Food Biz: Five Tips for Taking Over A Restaurant

Small businesses have been taking a beating over the last few years do to the economy and famous soul food restaurants are no exceptions. The Pink Tea Cup has been a legendary eating establishment in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood for over 56 years. But last year, it was on the verge of closing forever until filmmaker Lawrence Page stepped in and bought the rights to the name and reopened the famed restaurant in a new location. With previous experience running several French bistro’s in Manhattan, Page knew that in order to make the restaurant successful again he would have to continue to fulfill the desires of the older patrons (who started a web campaign to save the establishment) but add new attractions to arouse the interest of new customers.

If you take over an existing restaurant or food business you can end up finding yourself back in financial trouble if you don’t learn to find a balance between the new and the old ways, says Page, who also owns The Actors Playhouse next door. For Food Biz this week here are his five tips to keep your oven hot and your customers satisfied.

Communicate the change in ownership to old customers. When you buy a brand that has been around for a long time, show your long time customers that you appreciate their business by giving them customer appreciation discounts. Get to know them and reestablish yourself as the new owner. When people are used to brands they are not used to change. Let them know that their favorite staples will remain on the menu. Assure them that you are going to carry on the brand just as good as it was before, if not better.

Add some new staples. When if comes to change you have to be very careful with established restaurant brands. Keep on the old staples, but make sure that the quality of the food is upgraded to current standards. “Companies come out with better quality and healthier products,” says Page. Familiarize yourself with food events, new taste profiles, quality control and other things that will make a difference to new and old recipes. Let older customers know about the new changes so they won’t be shocked.

Bump up the restaurants profile. Don’t be afraid to step up your game and compete with new businesses. Do things that have never been done at that restaurant before. Increase advertising and marketing. Play on new strategies in social networking. Use Twitter, Facebook, and geo-location services like Foursquare to find new customers. Think with the new generation in mind. It is a hard pill to swallow to change something that has been around awhile, but if you don’t you could be out of business fast, says Page.

Consider hiring new staff. Analyze the current staff and determine if they have what it takes to move forward with your changes. You’ll probably have to get rid of a lot of staff. Put them to work to see what they can do. Keep the ones that are willing to listen to change and who are loyal to your vision of the company and not the previous owner’s vision. Make sure to hire staff who do not always do things by the book and who know how to be flexible through challenges. For example, if your credit card reader goes down, instead of sending customers away, the manager should offer them the option to leave their credit information behind to be charged once the system is back up.

Be hands on. When you buy a well known brand make sure the brand goes the exact way that you want it to go. A lot of restaurants with famous owners end up closing because they put their money behind it and the name in front of it, but they don’t take a hands on approach to making sure their dictates are followed.

For more information on running a restaurant read:

Where the Eating is Easy

Dining Out At 1300 On Fillmore