Anybody who's done it knows it – running a restaurant is tough work.
When we sat down with Boston restaurateur and hospitality vet Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, who was the general manager of Island Creek Oyster Bar for more than five years and is now the owner of Alcove. He highlighted some of the myths, facts, and things he's learned about running a restaurant that lifelong, new, and aspiring restaurateurs would be wise to remember.
Read on for seven expert tips on running a restaurant from Tom, or listen to the podcast episode below.
Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli of Alcove Shares Tips for Seasoned and Aspiring Restaurateurs
Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli is one of the most noted names in New England’s culinary scene. In this interview, he dishes on some of the myths, facts, and things he's learned about running a restaurant.
1. Educate your staff.
High turnover is common in restaurants, and the hospitality industry always seems to be facing staffing hurdles.
Schlesinger-Guidelli stresses that one of the most important parts of running a restaurant is not just the initial training of staff but rather the continuous training of staff.
"We didn’t just say 'Okay, these are the 10 things you need to learn to be a server.' We said, 'These are the first 10 things you need to learn,' and then we set out a path that had the next five things, and then the next five things."
Investing in your team builds morale and creates a more inspired, efficient work force, shaping bussers and servers into future managers and leaders.
"I think the solution is caring for your team as much as you care for your guests," Tom says. "We promoted from within, and we really developed talent."
2. Don't forget that you still have people to work for.
A common misconception is that restaurant owners don't have to answer to anyone, but that's not the case.
"A lot of people think 'Oh, I open up a restaurant and I don’t have to work for anybody ever again.' Actually, you’ve got a lot of people to work for," says Tom.
"You’ve got to work for your investors, you’ve got to work for your staff, you’ve got to work for your purveyors, and you’ve got to work for your guests."
Irene Li wants restaurant work to be a viable option for anyone who loves food. Here’s how she’s making it happen in her restaurant.
3. Have patience.
A great restaurant is nothing without great staff, but restaurant owners need to be patient and recognize that human error occurs, and sometimes the learning curve is long.
“Managing a team… [is] about watching somebody develop and grow over a much longer term, which inherently needs patience," says Tom.
Investing time and money into developing a strong workforce is a massive undertaking, so make sure you're equipped with resources like these ones:
- How to Hire Great Front-of-House Staff
- How to Hire Great Back-of-House Staff
- How to Create a Staff Training Manual
- How to Train New Restaurant Employees
- How to Retain Restaurant Employees
- How to Reduce Restaurant Employee Turnover
Resources like those featured above give your leadership team structure in the first few months of a new hire's tenure in your restaurant so employees can transform into restaurant rockstars.
4. Number crunching is part of the job.
"Really learn the numbers," Tom encourages those aspiring to run a restaurant.
"I think oftentimes, we in the restaurant business shy away from talking about the financial models for a host of different reasons. But really learn the numbers, because when it's time to start paying for things, and to get investors, people want to know that you understand how to read a P & L statement, how to make something profitable when it’s not, and how to manage labor."
Numbers aren't everybody's strong suit, but everyone can learn. Below are some resources on how to calculate various restaurant costs and metrics:
Restaurant P&L Statement Template
Evaluate your restaurant's financial strengths and weaknesses with the free P&L and income statement template.
5. Make guest satisfaction your top focus.
With over one million restaurants in America, diners have plenty of locations to choose from.
"Our first focus is making sure that our guests are happy all the time," says Tom. "That’s the number one goal."
It can be tough to tell what your guests really think of their experience unless they're filling out comment cards or leaving reviews online. Dissatisfied guests are twice as likely to tell someone about a negative experience than a positive one, so it's important to always focus on guest satisfaction.
6. Be consistent, not stagnant.
"We are built on consistency," Tom says of his staff and prior teams.
"Your team should never be stagnant. If your team becomes stagnant, your restaurant’s probably becoming stagnant," Tom shares. "And guests don’t want stagnant experiences. They want consistent experiences."
Let's break that down:
- consistent (adj.) – acting or done in the same way over time, especially so as to be fair or accurate
- stagnant (adj.) – showing no activity; dull and sluggish
Consistency implies room for growth and a special emphasis on accuracy. Stagnancy implies slow and dispassionate service. Don't let your restaurant be stagnant.
7. It takes longer than you think.
When asked what surprised him most about starting his own restaurant, Tom said, "I was surprised how long it took me... I thought that process was going to go much quicker."
"It’s not a cliché – it’s true. That's the thing that everybody says: 'It takes a lot longer than you think it’s going to take, and you’re not doing anything wrong.'"
His advice to people looking to start their own restaurant business? Start now. "It does take a lot longer than you think it going to take."
About Our Guest
“I remember getting picked up from kindergarten with my uncle and chopping onions in the kitchen at the East Coast Grill.”
This episode of The Garnish features an interview with Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, a prominent Boston restaurateur. Tom recounts his time growing up in a restaurant family, getting called back to the hospitality industry after studying political science and anthropology, working behind the bar, acting as general manager, serving as an opening consultant, and now prepping to open his first location.
Restaurant Business Plan Template
No matter where you’re at in your restaurant ownership journey, a business plan will be your north star. Organize your vision and ensure that nothing is overlooked with this free template.