Opening a restaurant may be a dream – but far too many of them don’t survive long enough to make the dream a reality. According to The Guardian, the number of restaurants closing is up by 20% in 2017. The news is full of ‘restaurant chains in trouble’ stories. However, alongside the demise of the chain, we are seeing the rise of the independent; and the success of Stem + Glory is certainly a testament to that.
Having opened two successful, award-winning and profitable restaurants, here are top 10 tips for success and survival from the owner of Stem + Glory:
Find your place in the market
With Stem + Glory. I had spent 35 years trying to find a decent vegan restaurant, so it became increasingly obvious there was a huge gap in the market. As the movement grew the opportunity also arose to test this out. But it was still the passion to share plant-based eating with the rest of the world that compelled me to take my ideas to trial; I don’t believe a gap in the market is sufficient on its own.
Find your passion
For me, everything starts here. My current business, Stem + Glory, is a vegan restaurant brand, coming from my own 35-year personal story with plant-based cuisine. So, if you are thinking about starting your own business, the first rule – always follow your passion. That way it will be a love affair.
Identify your USP
Every business must have one. With Stem + Glory, it is ‘delicious’. Again, based on my 35-years experience trying to find decent vegan food, I knew that what was available was all too often rather bland and boring. Therefore, by providing exciting and delicious plant-based foods we knew we would very likely be on to a winner!
Have outstanding customer service
In hospitality, this is of primary importance. I am a firm believer that making other people feel good is pretty much the answer to everything. One kind word can change an entire day; this is a powerful customer service tool. Recruit on the basis of competence, confidence and kind disposition; the rest you can train. Your team are vitally important to you, nurture and care for them and they will care for your customers. Our USP is delicious food, but kindness and customer care are a very important part of our offering.
Our first location is very unusual. It is on the first floor, above a cycle shop, on a traffic island in a not especially good part of Cambridge. And yet it has worked. I sometimes think that its obtuseness has somehow worked in its favour! More important than location is having a mechanism to drive people to your location. I do wonder if one reason for the demise of the chains is their reliance on high footfall locations alone to drive business? It’s not enough to have a good location and wait for people to pitch up at your door. For our second location, we bought an existing business which has also worked well for us and there are advantages to buying an already fitted out space – we were able to open very quickly. For future Stem + Glory locations, we will be looking at a new build, ground floor, higher footfall, but we are still seeking unique locations since this has worked well for us to date. Always best to be a destination.
Experiment with your opening hours
Analyse your sales per hour and costs to open. Every location will have its own rhythm and flow. Don’t just open at 8 am because you think someone might come in for coffee! Look at your peak times. Our restaurant opens at 12midday for lunch and 5.30pm for dinner. Our café opens 10-5 winter and 9-6 summer. In London, we will look at early-late opening and see how it works.
Themed nights and special events
This is hugely successful for us. Look at the calendar and create specials and special menus around events. You have all the classic ones (valentines, mother’s day etc.) but some of the more random ones have worked brilliantly for us – Burns night, Cinco de Mayo. A themed special event menu with two courses for xxx or three courses for xxx is tried and tested and works. You can run elements of it for a few days around an event to maximise its power. Remember to market your event outside of your restaurant though – don’t just put it on and not tell people! Our special fine dining events have also proved very popular at Stem + Glory and for those, we literally run a special menu for one night only and presell all the tickets in advance. It’s been a winning combination.
Spend money on photographing your dishes
We are hugely image focused and in 2018 you have to be able to entice people on social media with great images. Images of our food drive our Facebook campaigns and our recent successful crowdfunding campaign.
Have regular special dishes on your menu
Having specials on gives you something to market on social media. We have literally filled our restaurant with a special dish. It also gives your chefs the chance to be creative, which is what they love most.
Market the restaurant – and then market it some more
There is a direct relationship between marketing and success. At Stem + Glory we are fascinated by marketing, and we literally do not stop. With the new GDPR rules this year, there will be a need for ever smarter marketing. If you can embrace new ways of marketing and new tools, you’ll be on to a winner.
I believe that being successful is as much about you as it is your product. If the going ever does get tough, approach things with curiosity to find solutions. Be authentic and stay true to your own vision and passion and let this passion infect your team. Be persistent, be ambitious, be bold, and above all, be kind.