By Jessica Lee

So you’ve decided you want to try running a restaurant. Maybe you have a great idea or you’re a fantastic cook. But hold on for a moment. Being a good chef or having a great concept doesn’t mean your restaurant will succeed.

According to Heather and Andy Dismore, authors of Running a Restaurant for Dummies, there are key traits a person must have to be suited for the food business. In their book, they list passion, presence, creativity, tolerance, flexibility, positivity, leadership, business sense and ‘schmoozability’ – most of which can be learned on the job.

Out of all the traits, the Dismores believe that business sense and ‘schmoozability’ are the most important traits needed to succeed.

“Business sense is essential and sadly, often overlooked,” says Heather. “So many people get into the restaurant business for the apparent fun and excitement, without realizing that it is, first and foremost, a business.” Heather added that a restaurant is run much like any other business, with the same challenges like managing people, retaining customers, and marketing your business and metrics for success such as controlling costs and turning a profit just like any other business.

“If you’re not running your business by the numbers, you won’t be running it for long,” she says.

The Dismores define ‘schmoozability’ as “the ability to make the diner feel welcome, at home, and important in a room full of other people that you’re also trying to make feel important.

“It’s often the reason that a diner chooses your restaurant over another,” adds Heather.

Further down the list of important traits are creativity, leadership skills and passion.

“I think that passion and creativity are innate,” says Heather. “These two traits give you the drive to develop the other key traits, in a sense.”
In a real life example of creativity at work, Andy witnessed a Chicago restaurant requiring servers to wear double-sided tape to the bottoms of their shoes to pick up loose pieces of debris on their carpeted floors. At the same restaurant, the menus were changed daily to use the freshest ingredients available. Special menus were also created at a moment’s notice to accomodate guests with specific allergies or food preferences.

 Heather says once a restaurateur has passion for the business and a curious, creative mind, they can use them to develop leadership skills, become increasingly flexible and hone their business skills.

Without passion or creativity, she added, a restaurateur cannot sustain the positive energy needed for their business.

Ali Gaeeni, a manager at Scaccia Italian restaurant, says that restaurant managers should like their jobs.

“You have to try to stay positive. You have to enjoy what you do,” he says.

    If a restaurateur doesn’t have passion, they will ultimately fail to keep up with the stresses of the business. Your passion will also ensure your staff understands the vision you have for the business. It affects their performance and the way they treat customers.

Mark McEwan, a Canadian restaurateur and owner of several restaurants, two catering businesses and a grocery store, says that restaurateurs should know what they are getting into.

“[It’s] very very important that you don’t fall into a position for the wrong reason,” he says. “You have to have an ego, but you also have to let other people have an ego. You have to be fair. You have to be demanding of people but realistically demanding of people.”

Peter Geary, owner and manager at Pangaea restaurant believes that a good restaurateur should lead by example.

“You [have to] roll up your sleeves [sometimes],” he says.

Though he usually works behind the bar, Geary says that if servers are busy with other customers, he will help out with their other tables.

When it comes to hiring staff, McEwan believes in being a good judge of character. He uses his instinct to decide whether an employee should be fired based on their actions.

“You [have to] listen intently and you [have to] observe people. I mean, you ask a person a question and they’ll usually tell you what you want to hear. But you watch them in action, you see them actually executing. They can’t really hide it then. So it’s very very important that you observe people and watch them in their daily operation and then you get a realistic portrayal of who that person is.”

Also essential to any trade where customer service is involved are communication skills. Both Gaeeni and Geary stress the importance of handing people well. On a daily basis, restaurant managers must ensure customers are happy and their employees feel appreciated.

“You need good people skills, good conflict resolution skills,”  Geary says.

At the same time, managers should be flexible and tolerant to the many different types of personalities they encounter in their restaurant. To maintain a steady cash flow, they need to be accepting of all the preferences of their customers, and work hard to accomodate their needs.

“Whatever we need to do, we need to do to make sure the customer experience is as good as we can make it,”  Geary says.

Like any other business person, restaurant managers also need to be persistent in their goals. McEwan believes his success in the food industry is the result of hard work.

“You have to be very determined to see it through,” he says. “You have to be very dedicated to the aspect of service and quality and product and the relationship you have with the client.

“It’s a tough business in one way. But once you get the formula moving and going, if you have a good sort of think tank of people working with you, then you can keep a good culture going in the kitchen and the front of the house.”

Though McEwan has never taken a business course; he learned how to run his restaurants and grocery store through experience.

Heather agrees that you learn a lot of what you need to know on the job.

“In this business, time on the floor and in the trenches is the ultimate teacher.”

Geary adds that your colleagues could also school you just by doing, or not doing, their jobs.

“First guy I worked with in London was just brilliant on the front door, so I learned a lot of those skills by watching him and seeing how he handed it,” he says. Being around bad restaurant managers is also a learning experience as well because it shows how not to manage a restaurant.

“Also critical to success is a sense that good enough isn’t,” Andy says. “What was cutting edge and new yesterday is passé and tired tomorrow.”

Having a prescence in the restaurant counts too. Even if a restaurant can function on it’s own without a manager to supervise the staff, the Dismores encourage restaurateurs to visit their establishments frequently so staff know they are there and will not be tempted to slack off.

Making your presence known to diners also ties in with schmoozability- customers like to interact with owners and managers.

Andy encourages restaurateurs to do their research and know the market. If there is a restaurant that packs in guests night after night, he says to talk to the guests and the owner to find out why. Often, the owner’s pride will loosen their lips and cause them to spill their secrets to success, which is highly useful information.


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