants go out of business in the first five years. Much of the restaurant business is unglamorous and maintaining good service is quite demanding on the nerves and patience of the person responsible for the front of the house. So too, many self-taught cooks cannot always make it as restaurateurs. Long hours, incredible expenses and failing to target a market, leave many restaurateurs with empty pockets and shattered dreams.

But this can all be corrected at the onset if restaurateurs first meet with consultants who prepare feasibility studies analyzing the right product for the best location. Experienced consultants like GEC can develop menus and employee training manuals, project monthly and yearly budgets and create interior restaurant designs that make the whole ordeal a little easier to swallow.

Competition in the restaurant business is high, even in the suburbs. City restaurants have an edge because they rely mainly on downtown businesses and tourists to frequent their restaurants. But suburban restaurateurs are forced to create a specialty, find out what area residents crave and make every dining experience a memorable one.

Hospitality Is Key
The greatest advantage an independent restaurant has is hospitality. When you're a suburban restaurant, you count on repeat business. For example, In Chicago, you have a transient clientele and the population is dense, but in the suburbs, the clientele is more fixed, and in order to make up for this, suburban restaurants need repeat customers. The approach taken by these restaurateurs has to be more personalized.

When you open a restaurant in the suburbs, you're immediately given one chance to let your best personality come out. You have to be friendly, helpful, considerate, kind and understanding. You have to be the customer's best "pal."

To compete with city restaurants, independent suburban restaurants must strive to operate like a multi-unit or chain restaurant, but with an open heart. Independent restaurants that are competing with large chain restaurants must realize they are going against more research and development, more advertising and more financial backup. Their main advantage over the giants is that they can get closer to their clientele.

Live a Healthy Business Life
Projections of future costs for food, energy, rent and salaries must be accounted for at the onset. Obtaining building permits, food and liquor licenses can be mind boggling for some new restaurateurs who find themselves spending up to 14 hours each day at their new home away from home. It really hurts me when I go into a local restaurant and the cashier is abusive. Independent restaurants need that intimate contact with customers to be positive, right down to that last 'thank you.'

When I teach at local colleges, I tell my restaurant course students the three things for restaurant survival:

You have to like to serve people.
You have to love to cook.
You have to have enough money to stay afloat.
Many restaurateurs who get caught up in their work and keep shoveling in more and more money into their pride and joy will soon find themselves broke.

Soon Broke
Because of the high failure rate, many banks are afraid of lending money to open new establishments. I am amazed to find that many prospective restaurant owners think an investment of about $25,000 will cover all the costs of opening up a local restaurant. But to their surprise, it usually takes more than $200,000 to open the restaurant they really envision.

People think the money will roll in when they open the doors, but if you start behind the eight ball, you'll never catch up. Many restaurants tend to go over their budget and open with a large debt. Repaying this debt bleeds them and they never can close the wound. Once the money runs out, food and supply purveyors will cut a restaurant off, supplies will run out and staff will quit. Now the restaurant has a serious case of asthma, choking and gasping for breath. You can't really operate a restaurant that way. Soon the restaurant has to close its doors.

Medic! Medic! Help!
This is when the Restaurant Medic steps in and takes a temperature. What appears to be a symptom may be a major problem. Many restaurateurs think they might not be charging enough for their product when the truth may be they're over-ordering and wasting a lot of food. Lack of inventory control can be a major causal factor.

The front of the house is where a healthy outlook can generate the revenues. But the kitchen is where you make or lose your money. A good consultant will help alleviate the symptoms, but a great restaurant consultant acting as a Medic will accurately diagnose the disease and propose a course of medication or surgery that will make the patient symptom free and on the path to good operational and financial health.

However, all this pain and suffering could be avoided by calling the Medic early-on and permitting a vaccination consisting of common sense business practices together with sound financial planning.

Mr. Lloyd M. Gordon, President of GEC Consultants, Inc. has an MBA from the University of Chicago. He has concepted more than 385 restaurants and has been consulting for over 40 years. He helps people enter the restaurant industry, points the way to profitability, and helps keep them successful. To discuss "The Art of Cafe Ambiance" he can be reached at 847-674-6310 or email experts@gecconsultants.com or on the web at www.gecconsultants.com.

Copyright GEC Consultants, Inc. 2007
All Rights Reserved

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