So you’ve decided to take the leap and think about owning a restaurant. You’ve got some money lying around, waiting to be used, and even though your friends have been telling you that running a restaurant isn’t a profitable endeavor (especially in the first few years or so), you’ve made up your mind.
But where do you begin? How do you break ground on such an epic project? Newbie entrepreneurs need as much help drawing up a restaurant business as seasoned restaurateurs and fortunately for everyone, there are people—specialists, if you will—who can lend more than just a helping hand for you to have a shot at success.
Because we want everyone to succeed, we’ve rounded up the three kinds of people you need to see when you’re thinking of opening your own restaurant.
The concept consultants
First, you’re going to need someone to help you flesh out your idea—or, if they think they need to, talk you out of it altogether. You’ll need a concept consultant, like Jeremy and Jen Slagle, best known for their work with Makati’s Hole in the Wall and Local Edition.
And why? Well, if those two restaurants ring any sort of bell, it’s because the Slagles have been making a name with their refreshing ideas. The husband-and-wife team, an alliance formed way back in culinary school, helps develop ideas, and they’ll take it a step further by training restaurant staff in the various ways and nuances of running both ends of the house.
“We do consultancy services—from concept development, menu development, costing, staff training, sourcing, and audits,” explains Jeremy. “Our services help our clients with less experience in the industry bridge the gap and open their restaurant with confidence.”
“We work with people who have a lot of excitement for their plans. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but we will often provide them with a much needed dose of reality and pragmatism, which is crucial for the survivability of the business.”
The Slagles understand that thinking of opening up a restaurant can be an exciting prospect, and people can get too hyped for their new venture. “We work with people who have a lot of excitement for their plans. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but we will often provide them with a much needed dose of reality and pragmatism, which is crucial for the survivability of the business.”
So like good editors, a lot of consulting work involves cutting the wheat from the chaff. The Slagles believe that less is more; they don’t have long menus with pages upon pages of dishes—they stick to their main pitch, the things people want and expect from them, and deliver on those key strengths. While it’s definitely okay for an owner to go big, going small isn’t such a bad idea to consider.
And if there’s one thing they would like a budding owner to know before going in, it’s that they need to understand just how much work needs to be put in running a restaurant. “At the end of the day, the success or failure of the business hinges primarily on that of the operator,” they say. “The restaurant business is high-risk and a lot of work. If you’re not willing to do the work, one of your competitors will be. We always do everything in our power to orient the client toward success, but it’s always ultimately up to them.”
The menu designer
So you’ve already sought the counsel of a consultant to come up with a pretty novel idea for a restaurant, if you do say so yourself. What’s next?
Well, you’ll have to make sure that you’re not just slapping a theme on to your place and calling it a day. You’re gonna have to go all out and make sure that the food you serve stays faithful to the concept you’ve decided on. This is where the menu designer comes in.
You’ll need someone like chef Him Uy De Baron. A good menu designer like Uy De Baron (who’s been designing menus as part of his Chef Him Food Consultancy services for 12 years) has that particular set of skills that’ll help make your place a legit experience. Someone like Uy De Baron should know the stuff he’s putting on your menu, thanks to years of experience—in his case, it’s his ability to foresee culinary trends.
“You can just go to the internet and just download any recipe,” Him Uy De Baron says. “But it takes a certain kind of skill and knowledge to come up with the right recipe for the right brand, for the right restaurant, and tailor-fit it to work inside the kitchen.”
“You can just go to the internet and download any recipe,” he says. “But it takes a certain kind of skill and knowledge to come up with the right recipe for the right brand, for the right restaurant, and tailor-fit it to work inside the kitchen.”
“It’s also about understanding the market,” Uy De Baron adds. “You can get and download recipes that might look good for you, the restaurant owner, but is it something the market is willing to pay for? And it’s not just about a couple of recipes you splash in the menu. The whole flow of your restaurant, the whole energy, the whole system of the restaurant is centered on what kind of menu you do.”
If all this sounds a little daunting for your fresh team in the kitchen, don’t fret—a good menu designer will concoct dishes anyone can do. They’re not going to work with you forever, so the services they provide are designed to last beyond the time they spends with you. They’ll make sure your staff can do the recipes they come up with, no matter the skill level.
And if there’s one thing Uy De Baron would like budding owners to know when they set out, it’s that your place needs its own identity. “I keep telling my clients, there has to be an image that comes up right away when you say your restaurant,” he says. “That one image that you will be known for. It’s very important in today’s market that they can easily visualize something when they [hear] your brand or your name, and most of the time, there’s less effort done to come up with that one dish or one thing that makes you your brand.”
The branding team
You’ve got your concept fleshed out, you’ve got your menu all set up and fine-tuned to the smallest detail, but now you need to make sure your whole look evokes the heart and soul of what your restaurant is all about. That’s where branding comes in, and you need designers who know exactly what they’re doing so that you get the exact atmosphere you want.
You need a design firm like And A Half to manage your brand’s presentation. “We create, rebrand, and restyle brands, through print and web designs, may it be for restaurants, events, corporate identities, and anything in between,” says Benjamin Abesamis, one of the studio’s three co-founders, along with Corinne Serrano and Mike Parker (who, incidentally, was Abesamis and Serrano’s design professor at Ateneo). Their design work includes illustration, layout design, typeface design, copywriting, and more.
Some of And A Half’s notable clients and works include La Lola Churreria, San Miguel, Shangri-La, and even the seal of the town of San Vicente, Palawan, just to name a few—that list goes on and on and their reach is farther than you realize, proving their worth as a top local design studio.
“People think they only need a logo,” says Benjamin Abesamis. “We believe branding is the backbone of any project or idea, and strong brands positioned properly succeed.”
Branding is historically a weak point in the country, no matter what industry. It’s only recently that businesses have started to appreciate good design to supplement their establishments. “People think they only need a logo,” says Abesamis. “We believe branding is the backbone of any project or idea, and strong brands positioned properly succeed. Locally, there is a newfound appreciation and value for branding. Less approach us for mere logos, while a lot more come in wanting a full identity with the budget for production. Others come for brand expansion or restyling because they are aware that their brands are missing certain elements. These things make us optimistic.”
Don’t be mistaken though: You don’t hire a design studio to come up with something that’s all theirs. You, the restaurateur, will still have to tell them what you want and what it is you’re looking for.
“Generally, we think that clients will always know more about their project, idea, or business,” they say. “It is our job to tap into that and help them turn that knowledge into brands that work. This collaboration is the reason behind our name, And A Half. Some see it as a tug of war between our ideas and our clients’, but we would like to believe that we are pulling together to get the same results.”
And remember, you’re not just having a logo made. The endgame is that people associate the name of your brand with a certain look and feel, and these things don’t happen overnight. “Great brands need time, both in creating it and in helping the audience take it in and participate.”
There you have it—the three most important people you need to consult if you want to open up a new place. (Other than your financial advisor, of course.) A couple of things to remember, on your end: The work is almost all you. They’re there to guide you along the right path for the highest chance of success, but it’s your baby. At the end of the day, you’re gonna need to put in as much effort as possible.
That also includes making sure you take on the right consultants for the job, meaning you should do your homework and find out whether they are good for what you want to do. When they’re good, you’ll be able to trust them even more. And while you should trust them and let them do their job, all three consultants agree that you should meddle with them when you can, because the venture is yours. You’re not gonna want to end up with a creation you don’t recognize when it’s handed back to you. They’re there to make it the best it can be, not completely hijack the vision.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 13 No. 2