Saturday, June 27, 2015

How to Open a Restaurant

Sandra and Morgan Young opened Main Street Cafe in November 2012. They've previously logged many years in restaurant management for national chains. They believe opening a restaurant isn't rocket science, but is rooted in basic foundational principals. This is their attempt to help others open well.

The Worst Reason to Open a Restaurant

"I love to cook!" or "I'm a foodie; I love food!" These are really bad places to start. If you love to cook, get someone to pay you for cooking. If you're a foodie and love food, be a food blogger, a secret shopper, or give advice to local restaurants. Similarly, if someone said, "I love Indy Cars," and next told you they were going to start a race team, well--yes, you'd laugh all over them.

So What's a Good Reason, Then?

You love the intersection of food and people. A restaurant isn't a food business. It's not a people business; it's both. Oh, and you have to have some tolerance for the risks and tensions of owning your business, because at its core, it is a business. Food + people + business = good recipe for starting a restaurant. The person who said, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day of your life," was probably not a restaurateur ;-)

Bring Great Food

We live in a day and age where OK food won't cut it. There are too many chains that serve good food every day. Mediocre food will not get people out of their home and into your new restaurant. Well, it will the first time, but success is found in repeat visits. Your friends all think your food is amazing. I'd suggest finding some people that know food and don't know you; see what they have to say about your food. It takes consistently great food to make a restaurant go.

Own Customer Service

This is the primary secret weapon that a small start-up restaurant has that most chains don't. If you aren't great at this, your employees won't be either. More is caught than taught; they'll do as you.

There may be no bigger oxymoron in business right now than customer service. At Main Street Cafe we talk about this as part of our culture, not something we do. It's our ethos, not a script. If you don't naturally love people enough to make a difference in their lives when they come in your new restaurant, you may not survive.

Again, people can get great food anywhere these days, and all the chains have advertising budgets that you can't compete with. Treating people amazingly costs the same amount of money as it does to pay your employees to not care about your customers. Creating a culture of great customer service costs you nothing and could be the difference in your success or failure.

This is where the "fun" in owning your own business comes from. It's up to you to create the culture your employees and you want to come to every day. Only you can own and drive this part of your business.

"Treating people amazingly costs the same amount of money as it does to pay your employees to not care about your customers." 

You Need Other Great People

You're amazing, right? Well, you can't do it all and can't be everywhere. And as you'll soon find out, getting this amazing restaurant off the ground is exhausting. If you hire people on their ability to fog a mirror, this won't be much fun. You have to be determined to hire good people. Who's a good person? Someone who likes the culture you're trying to create.

Sometimes we hire people with restaurant experience. Often we hire people with great personalities whom we can teach restaurant skills. If a person can't smile through a ten-minute interview, I guarantee they won't smile fifteen minutes into their shift either.

Don't think good people won't work for restaurant wages. People are happy to come to work in a place that's happy to come to ;-) It's not all about money. Hire well. Train well. Respect them. Laugh with them. Show them how to have fun and love your customers. They'll then enjoy coming to work.

"If a person can't smile through a ten-minute interview, I guarantee they won't smile fifteen minutes into their shift either." 

Do Your Homework

Does your area want to buy what you're passionate about? It's not all about passion. It's about passion + the right market. Know your market because it's the context for everything you'll do in your new restaurant. At Main Street Cafe, our menu is unique yet familiar. Why? Central IN isn't the place to fill a menu with things people haven't heard of.

Have you worked in a restaurant? I hope you've managed one. There are processes and systems for running a restaurant. It's not at all like hosting your successful large dinner parties. It's like running a four ring circus: kitchen, guests, employees, inventory, etc., all at the same time.

Have you talked to people who've opened successful restaurants in your city and transitioned them into lasting success? Get to know them. Learn from them. It's also good to have people you can talk to when it's tough, people who "get it."

Have you done a business plan? Do you know what one is? Most of the people on Shark Tank who can't answer questions well, don't really know what their business plan is. If you think it's a document you're making just because the bank needs it for the loan, you're missing a huge piece of your potential success.

Don't Get in Too Deep Too Fast

For years, Sandra and I watched Mehrdad and Chef Cynthia at Pastariffic slowly grow their business, slowly add on. When we launched our restaurant, we were nervous, but the worse case scenario was we knew we could close up and still pay off our modest loans.
Don't bet the farm if this is your first foray into owning and running a restaurant.

Don't count on making money for a while. People who start taking salaries initially are often paying themselves with borrowed money, very unwise. I've talked with a lot of entrepreneurs and not taking a salary for a year or more is a common tale. If you have to make money on day one, maybe opening up a restaurant isn't for you, yet. (When and how you get paid should be part of your business plan, by the way.)

Learn, Respond, Adapt--be Flexible

As well as you understand your business plan, this isn't an exact science. Be ready to make changes. Be ready to admit that some things you thought would be hits, aren't. Leaders are learners so running a new restaurant is a huge learning experience. Be open to it. Have someone you can trust you bounce ideas off of and people who will tell you the truth.

Friday, April 24, 2015

4 Reasons Why We Dislike Good Leaders

We don't typically like good leaders, not in real time anyway. Maybe we like them after the facts, after they've accomplished good things. And maybe we like them because we didn't have to work too closely with them.

The four guys in the picture stirred it up pretty good. Three of them got shot for it. Good leaders aren't all famous people on Wikipedia. They're pastors, mayors, business women. You probably know some. And you don't like them, here's why:

1. They disrupt the status quo.

What we like is the familiar; we like things the way they are. We like comfortable. Leaders are wired for change, for progress.

We want progress too, but we're weird. I'll show you: We all like better roads, fewer stops and easier driving. We just hate construction. We even hate roundabouts--just because we didn't grow up with them.

Leaders understand that to go from here to there, there are growing pains, and they choose discomfort in lieu of our comfort. And we don't like that.

2. They rarely do the obvious.

What we like is common sense. We'd prefer that people in charge would do things the way that we would. But leaders are wired with uncommon sense.

When leaders do what we would do, we feel validated; we feel smart. When they run a play that's less conventional, that we never would've thought of, we feel dumb, or simply think they're an idiot. If you want common sense leadership that won't change things much and will help you stay comfortable, get a manager. Leaders have uncommon sense, it's what makes them a leader. We just don't like their unpredictability.

3. They're more focused on the future than making us happy.

When we dislike a leader, it's usually because she's messing with our current situation. But leaders are focused on the long play while we're focused on the short game.

Great leaders are pushing for a future that's better than today. That often means we have to make some sacrifices now to get to a better tomorrow.

For instance, when a local leader tries to build up the heart of a city and make it attractive so that people will want to stay or move into your community, the goal is a future tax base that's bigger than it is now. And that might involve funds being allocated today in such a way that's irritating to you. Good leaders are usually more focused on making our children happy than us happy, and we don't like that.

4. They see things we can't.

Part of this is vision. They envision a future that's outside of the box and better than we can realistically imagine. The fact that we can't see their idea of the future or don't believe we can achieve their vision, makes it easy for us to dislike them.

The other part is they actually see things we can't: inner-workings, strategy meetings, detailed reports, financial summaries etc. They're typically up to their eyeballs in data by the time we're hearing about their latest crazy idea. While we're up to our eyeballs in social media speculation and all the "wise" counsel of our friends that have no data, just endless common sense opinions.

When we think everything has a simple solution, we're making uninformed opinions about the leaders who have all the informed data.

Wrap up.

Now, look back at the picture at the top of this post. Read the main points again. It makes sense, doesn't it? Now...picture a leader you don't like because of what he/she is doing. These same four things could very well be at work in that situation too.

Peace, my friends ;-)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

3 Reasons Why We Like to See People Fail in Kokomo

Downtown Baseball Complex in progress

Lately there are local stories of a downtown business or two ready to close up, and of course there's the ongoing challenge of the new baseball stadium. In both of these, people are both happy and sad, which got me to wonder, "Why would we ever want people in our community to fail?"

We don't typically outright say that we want people to fail, but we think it. I have. It's not something I'm proud of, rather it's something I've noticed that I want to change. For me, the reason I haven't been sad to hear of a business closing is:

1. Pride

Pride is about being right. "See, I told you they wouldn't make it." "What did I tell you? That mayor is a jerk; see, this proves it!"

When I get a twisted sense of happiness over being right in regard to real people's failures, that's a problem. That's unattractive.

(Just to be clear, pride in terms of one's country, child etc is perfectly fine and good. I'm talking here about being prideful, which means thinking you're more important or better than other people.)

What's a healthy response to people's failures? Sadness. Considering that these real people and their real employees no longer have money coming in or worse, debt they can't repay. It's considering that if the stadium doesn't get done, it will reflect poorly on all of us--even those saying, "I told you so!"

In situations of failure, the past rarely if ever matters. What matters is now, everyone involved, and the future. And by the way, the opposite of pride is humility or perhaps compassion even. Pride is always about us. The truth is we've never seen someone focused on himself and said, "I want to be like him!" We're repelled by pride while the people we're most drawn to are focused on others.

The best life is one focused on others, not on our self. So the next time I feel myself saying, "See, I was right," over someone's failure. I'm going to realize that reveling in being right, is wrong.

2. Politics

I appreciate politics. It's responsible for all the good things we take for granted. If you don't understand that statement, travel to any third world country. And for the record, I've never voted a straight ticket and I have great friends on both sides of the aisle.

But where politics goes awry is when being a __________ is more important than being a Kokomoan or a Hoosier or an American.

When an administration is up against a challenge and half the people stand by and watch, or worse, fan the flames, this elevates the party over the city, state, or country. It also entices us to cross over into bad character when we enjoy seeing someone fail.

I know everyone's not into God, but there are a lot of proclaiming Christians in the political arena. So when we as Christians enjoy watching people fail, verses being part of the solution, we're fighting against people for whom Christ died.

I know that's a little heavy, but the truth about our community is it's heavily Christian.

I love all the things politics gets done. I loathe the division it creates because mankind is always at it's best when it's unified, when we're together.

"The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Our flag is not just one of many political points of view. Rather, the flag is symbol of our national (and local) unity." -Adrian Cronauer

"A house divided cannot stand." -Abe Lincoln paraphrasing Mark 3:25

When politics baits me to jump in and have a view of elected officials that's less kind than Jesus would have me be, I back away from politics so that I can embrace and be for people--all people, even those I didn't vote for.

3. We're not the people our parents hoped we'd be

Sometimes we're just not nice, and the only difference between now and when we were 10 is that there's no wise voice to grab us and say, "Stop it! Treat others like you'd like to be treated!"

Think about it: you are so much better of a person than to enjoy seeing people fail. Businesses are people. Governments are people. As soon as we fail to see that, we've unknowingly dehumanized life making it easier for us to be mean spirited.

One thing is true: people will fail. Businesses and governments will fail. How we respond to these events, internally in our minds, or externally in social media and in our actions, defines the people that we will be.

Every day in every response, we define our character. I write this because what I want for you and me is be better people. More humble, less prideful, more compassionate and perhaps even at times, part of the solution.