I caught up on some of the shows on my DVR one rainy weekend and binge-watched episodes of Restaurant Startup on CNBC. The best way to describe it is a combination of Shark Tank and Restaurant Impossible.
On this show, two seasoned restaurateurs and investors Joe Bastianich and Tim Love are looking for new restaurants to back. They listen to the pitches of two teams and pick a winner that will have 36 hours and $7,500 dollars to refine their concept, update their logo, design a menu, build a business plan and decorate a pop-up location.
After they run the restaurant for a day, they re-pitch their idea using customer feedback and profit results from their pop-up location to the investors to secure funding.
Once the team is chosen, they meet with pastry chef, restaurateur and culinary consultant Waylynn Lucas. She guides them through fine-tuning the concept, creating the menu, building the brand and designing the space. She reminds them what Bastianich and Love are looking for in a solid concept and provides guidance while keeping them on task.
After watching a few episodes, I found 4 interesting, recurring lessons
1. Branding is important – Of course, hearing this made me happy and I couldn’t agree more. Every time someone pitched their idea, the investors had strong reactions, both good and bad, to the branding. They responded to the names, logos and stories of the restaurants. They did not always go with the brand that they liked the best, but they did give strong guidance as to what needed to be improved if the restaurant wanted to secure funding after the pop-up experiment.
If Bastianich and Love hated the logo, they made it clear that the restaurant had better use part of their $7,500 to hire a graphic designer to rework the logo. They also explained that the décor they were going to choose for the pop-up should reflect the brand. The investors gave guidance about what the uniforms could or should look like in order to be aligned with the brand. Just like we’re always saying here, every touch point supports your brand, so make sure that they all match the brand.
2. Single ingredient restaurants, not their favorite – there were a few entrepreneurs that showed up to pitch a restaurant that focused on a single ingredient like falafel or bacon. The investors’ opinion was that these concepts were too trendy and limiting. To the falafel business, they said that they felt that if you strip away the branding, all your left with is a guy with a falafel cart. Ouch.
They also questioned the bacon food truck business by asking them why they were buying their bacon instead of becoming a bacon supplier. To them, that would have been the smarter concept.
They believed that single ingredient restaurants would not have the longevity, so they typically passed on these businesses. That’s just their opinion, though. There are single ingredient restaurants that have thrived.
3. Remember your business model – While they provided guidance about the branding and the concept, the investors also told the entrepreneurs to make sure that they had a solid business plan. Branding is important, but if you’re seeking an investment or you want to build sustainable income, you have to have a solid profit plan. The entrepreneurs were forced to take a look at their costs and business structure before coming back to re-pitch. In some cases, they had to reconsider what type of location they would run i.e., a food truck vs. a store front.
4. Don’t get “too cute” in your branding – While Bastianich and Love awarded creativity, they warned entrepreneurs against using names or logos that would be hard to understand. On the first episode, three line cooks were pitching their idea for a restaurant that serves congee, a traditional Asian rice porridge. They named the restaurant Kracken Congee and the investors didn’t like it at all. “Kracken” is a legendary sea monster that’s said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. The investors didn’t get the “release the Kracken” joke and thought that it would be lost on potential customers. Furthermore, what did a scandanavian sea monster have to do with a rice dish?
The logo was also a point of contention, it was a squid-like creature that didn’t relate to the concept at all. They were encouraged to change everything and the entrepreneurs heeded part of the advice.
Restaruant Startup is a fun show. It’s well paced and I liked watching the rebranding, design and business planning process. It’s coming back to CNBC in 2015, so check your local listings and add this to your TV viewing list.
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