Plenty of people nurture the dream of owning a restaurant. They might envision themselves donning chef whites and presiding over a bustling professional kitchen or serving as the gracious host who welcomes guests and keeps the front of the house running smoothly. As chef de cuisine, I wear both of these hats and many more. If you want a successful restaurant – or to be successful in any business – you have to be involved 100%. You need to be one with your business.
Some new restaurateurs approach the business more like a hobby, which is risky behavior in an industry with an alarmingly high failure rate. I met a successful man who started a long-desired restaurant late in life. I asked how it was going and he said to me, ‘Well, I learned how to make a small fortune in this business: You’ve got to start with a big one.’ That is an all too common scenario.
Watching your pocketbook can determine success or failure of a restaurant, whether its food, labor or overall operating costs. From a simple napkin to the finest dried meats or finest aged wine, to a simple candle burning on the table, or a straw on a glass – everything needs to have accountability and a profit margin.
Opening and running a restaurant isn’t just hiring people to work for you. Being a restaurateur means knowing absolutely every aspect of the business. To name just a few – you need to understand how your kitchen operates, how your bar operates, how your wait staff caters to your customers and how a sommelier defines your wine.
A restaurateur’s goal should be to make his guests feel comfortable. Hospitality is very important – coming to your restaurant should be the same as coming to your house. We have to take care of our guests in every way. It’s important to create a relationship with your customers. Always be looking at customer satisfaction.
Naturally, delivering a pleasurable gustatory experience is a primary focus. High-quality ingredients should be the foundation of the menu, which is driven by freshness and seasonality. For example, choose meats that are dry-aged in-house which ensures a superior product while holding the line on costs. Presentation, too, is critical. For example, Saranda’s signature smoked tuna tartare provides a near-magical moment when a glass dome is lifted off the plate and fragrant smoke wafts through the air. Inventive drinks also get a theatrical edge as mixologists ignite flaming cocktails. Smoked whiskey and unusual house-infused liquor enhance the more traditional list of fine wines and craft beers served at the bar.
Opening a fine dining restaurant is not just a fantasy; it’s a way of life. You’ve got to live, breathe and eat restaurant. This might not be right for everyone but providing guests with a premium dining experience – one that keeps them hungry for more – is a fulfilling mission for any successful restaurateur.