Full Steam Ahead
Expanding is tough. Small stores take a lot of effort and planning. A full-service restaurant roll-out can feel like it’s taken years off your life by the time you’re finally open. To handle it, I’ve refined my opening process to take care of the other stores while opening a new one. Here’s a list of best practices for deciding to expand and what to do when you finally take the plunge.
1. System Health
You must be able to completely walk away from all your other stores to expand to a new store. That means they are self-functioning and require less oversight. You should still have a presence, but if you are the lynchpin to an existing site’s daily operations, no, you are not in a position to expand.
Is your brand systemized in a way that lends itself to expansion? If you haven’t done that, you’ll have stores making the same menu items in entirely different ways. There will be different service standards and varying user experiences. It’s cool for each store to have its own vibe; it’s not ok for each store to deliver opposing experiences.
2. Fiscal Planning
You must have plenty of cash on hand. Construction delays and overages are par for the course. Whatever it cost you to get your last store opened, you should have access to double that liquid before trying it again. Otherwise, you might get to the 11th hour with no money for your first payroll or opening food order. Skimping on labor or food budget in the early days will lead to a lackluster opening and kill your first impression. Getting that amount of funding means you have existing money from your current store’s profit, i.e., your cash. Another option is investment money or get a bank loan. I like bank loans the most because they are clean and have legal back-ups. If a bank is willing to lend you money, it means you’ve been vetted to some degree that this venture isn’t a fool’s errand.
If you choose a wildly different style of demographic for your second location, you’ll need to ensure your brand adapts. For example, if you’re in a busy bar district for your first store and go to the suburbs for your second, not everything will align. If you’re going from a rural college town to an upbeat urban location, the menu, flow, and expectation will be much different. Choose an area that matches your first store’s brand promise or be ready and able to shift your brand perception.
4. Lead Up to the Open
To make the expansion a success means your first week is organized chaos. Taking proper preparations and planning ensures you have an opening that flows well.
Over hire at your existing store, with a plan to transfer some of that staff over to the new store. Get as many reliable, dependable, and aware people on your team as fast as possible. Some of these people will be good enough to help you train your new workforce. What makes a new opening more arduous is having all 100-percent green, brand new employees representing your brand and culture to a slew of new customers. New customers are trying you out for the first time, and you don’t want to get judged on unproven employees. Decrease this risk with trained employees that transfer in for the opening.
Once you have this pre-trained workforce, you should then hire onsite for a minimum of three weeks. Don’t do more than five weeks before your new opening. More than five weeks doesn’t work because people need a job; it’s too much time to wait. Starting to hire near the opening day will be a mad dash of untrained payroll, not helping your cause. There’s industry debate on how much to overhire; I shoot for double. So if I need 20 people on staff, my goal is to hire 40 because the attrition rate for a new restaurant is aggressive. In my experience, the people I thought were absolute all-stars that would one day turn into general managers were the first to go. Meanwhile, some applicants I was apprehensive of went on to be with my company for over a decade. It’s hard to know. That’s why every applicant is a lottery ticket to be taken seriously.
Here’s my breakdown of a successful opening week during a new expansion. This successful week assumes you have all the Health Department certifications and approvals you’ll need to open.
Monday: Have your new staff start training and get through all the legal paperwork and basic orientation. This day’s purpose is to gain more awareness of your brand and a big motivational build-up day. All new staff should leave that day feeling energized and informed about what they are taking on.
Tuesday: Back-of-house employees should start to learn how to make the menu items and cleaning tasks. The front-of-house servers should learn the food along with service standards. Simultaneously, you’ll be running around like a chicken with your head cut off. You’ll be tending to final touches, last-minute licensing, and all the other things that go into a new opening.
Wednesday & Thursday: Reiterate training. Make it redundant. Teach about your computer POS system and all extenuating circumstances. Role play orders with the front-of-house employees. Every day define your culture and end each day on a high note. This morale boost can happen with everyone trying the food and you outwardly having a great time with these new employees.
You need to get them from zero to hero in five days or less. That’s a big ask that takes a lot of investment from you and your training team.
Friday: Train during the day and then that night throw an invite-only soft open for friends, family and potentially VIPs. This soft open shouldn’t be available to many people. The guests in attendance should be served food to try. The staff will go through and prepare the whole menu. Guests are not ordering their choice from the menu; rather the servers are putting in mock orders to get a feel for the flow of the whole menu on the POS. Servers take the food to the table and develop interacting with a warm audience. If you choose to, this is a good time to make a toast to all those who attend. Learn your lessons from what did and did not flow correctly in the kitchen, and then adjust.
Saturday: Have a soft open all day with guests invited at pre-set times. This way, you don’t bog down your kitchen, and you get solid training all day. The guests can pick an order out of a fishbowl to keep the menu items ordered sporadic and not just the most popular items. If you want to, you can layer up dinner and try to throw your team into a full rush; odds are they won’t need a forced rush to feel the pressure of running a kitchen. Servers should put all orders through the POS and notate any issues that arise throughout the day. Look for things like the printer not in an ideal location or potential modifiers not aligned correctly in the system.
Sunday: Your staff will take Sunday off. You won’t. Take the day to delve into what isn’t right, and dedicate this day to fixing it with no outside interactions. Assess what was incorrect and invest the time now to make it right before you go live.
Monday Opening Day: It’s off to the races. You’re open, and don’t underestimate how crazy a Monday opening can be. Even though it’s just a Monday, you should have all your best people ready to work the whole week, because it’s going to get crazy Monday. Build from there to an intensely crazy Friday. If you have done the marketing and build up correctly, you will be inundated. Theoretically, no person or publication should review you for the first three months, but that’s not going to happen. Day 1 will be a judgment day, and you need to be ready for it.
This approach to expansion and execution on the opening week is how I facilitate each opening effectively. This process is what I choose to do. Modify it however you please, but this way is effective and avoids excessive wastes of money. Overspend happens quickly in the lead up to a new opening. You will have stumbles, but if you stay enthusiastic, positive and aware, you can make this expansion a success. You can make this a restaurant you’re proud of day one.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma.