How NOT to run a food business into the ground – part 1 by Maria Kuehn

Sadly we witnessed the demise of yet another small restaurant in Harlesden, despite many people urging the chef of The Original, a Brazilian café to change his ways.
So, what are the pitfalls of running a small food business? Well, you can bet your bottom dollar that despite all the careful business planning you won’t have included everything, like fridges or other electrical equipment needing servicing or repairs, the cost of kitting a place out, enough capital to run the business for at least three months in order to build your business. Get advice from your bank about business planning.
Having a clear concept of what you are all about it absolutely vital. The Original decided it would include Jamaican food on its menu as Harlesden has a large Jamaican population. Nuts. You need to establish yourself straightaway and build on what you do best.
Consistency. Oh boy you can’t afford to be off your game for a minute in the food business. It can take five seconds to overcook or burn food – if you’re not consistent people will leave in droves. Being tired or feeling off colour means jack shit if you’ve got people to feed.
Attitude to your customers. Always sunny actually. They’re the ones handing over the cash. Leave your arguments, your worries and your other life at home. A lovely disposition goes a long way.
Process. Probably the most important element of all. I asked for a recipe recently – it came out of the kitchen on a faded note pad that everyone obviously used when cooking a certain dish. It comes back to consistency again.
Know your customers. Start a dialogue. What do THEY enjoy. Tell them to be honest if they don’t like something. Keep up a relationship with them. It’s all too easy to assume that a customer will remain loyal without continuing effort. They won’t.
Don’t ever short change your regulars. Even if you think their loyalty is a given, never, ever think you can cut corners because they are forgiving or have been coming to you since you opened.
Reward your regulars. Give them a free tea or coffee, an occasional treat etc to make them feel special – it works.
Be savvy with social networking. One can’t afford not to these days. Do an online course, sit for a couple of hours with someone in the know. You just can’t afford to miss an opportunity.
Review your business monthly. What’s working? What isn’t? What can you do about days that are quiet – a deal just to bring people in. If they like the place they will come again.
Be prepared to work all the hours God sends for at least a year. If not, then choose another path. Catering is both physically and mentally demanding so you’d better be on the mark from the word go.
Here endeth the first lesson

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