Great Chef, Bad Restaurateur: Finding the Balance

Great Chef, Bad Restaurateur: Finding the Balance

Have you ever seen Bob’s Burgers? If not, you owe it to yourself to give the show a try. Not only is it one of the best animated family sitcoms since The Simpsons, it has some very interesting lessons to be learned about entrepreneurship. The show features the exploits of Bob Belcher, a burger chef with a whole lot of talent and ambition… But little in the way of success. He operates a modest burger joint in a non-specific seaside resort town (although some estimate that the show is set in Ocean City NJ in which case the hapless entrepreneur could well be sitting on an $800k golden egg). He desperately struggles for success, a modicum of fame or at the very least recognition of his culinary prowess. What makes the show such a bittersweet comedy is that it’s a perfect example of the American dream gone wrong. Bob has ambition, talent, dedication and passion. He’s pulled himself up by his bootstraps and somehow secured the funding to develop a business in a prime location… On paper he should be doing great. He’s doing everything we were told at school that we needed to do to guarantee success. Yet success always eludes him. His restaurant barely does enough business to stay open and he is always outshined by the more successful Jimmy Pesto who runs a Pizzeria across the street.

The sad fact is that there are thousands of Bobs out there right now whose businesses are joining the 60% of restaurants that fold in their first year. It’s not because they aren’t great chefs. It’s not because they don’t produce great food. It’s simply because they’re bad restaurateurs. The two are different disciplines requiring very different and, in some ways, disparate skills. Here we’re going to look at some Bob’s Burgers inspired lessons to be learned for restaurateurs who want to ensure that their business is as successful and popular as the food they put on the plates…

Get out of the kitchen

Your culinary excellence is your USP, and if there’s one thing businesses need it’s a unique selling point. After all, no other restaurant in the area has your skill, expertise and idiosyncratic culinary flair. Nonetheless, if you are to become a successful business person you need to get out of the kitchen and gain some perspective. A great product is only one of the ingredients that makes up a successful business. Another important facet is good management. Small businesses need to be agile. They need to be strategically led and reactive to the ever-shifting needs of the consumer. You need to be able to look at your metric data and use it to shape your strategy going forward. You need to be able to perceive what’s working and what isn’t what’s selling and what isn’t. Which ingredients are flying out and which are going to waste in your refrigerator. This insight can make or break your business and it can rarely be obtained from the kitchen.

Don’t be afraid to invest in the help you need

Bob Belcher is a one-man operation. That said, he’s not above drafting in his wife and even his kids as a source of low cost, low yield labor. Needless to say, unless you’re prepared to invest in the human resources and outsourced service providers who will help your business flourish, your growth will always be inhibited. While it’s understandable that small business owners like Bob might want to keep a close eye on overhead costs, under investment can kill a business every bit as easily as reckless spending.

Invest in kitchen staff who will take the skills and expertise you pass onto them and create consistency for your brand. You should also invest in specialist restaurant accounting to ensure that your business isn’t hobbled by tax debt. This will enable you to manage your time more effectively and spend a little more time managing your business.

Don’t let your heart rule your head

One of Bob’s most endearing business strategies is his inventive use of unorthodox ingredients to create inventive Burgers Of The Day. Thus, his greatest strength becomes his greatest weakness. His ambition and talent may be able to take these disparate ingredients and transform them into delicious burgers but his culinary artistry may well be what alienates him from the customers upon whom he’s dependent. Just look at some of his creations; The 50 Ways To Leave Your Guava Burger, The Peas and Thank You Burger, The Chard To A Crisp Burger and the I Mint To Do That Burger… Inventive, yes. Clever, yes. But appealing to a market of transient trade who are just in town for the day and looking for something reliable and low risk? Not at all.

By all means retain the culinary flair that makes you who you are. By all means play to your strengths. But don’t let your heart rule your head or your ambitions but you at odds with the demands of the market.

But at the same time, be careful not to lose who you are

This doesn’t mean, of course, that your restaurant needs to lose all of its charm and character for the sake of mass appeal. It simply means that you must find creative and idiosyncratic ways to create products that have appeal to your target market. Stay true to your core ideals and values and ensure that your employees embrace them in their activities. Just because you need to appeal to a certain core market doesn’t mean that you have to sell out.

Don’t rely too much on the regulars

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have loyal repeat customers. Just take Bob’s only regulars and neighbors Teddy and Mort. They have become so familiar to him that they became friends. It’s great to have friends, but they don’t necessarily make for a sustainable business model. Try and incentivize your regulars to introduce their friends, family, neighbors and colleagues to your restaurant. Lure them in with special offers and coupons. Rely too much on their loyalty and there’s a chance they’ll let you down. But use them as a tool to grow your reach and you’ll reap the dividends.

Don’t be like Bob… But seriously watch that show… It’s hilarious!

Featured Image from Shutterstock

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