To stay relevant, you have to keep changing—your menu, your service, and your space.
Finally, success! This is no time to stay stagnant. If anything, reaching this level of ongoing success is a perfect opportunity to continue to iterate on the elements of your restaurant that made it a success in the first place.
THE REALITY OF CONSTANT CHANGE
Just because you’ve found what works doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way forever. Restaurants have to evolve to maintain a business. “You have to be able to very quickly adapt yourself to what your customers want. That’s the basic thing,” says Alexis Gauthier – Chef /Owner Gauthier Soho.
WHAT TO CHANGE?
To be fair, the changes needed vary depending on restaurant type and location. If your restaurant is located in a tourist-driven area with near-constant traffic and an ever-changing clientele of tourists, a tried-and-tested formula could work for years. But for a restaurant looking to maintain its appeal over the course of five, 10, 20 years or more, you should be constantly evolving. The difference between this more subtle evolution and the kind of large, sweeping change is that it happens in tiny increments, over time. Part of the evolution for mature restaurants is that you’re making these changes on a regular basis as opposed to sweeping change every five years.
One of the easiest way to institute a big change is via your product—in this case, food and drink. Last year, Gauthier introduced a vegan tasting menu in his restaurant. “I was the first restaurant in London to introduce a vegetarian tasting menu back in 1998, now all the trendy restaurants have added one. Now that we have introduced a vegan tasting menu, perhaps in time everyone will have a vegan tasting menu.”
This change should happen authentically and organically. Gauthier continues, “A restaurant is a business. Sometimes you want to impose something to the market and it works, but sometimes you want to impose something on the market and it just doesn’t work. I think a lot of people’s biggest mistake is to force a product, sometimes for no reason.”
Evolution also means changing with technology in ways that feel authentic to your business. At his newest restaurant, Alex Wrethman – owner Charlotte’s Group – made the decision to go cashless. “I evaluated what we’d spend in money and time and looked at the technology that makes it quick and easy enough to pay via Apple Pay and cards. We save two-and-a-half hours of manager time daily, and managed to reduce our insurance because we don’t carry cash on site at all. We save time on bookkeeping; all of our numbers are sent directly to the cloud. This amounts to £35,000 per year.”
The above examples detail small changes that could make a big difference. Plus, you can implement them at any stage of your restaurant’s lifecycle.
WHAT NOT TO CHANGE?
Over time, your restaurant’s vision becomes its soul. This creates an inherent vibe that should be preserved while still tweaking elements around the edges. New York City Chef/Owner Eric Ripert says, “Le Bernardin is 30 years old. What’s interesting in our history is that we have always kept our soul and core. At the same time, we have evolved and we are still relevant.” How? By making gradual changes along the way.
Aim to reach the point where change becomes so ingrained in your restaurant’s ethos hat you hardly notice what’s happening behind the scenes. “Now we evolve without knowing we evolve. When we look back then we see, ‘Wow, in 10 years we have changed so much.’”
Photos courtesy of Gauthier Soho and Charlotte’s Group
OpenTable partnered with Kristen Hawley, founder of the popular Chefs + Tech newsletter, to create How to Grow & Thrive in the Restaurant Business e-book, the ultimate guide to serving guests and growing your business at every phase of a restaurant’s lifecycle. We’re sharing excerpts from each stage. Want to know more tips for ongoing success and long-term sustainability? Download the guide and visit page 43 for more.