Gordon Ramsay's Top Tips for Starting a Restaurant
Every man and his dog seems to want to set up a restaurant these days. The dream? A cosy little place filled with adoring customers, a team of passionate staff and a full cash register. Sound familiar? Then it's time for a reality check. As Gordon Ramsay says, "two thirds of restaurants don't survive past their first birthday."
There are long hours, grumpy customers, financial demands and all sorts of other issues. Still want to do it? Then we've got some tips for you - Chef Ramsay-style.
1. Don't be arrogant
Ramsay: "A lot of people open restaurants out of vanity, people who can't even boil an egg. That's like me buying a rugby club because I like the game. One of my biggest bugbears is that you don't need any qualifications to do it. People fall in love with an idea and don't want to learn their craft, which takes years - time and commitment."
Sure you're still up for it? Ok then...
2. Have you done your homework?
Ramsay: "The secret of a good local restaurant is knowing your customers and catering for them. Do your research."
Does the area need an expensive fine dining restaurant, or would it be more comfortable with a homely baked potato place? Make sure you know the area, check out the competition and work out what their strengths and weaknesses are. What will make yours stand out from the rest?
3. Choose the right chef
Ramsay: "A restaurant owner's best investment will always be in the chef, and if you haven't got that major asset in the kitchen downstairs, then forget it. The guy's got to be a motivator, be a leader, make you money. He's got to bring customers back."
Make sure your chef is up to the job. Are they a cocky young upstart who doesn't know if they're cooking pork or beef, or a well-seasoned chef with vision and drive?
4. Who's in charge?
Ramsay: "You've got to trust the brigade that you're paying, and secondly bring them on, evolve them. Make them talented. Keeping hold of them, motivating them."
If you're the owner then the responsibility ultimately lies with you. You need to know what's happening in every area of your business from the kitchen to front of house. Don't be a control freak though; your staff's opinions are valid too.
5. Communication and teamwork
Ramsay: "Key to any successful restaurant is regular communication between management and the head chef."
But it doesn't stop there, all the staff have to be communicating well with each other and working as a team. Let's not forget the customers either, make sure you're listening to them too. At the end of the day they're paying your wages.
6. The menu
Ramsay: "The more dishes, the lower the standard."
Long menus lead to confusion for everyone. They can have chefs running round like headless chickens, customers waiting or walking out, and all sorts of undesirable items going off at the back of the fridge. Start with a simple menu concentrating on quality produce cooked well and you're on to a winner. Your chefs will be more efficient, the diners will be happy and there shouldn't be much wastage.
7. Quality control
Ramsay: "Mistakes stay in the kitchen."
Ensuring quality and consistency in the kitchen is essential for a successful restaurant. Even if service is busy, it's not an excuse for sloppy plates of food leaving the kitchen. If it's not good enough, don't serve it - it could ruin your reputation.
8. Keep it clean and organised
Ramsay: "The cardinal rule of cooking: your kitchen must be clean, and by clean I mean spotless!"
There's nothing worse than an unhygienic restaurant, and your customers won't like it much either if they end up with food poisoning. Make sure all your staff have the right hygiene certificates and set up a decent cleaning rota. Get to know your local environmental health officer - they'd rather help you than close you down.
9. Be flexible
Ramsay: "In my own business I'm very aware that you have to react instantly to changing trading conditions: cutting down on overheads, reducing costs, tapering menus, you have to react straightaway, not wait. In today's climate we're producing figures weekly, not monthly, you have to be on top of what's happening."
If something isn't working, swallow your pride and change it. Flexibility is fundamental to any successful business, so try not to be too pig-headed. It might be your baby, but that doesn't mean the customers will love it as much as you do.
10. Don't give up
Ramsay: "One thing I need to see is the fight, the determination and the grit."
When things get tough, it's hard to keep sight of your original dream, but if you work as a team, serve food you believe in and don't delude yourself about how things really are, you're in for a better chance.