I do not know how your summer was, but mine was busy and revolved around the business aspects of running a restaurant.
As a side business, during the summer, we run a once-a-week restaurant on our rooftop terrace: Rooftop Table. We start in June, and run it until the end of September. This is the second season we are doing it and like last year it has been very successful.
For me as a DIY Marketing Mentor it has been interesting to experiment with the whole marketing aspect of it, not only the business concept, but also the promotional part.
Then in June I was asked to help with the preparations of a TV show. Two friends had problems with their new restaurant and someone had called in Herman den Blijker. He is a Dutch celebrity chef and hosts the Dutch equivalent of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. During the summer he also presents the program abroad for Dutch restaurant owners in other countries.
So I was asked to help and end up spending most of my week providing the production team with information. Then during the production week I was interviewed and played a small supporting role in the whole bit, which was supposed to be broadcast on Dutch TV on Tuesday September 3 “Herman gaat ver”. (Right before posting this blog, I was informed that the broadcast has been postponed to spring 2014.)
I tend to believe in the good of people and I believed the production team when they said that they really wanted to help the business. And I still think they did, but that they have a rather limited view of what it takes to really turn a poorly performing business around. It takes more than a renovation! And postponing the broadcast doesn’t really help the restaurant business of my friends.
After the dust had settled, things weren’t as they should be and we helped them to pick up the pieces of this renovation. We helped them with their menu – one of us is a cook after all – and taught them how to prepare the dishes. Dots ‘n Ink – partner business – who had made their website, updated it to the new name, logo, and look and feel, changed all text were needed for free. I in the meantime managed their Facebook page and wrote them a marketing bible.
In July it was time to finish writing a business plan for a Hotel Restaurant in Nerja. I do not do that sort of thing anymore – writing plans for others, I rather help teach them to write their own – but this whole restaurant business had me intrigued so I made an exception.
As I am sure you have experienced yourself, when you learn about something new, then similar things pop out at you. Like your eyes were openened. Restaurants owners and how they run their business has become something of a special interest. I like to observe restaurant from the sideline and learn from it.
Over the summer I (re)learned some lessons that I want to share with you as a business owner, as I am convinced that these lessons are valuable for other business owners as well.
Helping people who do not ask for your help is mostly a frustrating and ineffective exercise
This sounds kind of harsh, but if you help someone who hasn’t asked for your help, you run the risk of become the owner of the problem instead of them.
When it is necessary for people to change their attitude or behavior in order to solve the problem, they will not do so if they haven’t asked for help. Why not? Because they do not perceive to be having a problem.
Having worked as a change manager for a long time, this was one of my rules. If people do not ask for help, then do not waste your time coming up with solutions. I somehow had forgotten about that rule or maybe thought it didn’t apply to small businesses. Well it does.
In order to grow your business and learn how to do so, a business owner may have to unlearn his old tricks in order to accept the new ones. Unlearning and learning is change. If people do not want to change, you cannot make them. If people do not see the problem, they do not see the need for change. It is as simple as that, and it is an important lesson.
Always give honest feedback to your friends
Last year when our friends who are in the TV show were scouting new locations for their restaurant, I visited the place they planned to move to. My instinct (or really all my years of marketing experience) told me that it was the wrong location for a restaurant with their target market.
The owners were also quite convinced that their food was great as was their chef. Neither was great.
Of course voicing your opinion doesn’t mean that it is appreciated or even accepted, but I cannot keep thinking that as a friend I should have pushed harder, and maybe I could have helped prevent the bad situation they were in.
People don’t always want to hear the truth
Having said the thing above about giving honest feedback, I realize time and time again that people do not always want to hear the truth. Maybe it is a question of not being able to handle the truth, simply having blinders on and only wanting to see whatever is going right, or egos getting in the way.
Some time ago I wrote a post about seeing criticism as a gift. I think that is a great concept. Read it and let me know what you think.
Fact is also that a lot of customers or clients do not feel comfortable giving their opinion in a face-to-face situation. Being Dutch I have no qualms being direct, but most of the time I do not feel like giving negative feedback in a restaurant. It is just a question of not wanting to spoil the mood. So even if the food was mediocre, I will smile when they collect my plate. And I am pretty sure that lots of other people do the same.
So how to avoid that the whole town is talking about your business behind your back in a negative way, while you thinking business is going just great? I will post about this, shortly. Of course it still will require people being open to feedback.
Factual insight trumps perception any time
When I was working on the business plan, I found that my client fortunately had collected a lot of data. They just hadn’t analyzed it. Analysis is important because often the way we perceive things doesn’t match with how things really are.
My client had explained a lot about their business. For instance, they stated that their hotel was only frequented by Spanish guests over Easter and during the month of August. When looking at the facts, it turned out that this was not true at all. And there were more examples like that which I will not disclose here.
If you operate on perceptions which turn out to be false assumptions, you cannot market your business properly as you are trying to influence behavior that is not the way you think it is. The same goes for financial data. Analyze them and act upon them if necessary.
Another example from our own Rooftop Table. Last year we had a great year. We were fully booked every time. This year however, a new restaurant opened and an existing restaurant re-opened under new management. We were wondering if this would influence our small setup, and sure enough in June we didn’t book every seat. Then, inspired by looking at the metrics for my client I looked at our own from last year. In my own mind we had done our Rooftop Table every week last summer. In reality we only did 10, had 89 guests in total, with a client base of about 40 people. In June and July we tried to do 8 evenings for 88 guests. Seeing that we weren’t being realistic, we decided to cancel two and be happy with the growth we were already realizing. Our perception was wrong and looking at the facts helped make sense of what was happening and acting on it.
In a future post I will elaborate on how to set up metrics for your business.
It is possible to grow your business in economic dire times
When I talk to clients or business people in general they often cite the state of the economy as the reason why their business isn’t performing well.
I think that is too easy an excuse. Don´t get me wrong, I think the state of the economy influences every business, but if it is the only reason your business is not doing well, I wonder if you have properly analyzed the situation and your own role in it.
The hotel and restaurant business I wrote a plan for, is doing really well in one of the worst economies of Europe (Spain) and within Spain in one of the regions hardest hit by the economic crisis. And I know of other businesses growing in this climate. They are proof that it is possible to beat the state of the economy.
So do not blame the economy. See what you can do differently in growing your business.
As a restaurant in a tourist destination you have to be on Tripadvisor
My last lesson is specifically for restaurants operating in tourist destinations.
There is not getting around this one. When tourists are your target market you have to be on Tripadvisor. That is how people on a trip find you. If you aren’t, they cannot find you. If they cannot find you, you will not be visited.
And whatever your excuse on why your restaurant is not on Tripadvisor, get over it, and register.
As a “once-a-week-only-during-the –summer” set up for mostly locals, we chose not to list on Tripadvisor. Instead, we rely heavily on word of mouth. Which in our case works like crazy. Wherever we go in the area and introduce ourselves, people ask us if we are the ladies from Rooftop Table.
You can help your business’ word of mouth along. I wrote an eGuide on the topic. It is free to download.
It was a busy and insightful summer. I hope you derived some value from my post. Please let me know in the comments below.
By Pepita Bos
About the author: Pepita sees marketing as the core of any successful business but also sees that immensely talented small business owners often lack marketing skills. She believes that with some effort anyone can learn to market their own business more effectively. Learning, knowledge sharing, teaching, problem solving, helping, and laughing are what drive Pepita. Her motto is “Marketing is everything and everything is marketing” a quote by Regis McKenna. You can connect with her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.