Having your own café or restaurant regularly comes top of the list of dream businesses. But it’s also one of the ventures with the highest failure rate. The unique risks and challenges faced by public-facing food businesses mean that you can’t afford to drop standards even for a moment. The internet age leaves even less space to hide. So if you’re thinking about going it alone with your own café or restaurant, or maybe you’re already doing it, here are 6 things you need to watch out for.
1. TripAdviser terror
Remember those times when you could dismiss a disastrous day and start again tomorrow. Not anymore. If you’re in the food business there will be witnesses and now they will share their disgruntlement online. They may do it on social media or worse still on TripAdviser. Three out of five people in the UK say they take online reviews into account when choosing where to eat out. That keeps everyone in the industry on their toes and also means that you need to make extra time to respond to those comments too.
2. Scores on the doors
Premises that sell food are currently rated on a score of between zero to five by local authority environmental health teams. You can find details of all of those hygiene ratings for almost half a million premises on the Food Standards Agency’s website. Outlets in Northern Ireland and Wales are required to display their score on the premises. And there is now mounting pressure for the same rules to apply in England. While it’s good news for consumers and public health, it’s never been tougher for the happy amateur in the catering business. There is no room for finding your way, you need to be on top of your game from day one.
3. A mouse in the house
I remember having a gorgeous meal in a trendy North London gastropub. I was half way through desert when a confident mouse scurried casually across the table. I quickly lost my appetite and never returned to that particular outlet. Rodent infestation is sadly not uncommon. It’s one of the top reasons for prosecution by the Health & Safety executive and one of the main reasons for the healthy growth of Rentokil! A Liverpool branch of Costa Coffee was recently fined £13,200 for mice infestation. That’s small beer for them, but the reputational blow is much more damaging.
4. Poisoning the punters
Who would want to be the Real China Oriental Restaurant? The Eastleigh restaurant was slammed in the press after sloppy kitchen practices resulted in over one hundred dinners being hospitalised with food poisoning. Inspectors found hunks of meat in the sinks and dirty dish towels on the floor. In the catering world cleanliness is next to Godliness.
5. Location, location, location
Even the most wonderful restaurant will fail if it’s just too difficult to get to or find. Parking nearby is essential and so is accessibility for people with frailty or a disability. You should also take into account how visible the premises are, do they stand out enough? Is it in an area where people expect to eat out? If you are taking over an existing business, what’s its reputation? You’ll be stuck with it for some time so be prepared for whatever that means. Some restaurants that are off the beaten track do well, but that’s always a gamble. Don’t let your romantic side take over when it comes to choosing a venue, by wary of falling in love with a place. Take that cold hard look instead, visiting at all times of the day and week. Patience is your friend when making a decision that will take over your life and finances for years to come.
6. Don’t forget the food
Last but not least have a brilliant but manageable menu. Too big and you’ll either exhaust your team or resort to a dreaded microwave to cope. Too small and you’ll please no one. Did you know that the number of vegans in the UK has increased by 360% in the last year? True, they will still be a very small minority of potential customers, but just one in a family or party group means that all the others may go elsewhere with them. Have a vegan option.
Alongside great customer service, the quality of your cuisine counts most of all. Make sure you have a great chef on the team and do what it takes to hold on to them. All the other factors in this list will enable you to survive. But you want more than that don’t you? Great food, a convivial atmosphere and a tight rein on expenses will ensure that you and your business don’t just survive but truly thrive.
Image: Cafe open via Shutterstock