4 Awful Mistakes Restaurants Make All the Time
You may be surprised to learn that I cut my teeth in the food industry, because having a degree in accounting makes me as valuable to society as anal polyps. The one industry everyone can get a job in, however, is the food service industry. I have washed dishes for the best and for the worst, and sometimes I served the best and worst food to the best and worst customers in the world. It was a wild ride, and I hated every minute of it.
I did learn, however, in my days slopping food and washing it off plates, that a lot of restaurant owners may be clinically insane or suffering from a kind of middle-aged shaken baby syndrome. There's a reason 60 percent of restaurants fail in their first year, if Robert Irvine from Restaurant: Impossible is to be believed, and that's because at least 60 percent of restaurant owners may not know their own assholes from grape jelly. And if that's what you're putting on toast, you deserve to fail.
If you've ever wondered why it is that so many restaurants seem to fall into a shithole of failure and loserdom, it's not a big mystery. There are a few tried and true ups one can fuck to ensure massive-scale failure. So if you're wondering what happened to Jimmy's Burger Dump, or you're Jimmy and want to dump burgers on people, this oughta help you figure out what's what.
You Have a Shit Location
When I was a kid, there was a ghetto doughnut shop down the street from me called Paul's Doughnuts. Fuckin' stellar name, Paul. Paul's Doughnuts was a dive that smelled like sugar and tobacco, and the people inside it were probably already dead and condemned to stay there for all time along with the decrepit old bear claws and jelly doughnuts that were filled with liquid ennui.
It was no surprise that eventually Paul's Doughnuts failed. It was soon replaced by a place called Space Doughnuts. The sign had cartoon planets on it, and Saturn was ringed by a doughnut. Do you get it? Like a doughnut but in space, get it? Fuck.
Why is this a stock photo that exists? What is this nightmare?
Space Doughnuts was mercifully killed in about six months. Guess what moved in next. I'll give you a hint: It was a failure of a doughnut shop.
The fact that there was a major chain doughnut shop literally two blocks away did nothing to shatter the ill-formed dreams of at least three different deluded business owners who saw a total lack of demand for a service and said "Me do dis ting!" It was a shitshow that lasted several years before someone finally turned the building into a porno shop, which lasted a solid seven years or more. The reason was that this was an OK location for a porn store and a terrible location for a doughnut shop.
This same issue affects restaurants like you wouldn't believe. A great place for a fast food restaurant is on a main road, especially one that connects to a highway somewhere. Major traffic, major customers. A more family friendly sit-down restaurant really works just beyond a residential neighborhood getting into a commercial district. Put an Applebee's near a giant mall in the suburbs and it'll be full to the brim with people who have no taste buds every week. But if you build a buffet restaurant that seats 500 near the pork rendering plant 30 miles out of town, don't be surprised if your only customers are serial killers and their future and sometimes past victims.
Researching locations is more than just finding a place for rent, which seems to be what 90 percent of restaurant owners do. If you're opening a pizza place, you want it near the college campus, not near Amish country. Also, if there are 100 pizza places within 10 minutes already, just stop, because your plan is going to work out more poorly than That '80s Show. Remember that? Of course not. No one does. Not even me.
You need a location where you won't get lost among 100 other guys selling the same thing and you can actually have a customer base. This seems obvious, but, you know, a 60 percent failure rate says it's not that obvious.
You Are Everyone Else
Along with finding a good location, a big part of being successful in the restaurant business is being unique, or at least unique enough that anyone, anyone in the world, gives a shit to eat at your restaurant instead of someone else's. Why do we tolerate both Burger King and McDonald's in the same world? Burger King sells itself on flame-broiled burgers. McDonald's sells itself much more heavily as a family restaurant, with emphasis on appealing to kids. McD's really pushes its drinks and unique offerings -- the McRib and the Shamrock Shake. Burger King uses a lifeless plastic-headed soul reaper as a mascot. You can compare and contrast all sorts of things, but the point is, while they're both burger joints, they've carved out niche identities, and, as with Pepsi vs. Coke, both have their stalwart adherents. You want adherents at your restaurant, too, but you'll never get them if your best dish is boiled chicken on a bed of limp fuckery.
Any good restaurant needs to give people a reason to want to go there. You need your own Big Mac. You need the best wings in town, or the sloppiest Joe. You need to find a way to infuse beer into a salad. That's some stone-cold clever shit right there.
Far too often, new restaurants show up and offer you a hamburger that tastes like it was cooked with the heat that came off the chef's ass as he sat on the patty and the bun was made with yeast that came from a place I dare not mention. (A yeast infection. Shhh.) If you're just going to feed people shit on a shingle, maybe you can make it a hobby instead of a business and save yourself the trouble of losing your life savings to showcase your failure in a massive building.
This isn't to say there's anything wrong with opening another burger joint in the world, or an Italian restaurant. It's just that you need to not suck at it and, again, research. I'm sometimes afraid restaurant owners research their businesses by making sure no one in town used the name they want to use yet, and if that works, they just open the damn thing. You need to go to literally every Italian restaurant in your town if you're opening one and order a meal. Then take pictures of the menu with your phone like a poor man's James Bond and make up a database of information when you get home. Does everyone offer lasagna? What do they put in it? What is everyone else in the restaurant eating? Do they have free bread sticks? What kinds of drinks do they offer? Do the waiters wear thongs? Is there a guy in the bathroom who will watch you with a salacious smirk on his face while you pee?
If you can't improve on at least three things that every other restaurant has and come up with three more things no one has, then on opening day you should just position your spread-open ass at the door so people can jam odd-shaped fruit like pineapples and canary melons up in there. Just having great food or great service means nothing. My grandma makes great food, and she's pretty polite, but no one pays her shit. You need an edge, man.
Most restaurants are run by a fairly sizable staff -- front of house staff, waitstaff, bar staff, kitchen staff. There's a decent number of people involved in making things work smoothly. And if one person sucks at their job, it's going to spread like herpes through the whole joint until nothing runs right.
The laziness of staff is a hard one to catch because it always starts small. Maybe a cook is sick of making the same meal the same way and starts skipping steps -- no more lemon juice in the sauce, or the garnish gets dropped. Maybe the waitstaff is in a rush, so the tables only get a half-assed wipedown instead of a full cleaning. And this spirals out of control until your chef is basically shitting on a plate and your waitstaff is throwing it at customers in the hopes that some gets in their mouths. If this sounds unreasonable, go look in the kitchen of some restaurants that have gotten bad ratings from the health inspector and see if you can think of a more reasonable excuse for why some restaurants never clean the hoods over their fryers or have little puddles of moldy-ass water stewing in the walk-in fridge.
All of this terrible laziness leads to a bad customer experience, and when customers hate your restaurant, they will tell everyone they know. If there's one thing people love to do, it's hate. And then make sure everyone knows they hate something. That's why every comment section and review site is filled with people complaining about literally everything. And sure, no restaurant is immune to a jackass who expected his water to be served at precisely 40 degrees in a crystal decanter because he was raised by a family of shit weasels who say and do things like that, but they should be able to serve meals that don't have rat pube garnishes or waitstaff that refers to customers with colorful nicknames like "fatty boom boom" and "chode breath."
Having No Point
The first restaurant I ever worked at was a bit of a skuzzy little diner where I was a short order cook/dishwasher/bitch boy. It was in a mall and frequented by elderly people who lived nearby. We literally cooked everything ever. I know you may be thinking, "Ugh, I hate when writers misuse the word 'literally' like that," and to you I say "bollocks." I had to cook everything in that shithole. What are you sitting on right now? A sofa? Chair? I cooked that shit. Anything rotten in your fridge? I cooked it. Step in anything funny lately? Cooked it.
This restaurant had no point of view whatsoever. The menu was about 15 pages long and contained shit ranging from fried rice to fish and chips to liver and onions. Who the fuck goes to a restaurant to eat liver and onions? If that's ever on a menu, it should be used to identify foreign invaders trying to pass themselves off as one of us. It's a huge red flag that something has gone desperately and hopelessly awry.
By offering people a menu full of everything, what you tell the world is that you don't give a shit about anything. Your restaurant has a buttload of food in back and you will apply heat to whatever dumb shit they want and toss it out on a fish-shaped plate with a wedge of lemon at your earliest convenience. Also, it may be rotten, because our inventory is enormous, but never mind that. Put the lemon on it and you'll barely notice.
A small menu seems counterintuitive, but it also tells a customer, "See this shit? I own this shit. If you eat this shit, you will mouthgasm, I don't give a damn how gross that sounds. I never bothered to learn how to cook bullshit like liver and onions. I perfected making this shit so you can eat it and be whisked away to Flavortown in a limo driven by Dr. Tasty, Ph.D." That's a lot to say in a menu, but it happens. That's what your customers need to know. This joint makes 12 dishes so damn well that anyone would be stupid to order them elsewhere. And if they do order them elsewhere, they're going to go home and punch themselves in the dick and/or vag when they realize what a dumbass mistake they made by not eating at this place.
We as customers want the best food and best experience we can have at a restaurant, and that means someone has to plan from the beginning how they're going to do that, not just hope they stumble into it like a drunkard falling into a dumpster full of Listerine.
To further expand your noggin, check out Cracked's De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn't Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew.