Ten Tips to Open a Successful Restaurant in New York City

1- Find a new and original idea (concept).

This goes for both the food and the setting. Starting from the presumption that good food will guarantee the success of a restaurant is a mistake. There are thousands of restaurants in New York where the variety and quality of food are excellent, as people expect new dishes but more importantly they expect an intriguing total experience. Discussing the concept with an experienced person in the restaurant sector is always advisable.

2- Verify the concept will work in the chosen area

Research the type of clientele living and frequenting the neighborhood. Their age, disposable income and habits, etc. Offering new ideas is necessary but only after having evaluated the clientele in that area. For instance, it would be useless to think about a menu of an Italian style breakfast with cappuccinos, lattes and pastries when the majority of clientele would prefer bacon and eggs for breakfast. You would attract fewer customers and may not be able to generate sufficient revenue to cover costs.

3- Find the right place.

A famous saying in the industry clearly states the three elements needed for a restaurant’s success; “location, location, location”. A lease for a place on a side street may cost up to to 50% less, but if not enough customers walk in, failure is guaranteed.

4- Prepare a clear and simple menu.

Too many dishes are confusing and detract from the concept. Trying to please everyone is a common mistake; better to satisfy a select few with a precise concept than to get lost in an all-encompassing idea.

5- Have sufficient funds.

Statistics show that 60% of restaurants close within the first 3 years and 75% within the first 5. These figures are high and can be scary, however failure may be avoided by having a good business plan (few do) and by having enough money to finance the venture. Do not start with the premise “after opening we’ll make enough money”; the majority of new restaurants don’t make enough money until 5-6 months after the opening. Having enough money to cover costs for those initial months is fundamental.

6- Be prepared from the very first day

Be ready to make all customers feel satisfied since day one. A dissatisfied customer will not return and will also discourage others from going. Whereas a happy customer will not only return but will recommend the place to friends and family and contacts on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc.). Before going to a restaurant, many people now read website reviews on their laptops or phones. Some years ago, I took a friend to a good pizzeria that had just recently opened. The pizza was good but the service was bad, no sooner had we finished eating then we were asked to leave to free up the table for people who were waiting on line outside. My friend hadn’t even finished her drink and was not very happy. She works for a fashion house and takes care of “special clients”, dressing and styling actors for the Oscars, T.V shows or political debates. She advises friends and clients on a daily basis where to go for a drink or dinner. The pizzeria, that evening, to make way for two people waiting on line, not only lost a client, they also lost an opportunity. They say it would take ten years of eating out every night to get to try all the restaurants in New York city: unfortunately, there is never a second chance as the range of choice is just too great.

7- Find the right staff.

A prepared, kind and smiling waiter is always important. Nobody wants to spend an evening in a place where they are treated badly or even ignored. It is important to know all the details of the dishes, the ingredients and the best wines to accompany the meals.

8- Make the client feel important

After living for more than ten years in New York, I have been to hundreds of different restaurants, often recently opened. I like to find new places and I am always curious to see what other architects have done (restaurants and stores). Passers by looking through and seeing a crowded restaurant is always a key to success. This is the reason the restaurant always makes sure to seat people at the bar or at tables near the front (if there are any). This trend often leads to the waiters lying to customers by telling them all the tables are booked and there are only places left at the bar. Whenever I enter an empty place and they tell there are only places at the bar, I turn around and walk out. That restaurant is forever off my list; when I go out I want to be treated with respect.

9- Develop the concept

Create a strong concept, both from a culinary and an architectural point of view, before finding a place and avoid leaving everything to the last minute. It is very easy to develop a project for a restaurant (or a store) based on an imaginary plan and discuss the basics for rendering; in the studio we do this continually for our various clients. A good concept is developed over a timeframe of several months, as it is very important to take the time to refine and make the idea as clear as possible. The high cost of leasing a place in New York does not allow you to waste the short time you have available discussing design issues.

10- Consider the time needed to obtain building permits

In Italy, interior work goes at a quick pace, however, in the US every modification must be approved by the authority before construction and then checked with a series of extremely detailed inspections. The design drawings are precise and take up a lot of time, rushing through this phase can lead to future problems and cause unnecessary delays. The quality of the construction is low but it is very expensive. It is fundamental to have the financing to cover all the costs, including unexpected ones during construction. Before embarking on such a project, discuss all the planning and bureaucratic phases with a professional.

This article was originally written for Popai (The Retail Institute of Italy)
Sergio Mannino, 2010

Versione Italiana

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