The Year of Living Dangerously

How one restaurant persevered through the crucial first 12 months in business

chefs, and that took time. Sometimes the orders were wrong and the service was slow. Customers had to wait 20 to 30 minutes just to get to the register, then another 20 to 30 minutes to get their food. Most people had only an hour for lunch. People loved the food, but the service was not good.”

At all times the three partners made an effort to be honest with their customers, telling them why the service was slow and offering them free entrées or desserts.

They also had problems keeping good workers. “Staffing is always a big problem,” says Phillips. “The job market and the economy are booming and people are finding jobs more easily. It’s hard to find good staff because people can find other opportunities. Our cook staff has been pretty stable, but we have a very hard time keeping the wait staff.”

“I am always telling our employees to think about the customers,” says Lowe. “If you go into a restaurant and you’re not satisfied, you don’t go back. When that plate comes out to you sloppy, what do you think is going on in the kitchen? Good managers and good staff are so hard to find. It’s common in the restaurant industry. That’s the biggest problem. Every restaurateur I’ve talked to says the same thing.”

Despite the fact that Allen was working at the restaurant full-time, Phillips and Lowe found themselves pressed into duty more often than they had planned. They took turns opening and closing the place, and they soon found themselves spending as much as 40 hours a week at Fusion. Lowe was the operations manager and also waited tables. Phillips was responsible for growth strategy, financial systems, and providing financials to the accountants and investors.

Withstanding a Crisis
A few months after the c
afé opened, Phillips and Lowe noticed that partner Craig Allen was having family and personal problems. They suggested he take a leave of absence and come back when he had a handle on things. A few months later, Allen committed suicide.

They were devastated and Lowe even suggested they close the restaurant. But Allen’s parents told the remaining partners that Craig would have wanted them to keep the business going. They did.

While Phillips and Lowe had started off as silent partners they were now running the business on a full-time basis, in addition to holding down their regular jobs.

Their first order of business was to tackle the service issue. In February 1999, they automated the business with a point-of-sale (POS) system (a computerized cash register system that expedites service and collects daily sales data that is used to monitor the status of the business) installed at a cost of $15,000.

“That improved things dramatically,” admits Phillips. “That hour to an hour and fifteen minutes serve time was cut drastically. With the new system, we were able to get the order within five minutes or less, and the order came out within another five to 10 minutes.” The POS also helped to keep track of the foodstuff,

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