I recently caught up with a friend of mine who’s built a string of successful restaurants. He and his partner really understand how to create a solid concept, experience and brand and it shows in their track record.
Last year, they decided to try a new market to open a restaurant. This location was attractive because it has a lively restaurant scene, a strong tourist contingent and a large local population of foodies. It was also 700 miles from home.
He scouted some locations and found a lovely, historic building that would fit into his gastropub concept and spent time and money creating a beautiful interior. He found the best sources for food and hired an experienced and friendly staff.
The restaurant opened and received rave reviews from local food critics and got pages of 5 star reviews on Yelp.
I was shocked when he told me that he decided to close this location. This was a first for him.
I asked why and he told me that he didn’t have the support in this market that he had in his hometown and that was something he’d taken for granted in his success formula.
All of his other restaurants are in the town he grew up in. He had friends in local government, media, law enforcement and local businesses. He also had children in the school system and his wife was active in the local PTA. All of these connections became clients and word-of-mouth marketing ambassadors. With the success of the first restaurant – due in no small part to his friends and acquaintances – he was able to open 3 more restaurants that also thrived.
His a-ha moment reminded me of an important step when building a restaurant – mapping out your network. Of course, you need to have a solid concept, brand, good location and plans to deliver an excellent experience but you must have customers for your restaurant to succeed.
To figure out how you’ll attract your first customers, write down all of your friends, acquaintances and associations. These are the people who will help get your restaurant off the ground and who may become loyal, repeat customers.
Here are two ways to map out your network.
1. Pencil and paper – start with a piece of paper and turn it so it’s in landscape layout. Write “Me” in the center of the paper and draw a circle around it. Draw a line out of the circle and write the words “family,” “friends,” “social networks,” “business contacts,” “social groups” and continue to extend the networks of each of your contacts. This is a great way to quickly jot down your network, but you might find that you run out of space and have to start over on another piece of paper. This leads us to your other option.
2. Mind mapping tool – you use the same categories as the pen and paper, but you can use a mind mapping tool. These tools allow you to save and update your work and you’re not restricted by the size of your paper. There are several options for mind maps. Here is a list of five tools recommended by lifehacker.com. In this example, I used Google’s free tool Coogle.
These sample maps don’t dive very deep, but you should dig into your network and look for people with their own networks. For example, one of your friends might be in charge of a large local organization like the Chamber of Commerce or the PTA. They might be able to tap into their networks to get the word out about your new restaurant. You’ll also discover potential partners and collaborators in your network.
Remember, you don’t build a restaurant alone. Look for support and ask for help. You’ll find many people who want to help you succeed.
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