The Best Run Cafes I've Ever Visited
After reviewing over 700 cafes and restaurants over the last few years I've been reflecting on the best run cafes and restaurants. Some cafes seem disorganised and flying by the seat of their pants, while other venues seem to have it all together even just after launch. what is the secret?
For mine it's not fair when reviewers rock up to new cafes and restaurants soon after launch with their critical eye. Often there are teething problems and it can take cafes some time to sort them out.
Yet I remember rolling up to a top Melbourne cafe soon after their launch with my Sydney businessman brother and being highly impressed with their operation from day one. These are people who simply know what they're doing. Having run several cafes beforehand they were able to draw on their experience and some good planning.
The best run cafes, like this one, have quality experienced staff well versed with the industry and customer needs. They employ key staff who simply know how to serve customers. For example, we watched and were amazed at the front of house maitre 'd, who handled queues out the door with aplomb. Never losing her cool under pressure from typically demanding punters.
The decor was exceptional and creative dining spaces were exciting.
The menu at the newly launched cafe was well planned and you felt like you could order any of the choices, while in some cafes you are hard pressed to choose anything you'd like. Sometimes new cafes introduce experimental dishes the chef likes but don't have broad appeal. Or else the menu is too boring with the most interesting option being poached eggs on toast. These people knew what the public generally like.
I've been a big fan of some of the dining precincts of the city. We celebrate the successes but we don't often hear the sad stories of cafe closures. PR Agents often speak of how many openings on a popular dining strip, but never quote the empty venues. Why did these cafes close?
Recently I had the embarrassment of reviewing a high profile restaurant launch, and gave it a good write up, only for the restaurant to close soon after. Why did it close? What baffled me was that the night we visited, the place was packed, even with people queuing. Then we heard there was a lack of patronage as a major reason for the closure. We don't always know why cafes and restaurants close, and sometimes it can be a combination of factors.
One reason is that the owner can have a dream but not the business savvy to pull it off. Apart from the romance of restaurants there needs to be excellent planning, logistics and maintaining profit margins of greater than 5% (hopefully 10-15%). In previous decades some successful restaurants achieved 15-20% margins, but this is proving harder to achieve.
Also you need a decent fit out. Many new cafes and restaurants are owned by groups and investment conglomerates who can put together $3m for a start up. Customers expect a top notch modern fit out. Romance for a restaurant is not enough - you normally need large amounts of cash. And of course if the money is borrowed, you end up with high overheads from the start, adding pressure.
Pricing is another reason why cafes and businesses fail. This needs to almost be scientific. If you don't know your cost structures and how they have changed from month to month, then you haven't got your finger on the pulse. It's no good having lower prices if the profits just aren't there. Neither can you afford to charge too much. You need to understand cost structures and where you can make savings.
Recently I heard of a restaurant sacking several of its wait and kitchen staff to save margins. But of course that has consequences as well. It's all a great juggling act.
Another reason why cafes and restaurants fail is that they can be too chef driven. Having a great chef is essential. But some chefs think it's so much about their food philosophy that it becomes a problem in terms of profits. Recently I can recall a conflict between a chef who wanted a molecular approach to cooking, and an owner who wanted the food to be more accessible to the average punter.
Part of the reason why many cafes are well run is that they have smooth administration. The World Loves Sydney has been checking out a business called Deputy that helps with cafe and restaurant administration.