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Jose Riesco
Marketing Consultant & Specialist
Renton, Washington
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Restaurant Owners face Problems and Crisis

Restaurant Owners face continuous problems and crisis. This article will help them to be more prepared to confront them.

Written Apr 10, 2008, read 14519 times since then.
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If there is a certainty that a restaurant owner must face, it is that they will be exposed to a flow of continuous problems, being only interrupted by real crisis.

This is a fact of life and there is nothing that we can do about it… or is there?

All industries have problems, however, the main difference between a successful business and an unsuccessful one is how well the business owners can cope with the problems and crises that will arise.

To put things in perspective, you have to realize that problem solving and troubleshooting are staples of the restaurant owner’s mindset.
Although you can’t predict when something wrong will happen, there are steps that you can take to mitigate the stress - and cope with the situation.

First, let’s try to catalog the problems. Basically, they boil down to three categories:

  1. Problems with work-related people
  2. Problems with equipment or facilities
  3. Personal problems

1. Problems with work-related people
We can divide the problems with people in two main categories:

A. Problems with Employees and Food Providers
We’ve all being there. One of your waiters (or your chef or hostess) get sick precisely the day that you have a big party, and it is too late to replace them.

Your provider, who promised you to deliver the special food for that super-exclusive dinner that you were preparing for - for an entire week - is nowhere to be found. One thing after the other occurs.

A good way to deal with this problem is to always have a plan B.

When you create your schedule for your staff to work, have always at least one person on call in case something happens. Tell your staff that they won’t be called unless it is absolutely necessary, and that you will compensate them by giving them an extra bonus if they have to come to work.

Explain to them that this is not a “nice to have”, this is a need and therefore non-negotiable. You can be flexible on the order (rotation) of on-call status. The people who are off have other commitments and other plans, but if they understand how important this is and they know that this will be on an exception basis and that they will get generously compensated, they will agree with the conditions.

It is also a good idea to have your staff cross-trained so that a waiter can be a replacement host or your host can replace a server if necessary.

Same thing in the kitchen: Your cooks should be able to cook any of the dishes even if the chef is sick or taking a well-deserved vacation.
If you have read Module 1 from my Seminar, you already understand how important is to have great staff, and why it is totally worth it to surround yourself with the best people you can find.

Regarding the providers: Make sure that you get everything that you need for your meals way in advance so that you have time to plan if something doesn’t get delivered on time or arrives in bad condition. Don’t wait until the last minute for any shipment, even if the providers promise you that it will get there.

If, for whatever reason, you must wait for the delivery, make them sign a contract (it doesn’t have to be very long or formal, one sheet with some clauses will be enough) so that if they don’t deliver the goods on time, you have the right to obtain missing products from another source, and also the right to decline the products if they are delivered late.

They should also compensate you for the difference in price. I think that this is fair and they shouldn’t refuse to sign it.

B. Problems with Clients
I dedicate the first 3 modules of my seminar to consider your clients as your main priority. I will give you a brief overview:

Basically, you need to fall in love with your clients and try to make their experience in your place as pleasant as possible. They are the ones who give you the money to keep your business alive, and should be your first priority.

A disgruntled client is bad business, and they will tell others about their (bad) experience in your place (including thousands of readers in forums and restaurant review web sites) so do your best to compensate their unhappiness and make them feel good again.

2. Problems with Equipment and/or Facilities.

Things break, and it always happens when you least expect it or we need them the most.

However, there are some things that you can do to prevent/mitigate these kinds of problems:

1. Perform routine maintenance of all your equipment.

Although you will spend some extra money, it is worth it if this saves you grief and expensive emergency repairs.

There are companies that specialize in maintaining and servicing your appliances on an ongoing basis. You can get an annual contract with them with scheduled visits to check all the equipment, etc.

Think about this as insurance for your well-being.

2. Keep in your place a handy list with phone numbers of all the companies and professionals that can help you whenever something fails in your place.

If you don’t have the maintenance contract, something will break or malfunction, and your stress level will rise quickly when you can’t find the phone number of the professional that can fix or repair your equipment.

It is a good idea to keep a folder containing the warranties of all the new equipment that you buy (and its expiration date), in this way, if something is still under warranty, you will get it fixed for free (or just for the price of the parts).

Whenever you buy something new from a distributor, ask them also who services and repairs the equipment once it’s not covered by the warranty anymore. Write it down in your contact list. Include also the names and phone numbers of other professionals that can be handy whenever something goes wrong. Make sure that you keep copies of this list (things get lost).

Don’t forget to tell all your employees where you keep the list. Not only they will be able to quickly find and contact the necessary repairperson, but you will also ensure that they call the people that you want instead of looking blindly through the Yellow Pages.

3. Personal Problems

These are the most difficult to deal with, since emotions always run high. We are all human beings with families, relationships, etc. so personal problems are unavoidable.

Restaurants are stressful environments because there are so many variables: providers, staff, clients, financial issues, insurance, marketing, sales, food, drinks, etc.

On top of that, schedules are often intensive with late hour shifts (especially if you have a full bar) and always busy weekends. This busy life often takes its toll on the restaurant professionals and their families.

Although it is difficult to balance your business with your family’s schedule, there are things that you can do to mitigate this problem.

First you need to surround yourself with top-notch people. Have a manager that you can totally trust so that you can delegate some of your tasks. If you can’t afford a dedicated manager, train one of your servers to perform some of your duties. Pick somebody motivated, ambitious (and especially honest) and spend time with him/her.

Train them to the best of your abilities without withholding information.

Many restaurant owners are wary and afraid to share their knowledge, thinking that their employees are just waiting for the moment to quit and open their own place.

Perhaps this is true, but the burden that you will unload, and the loyalty that you will create with them, will totally outshine the possibility of another competitor.

Make sure that you compensate them generously for the extra responsibilities. Often in this industry, owners give their best people extra work and responsibilities in exchange for nothing!

After you have trained somebody to keep the business running, assign yourself at least two off days a week (pick slower days). Your manager should be able to cover for you.

After you see that this works, take some vacation time, go away with your family for a week at a time while your place keeps on running.

Again, by changing your focus from your business and place to your clients and employees (as I explained in my Seminar), you should be able to excel in all aspects and have much more relaxed and happy personal life.

So there you have it. Are you going to avoid problems by following these steps?

No, you won’t; that would be impossible. But I can assure you that you can mitigate considerably many of them by having a plan that you and your employees know and follow.

The more trained that your people are, the more ready they are whenever a critical situation arises.

Learn more about the author, Jose Riesco.

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