Monday, 26 September 2011

Coffee Shops, Bars and Other Cool Ventures

"The Coffee Shop Entrepreneur Myth":  I read the title with interest, even more so because the blog was written by Craig Ballantyne of Men's Health fame.  Finally, I thought, someone is busting open the notion that just anyone can successfully own and operate a cafe, a lounge, a restaurant or a boutique hotel.  Thanks to TV shows like Cheers, Friends and Newhart, many dreamers have tried and failed; heartbroken, disillusioned, exhausted and broke.

But Craig Ballantyne's article had nothing to do with actual coffee shop ownership.  It was an attempt to kill the fairy tale that wannabe millionaires will ever actually reach their goal in a coffee shop.  Ballantyne contends, with real world experience, that Starbucks might be the worst place to attempt to develop a business.  Read it here, it's a great article.
The Coffee Shop Entrepreneur Myth Early To Rise

Here are some cold hard facts for anyone who wants to own their own restaurant or lounge, three simple dream-killing (or inspiring) realities:

1.  If you build it, they might not come.  Field of Dreams was a movie, dammit.  Your best ideas, your grandmother's recipe, your flat screen TVs and the encouragement of your buddies to sell your special (burgers, donuts, muffins, whatever...) may end up in your lasting fame and fortune.  Truth is, it probably won't, particularly if your entire marketing plan relies on other people innately recognizing your brilliance.

2.  Get ready for competition.  If you're any good, they'll try to imitate you (and put you out of business).  If you're pretty good, they'll try to best you (and put you out of business).  It's why you're thinking of opening your dream spot, isn't it?  You make better (burgers, donuts, muffins, whatever...) than those other guys, right?  And if you serve crap and have lousy service, even unintentionally, there's a good chance you'll put yourself out of business.  It's only a matter of how long you can avoid the inevitable.

3.  There are 24 hours in the day.  If you're open 12 of them, and probably it's more like 18, be prepared to work most of them.  And then sit down and do your paperwork after the last customer leaves, or before the first one comes in.  If all this attention to detail and long hours isn't enough, remember the success of your business is often in the hands of a minimum-wage,  part-time front-line employee, who can make or break you with each transaction.

4.  Your friends are the ones who insist on paying full price for everything, who come back often and bring friends and clients because they know they can count on you to make them look good for choosing your place.  People who come in looking for discounts and freebies aren't your friends (though they may be family and there's nothing you can do about that).  They're leeches.

I said I had three points.  I've actually shared four points already, and that's point number five.  If you can't count you should stay out of the biz.  Your profits will be exiting the back door with your dish guy, either due to waste or theft.

This is why I can't abide some Twittering Twit trashing restaurants on-line, and I've discovered how thin-skinned some of these textperts are when challenged about it.  They wouldn't last 5 minutes in the hospitality industry, or anywhere else in the real world.  If the place is great, tweet away!  They need all the help they can get.  If you're displeased, let them know privately but stay off line.  If they can't improve, they'll put themselves out of business without any of your help.

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