Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sticking to What You Do Best...

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Last week, I was invited to celebrate National Hamburger Day at The Counter in Studio City. I had been to The Counter before, but today was special and met a fellow tweeter who was a first timer. The menu is easy to follow and you actually build your own burger, well at least on paper. First you select the protein, then the cheese, other various toppings, a side sauce, and last is the type of bun you want. If you’re having a hard time deciding, don’t worry, they have signature burgers and sandwiches to choose from. Too many choices make me crazy sometimes.

I get so confused when I see other restaurants trying to be everything to everyone. The food at these restaurants are usually horrible and thus end up closing. Would you be surprised if the pizza at a seafood restaurant wasn’t good? Doesn’t make sense to me. Attention Restaurant Owners: Pick something and do it really really well. In-n-Out hasn’t added anything to their menu in years and they’re still in business and GROWING!

Being in the restaurant industry, I always hear owners wanting to increase revenue by expanding their menus. Why do they listen to their friends? It’s the friends who want to eat the pizza at the seafood restaurant. If your friends want pizza, send them to a pizza place…

It’s nice to know that places like The Counter are growing by making a great burger the way you want it… Thank you to Craig and Brian for a great celebration!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Going, Going...

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A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a Los Angeles Times article about a pho restaurant. Pho (pronounced fuh) is Vietnamese rice noodle soup which I really like. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a restaurant review, it was about a family that bought a pho restaurant and they’re having a tough time surviving. At first I stopped reading it, since it wasn't a review. But since I'm in the business of helping restaurants, I ended up reading the entire article.

The family spent a lot of money on this small restaurant and is located in an area that has 10 other pho restaurants. This doesn’t add up in my mind, but then again I don’t have the passion to make Pho. After the purchase was completed and the former owner left the business and most of the customers left too. Since a lot of them were his friends and he wasn’t there anymore, why go? Boy, this was a triple whamie.

With this said and as someone who hates to see small restaurants close, I tried to get the word out and help this place that I’ve never been to. Just like the film, “A Wonderful Life”, I tried to help out someone having a tough time. I did it because I'm a fan of small businesses and hope that someone would do the same for me...

A lot of people love to cook or have special recipes, but remember that this is a business too. You need to be cook, dishwasher, manager, bookkeeper, and most of all marketer. Most businesses don't think that marketing is important and think "if you build it, they will come." Not if they don't know about it! The other thing is having or doing something that is the reason why you're in business. Sad to say, but those 10 Pho restaurants are very similar. You go because you feel comfortable or they make it the way you like it.

What should "Pho Minh" do to stay in business? They must get the word out why Pho customers should eat there. What's the signature dish? Is there a special condiment that everyone should try there? What makes this place special? Customer service must be the best out of competition.

I’m a cheerleader for small businesses and always have, since small business the backbone of this country, I hope "Pho Minh" makes it. If you want to read the entire Los Angeles Times article, it can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/dh2b6m

Thank you for stopping by and please let me know what you think...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lee's Got Me Waiting...

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I love Lee’s Sandwiches and have been a fan for many years. I often visit the Rosemead location, this is a fairly new building with an ice cream counter, steam table for hot items, baked goods, etc. Lee’s Sandwiches is a multi-unit quick service company that specializes in Vietnamese sandwiches that bakes fresh baguettes and makes great sandwiches, in addition to other items. They have over 35 locations in 4 states.

I usually go in early morning or late afternoon when the lines are short. This week, I went during lunch and ended up in a very long line, about 8 people. As I’m watching the cashier walk away from the register with each customer, I realized that the store layout is not set-up efficiently. One of the keys to retail success for sandwich places is to first have the customer order and collect payment first and then make the sandwich.

Lee’s does this, but where they lack the efficiency is after a customer orders they pass by the ice cream counter and steam table. If they want something else, it’s like watching salmon is swim up-stream as they come back to the register. The line should have started at the ice cream counter and pass through the steam table, customers would have seen something in these cases before they order. The cashier would stop what they’re doing and go over the other cases. Shouldn’t the cashier be stationed at the register just ringing up orders?

I’m standing in line and watching the cashier run all over the store and the line is getting longer. I guess the company is OK with the lines, as the manager was busy moving the fresh baguettes around on the racks. I don’t understand why the manager didn’t jump on a register and get the line moving. If I was at the end of the 15 person line, I would have left, but I was the next customer. If the layout was better designed, the store would run better with less labor. Even successful businesses, like Lee’s, sometimes forget about having a system and keeping things simple. This is why consultants like me are so valuable in setting up the operations, rather than after it’s built.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Confusion of Japanese Restaurants

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Last weekend, I read an article from The Bulletin by John Gottberg Anderson called “Teppanyaki cooking at Shoji’s.” This is a Benihana type restaurant where the grill cooking is the entertainment. For John and his party, it wasn’t a good experience.

For me, John’s review was a typical one. Arrived at the restaurant at 6 pm, the place wasn’t crowded, but had to wait in the bar for 15 minutes. Seated at the table, but no drink order taken, wait another 15 minutes, etc. If you don’t care to get your customers seated with drinks right away, it’s downhill from here. During this visit, John and his party didn’t try the sushi, so they went back a week later just for sushi. He’s a better man then me, I would’ve never gone back.

As a Japanese American and as a chef, I’m saddened about the current state of Japanese restaurants. Many owners are retiring and selling their restaurants to people who have no experience in the restaurant industry or think they know the cuisine. Everyone is trying to do “Fusion”, because they don’t understand that Japanese food is simple and try to do more upscale. These places turn out to be “Confusion” and a total mess. They don’t stick around long and close soon after they put out the “Happy Hour” or “50% Off” banner.

A “new” restaurant owner told me once that all he needs to do is hire a “General Manager” and all of his problems will go away. Based on his thinking, his problems are only beginning and where do you find a good GM? I wasn’t going to tell him…

Too many owners, managers, and chefs don’t want to look at the reality of their restaurants. Maybe they’re forgetting that this is a “business” and if their customers don’t have a good experience they WON’T BE BACK. No customers, No revenue, No business, No survival.

Thank you for stopping by, I would appreciate your comments.

If you want to read John’s article, it can be found at http://tinyurl.com/chkqbl