Pre-Launch Restaurant Testing Tips

March 20, 2015

Open a Restaurant

restaurant testing

The beautiful Grotta Pallaseze restaurant in Italy

Building a restaurant is expensive. You pour thousands of hours and dollars into your restaurant, and the odds of success for any one restaurant are generally less than 50%. Clearly, you’d have to be insane to get into the restaurant business. BUT – what about those people in every city who seem to launch one successful restaurant after another? How do they manage to beat the odds, time and time again? Are they just lucky? Is it in the power of their name?

The answer is no on both. Luck alone won’t bring you consistent long-term success. It might work once or twice, but steady success takes technique. You think it’s about their name? Think again. That might get people into the restaurant once, but if the restaurant’s no good or the location is terrible or the service is bad, it’s unlikely they’ll be back. And how did they get the reputation in the first place? They can’t rely on a name before anyone knows it.

One of the great secrets of successful restaurateurs is that they test. We’ve all had “brilliant restaurant ideas” at some point. It’s like a book idea. Nearly thinks they’ve got a great one in their minds just waiting for the right moment to come out. Some people act on it, and most fail miserably. The smart people take small steps at first to make sure they have something the world wants. So how can you do that?

Research is King

Before you open a restaurant, you need to figure out if the market’s needs are already being served. If there are already 10 pizza joints in a small neighborhood, you have to ask yourself what you bring to the table that’s not already there – and whether it’s needed. Be brutally honest. This is your time and money we’re talking about. If you have something extremely unique, you need to think about whether the market is big enough for your concept. There’s a reason you don’t see many sushi restaurants in small, rural areas. Although some of the town may appreciate the option, there simply isn’t enough demand for sushi to keep a restaurant in business in some areas.

If you’re not well-versed in this area, consider hiring a consultant to help you craft a restaurant business plan. Although you may spend a couple thousand dollars on the research, it’s worth it if it saves you much more in the long-run. And who knows – your first idea may not prove viable, but you might use that information to come up with something even better.

Think About Risk

If you read many business interviews, you’ve probably heard lots of successful millionaires and billionaires talking about the importance of minimizing your downside. They stay wealthy and they succeed over and over again not because they never fail – but because they protect themselves from huge failures. Failure is a necessary part of success, and nearly everyone successful has a few failures to their name (often more than a few). The important thing is that you figure out ways to minimize risk. Can you lease a space with a good out-clause? If you buy space, maybe you can purchase in an up and coming area so you still retain the value of your real estate if the restaurant fails. Depending on the type of restaurant you’re opening, you may be able to get away with used furniture instead of new. If you’re starting a big budget, high-concept restaurant, perhaps you can take on partners to share the risk.

Do Your Homework

Market research is an important part of creating any new restaurant. Big corporations use focus groups to test almost everything before they spend millions rolling out a new product or brand. You can get the same effect by recruiting people from your local area to help test. Start out with a friendly group – friends, family, possibly co-workers or acquaintances. Get their feedback first, but be aware it’s likely to be kinder and gentler than the general public. Once you’ve gotten the thumbs up from those you know, consider posting an ad or recruiting strangers from your target demographic. They’ll be harsher and more honest if you let them know it’s okay to give you real feedback.

The one caveat is that you have to be careful about the opinions of those close to you. Learn to separate valid criticisms (“This pasta is soggy.”) from emotional ones (‘You shouldn’t open a restaurant; it’s too risky.”). Remember that friends and family tend to want you to have a stable life, not an exceptional one. As a result, many can be unintentionally discouraging when you try to take on new challenges. Don’t let that deter you, but don’t ignore valid concerns, either.

 

If you do all these things before launching your restaurant, you stand a much better chance of succeeding than most. Experienced restaurateurs know that, and that’s why some are able to succeed time and time again.

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