Standing Tall

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Industry expert, Armin Schroecker, reveals his golden rules for restaurant success

It’s a question that’s confounded us since the food business began, and it’s still the subject of many a spirited cocktail party discourse today: what differentiates a great restaurant from a good restaurant?

Even the novice understands that the answer is ever elusive, since tastes are subjective and highly individualistic. Could the problem be linked to restaurateurs who try to please everyone, while failing to wow anyone?

We are all, consumers and professionals alike, conditioned by critics who judge restaurant experiences through the trinity of food quality, service and ambience — mostly in that order (to these, I would add: value for money).

Everyone eating out these days expects the basics: good food, competent service, reasonable comfort and cleanliness, something most establishments generally deliver in varying degrees. The trick is determining what fills tables at one eatery, while another next door fails to generate traffic.

There are two common ingredients at all my favourite restaurants, and guess what?, extraordinary food is not necessarily one of them. Good food is a must, but the sum is greater than the parts.

Here are the golden rules:

It’s All About The Customer

The restaurant should cater — in every respect — to the paying customer.

It’s not about the chef’s ego, a Michelin star, the owner’s prestige, quick returns or the whims of the service staff. From decor, menu and food quality to sound levels, service style and price, the restaurant staff should always satisfy (and, hopefully, exceed) customer demands and expectations.

Tip: Be consistent, and don’t try to be something you’re not — you’re not fooling anyone.

Somebody Who Cares

Behind every successful restaurant is usually one or more committed individuals who are passionate about their job. Sometimes it’s the chef, like at hotel restaurants where the author of the meal may be anonymous but still offers something special. It defers from restaurant to restaurant. My favourite steakhouse in the world, the Butcher Shop and Grill in Johannesburg, South Africa, wouldn’t be what it is without the zealous, impassioned hands-on engagement of its proprietor, Alan Pick.

It could be the service manager setting the style and level of service. A committed and capable service manager makes guests feel special and makes them want to return. Case in point, I have been known to follow an exceptional service manager to a new restaurant. Surveys reveal that most restaurant patrons forgive poor food more easily than poor service.

Tip: Don’t expect to operate a great restaurant part-time, half-heartedly or long distance. If you do, make sure you’ve got a passionate and committed stand-in.

Follow these rules to build a great restaurant. As for the trinity: more on that another day…

Armin Schroecker is the founder and a principal at the G7 Hospitality Group, a Toronto-based hospitality management and advisory services firm. He spent 33 years with Hilton International, working around the world in various capacities and has an extensive background in food and beverage operations as well as an enduring passion for good food to boot.


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