Leslie Wu | Forbes | March 31, 2018
Opening night at a restaurant can be fraught with peril — thanks to Yelp and social media, backlash over perceived flaws are immediately shared within hours of opening, and a restaurant staff has less time than before to get their bearings.
Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, cofounders of Chicago’s Boka Restaurant Group plan out each opening with precision, trying to anticipate potential minefields — a luxury of larger budgets compared to their first starts. “I think in the old days, when you were running out of cash, and you were like ‘We’ve got to open up now!’, that was when you saw the problems. We open when we’re ready now, and we add that in as part of the budget,” says Boehm.
This planning stage translates to significantly more time in the space for all the staff to get acclimatized. “In the old days, we had to get inspected, pass inspection, and then open in two days,” recalls Boehm. “Now, once we pass inspection, we like to have a certain number of days in the space before we actually open up a restaurant: 30 days of front of house training, 17 days with the chefs inside of the finished space cooking, two days of staff on staff, and three or four practice dinners before we even open up the doors. At this point, we don’t like unknowns.”
It hasn’t always been this easy, however — over the years, Boehm and Katz have learned a lot about the trials and tribulations about the owner/operator life. For those who may be considering opening a restaurant, here are five tips from the trenches as to planning the big day and beyond.
1. Build the foundations as soon as possible.
At the beginning of their partnership, Boehm and Katz tried to take care of all the minutia by themselves, instead of letting others pitch in. “We truly ran ourselves into the ground, to the point where we were close to nervous breakdowns. And what we needed to do, as we expanded — and we should have done it faster — was build our infrastructure,” says Katz. “Instead, we basically hoarded our information and did not delegate properly because we just didn’t have faith and trust in anyone else. When we finally did, it turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to us.” [For more tips on delegation, read How Two Workaholic Entrepreneurs Learned Work Life Balance And Delegation].
2. Sweat the small stuff.
Fussing with the chair selection and table placement for the first day comes naturally to a new restaurateur, but to keep up that eagle eye as the weeks or years go on can be a challenge. For Boehm and Katz, however, being vigilant is key. “It’s just one thing, paying attention to the details in the restaurant business is absolutely imperative, because the margins are so small, there’s so very little room for error,” says Katz.