There are two types of honeymoons. The relational kind that one experiences as a newlywed, full of bliss and joy, and the foodservice variety one endures as a new-restaurant owner filled with stress and obstacles. In each case— whether it’s a long-term marriage, or a long-lasting dining concept— one hopes that the result at the other end is a successful one.
Marital honeymoons are typically expensive, and many times spent in faraway romantic and exotic lands. Restaurant honeymoons are even more costly and are spent in hot commercial kitchens and crowded dining rooms filled with anxious team members learning the ropes while trying to carry out the owner’s vision. A matrimonial honeymoon lasts one or two weeks. A newly opened restaurant’s honeymoon typically lasts six to eight weeks.
I am heading into the sixth week of our newest restaurant’s honeymoon and I have been having a blast.
This new restaurant— a Tex-Mex concept— is one that I have been developing for a couple of years, and a lot of time and man hours were spent by our team on recipe and concept development. Though it never matters how much dedication and planning go into the developmental stages, or how many years the individuals involved have under their belts, there are always going to be issues when a few dozen people team up to work together for the first time with new systems and fresh product offerings.
Though this new restaurant honeymoon has gone rather smoothly. We have had some hiccups and miscues along the way, and we have dropped the ball on occasion. But, as restaurant honeymoons go, this one has been one of the least problematic.
Restaurant honeymoons are in my vocational DNA. At the first restaurant job I ever had, I was hired before the opening, and experienced my first stressful restaurant honeymoon period. That was almost 40 years ago, two young ladies were opening a delicatessen and were looking for a manager. I was 19 years old and had just flunked out of college. I had zero restaurant experience. The two ladies, Marcia and Sandy, had never been in the restaurant business before, which was clearly evident, because they hired me as the manager of their new business. Sometime during that small deli’s opening days, I fell in love with the restaurant business, and knew that was how I wanted to spend my professional career.
I was so bitten by the restaurant bug that I took a second job at night waiting tables— again on the opening crew of a new restaurant— and eventually quit both of those jobs to start working on the opening crew on another soon-to-be-opened restaurant. I have always figured that if three restaurant honeymoons in a matter of a year didn’t run me out of the business— especially since they were someone else’s restaurants— nothing would. The stress and hectic nature didn’t drive me away but held some sort of attraction to me. That’s when I fell in love with this industry
This most recent restaurant honeymoon is my 22nd restaurant opening. After the first three, the 19 others have all been my concepts. Some have gone smoother than others. But each has been rewarding in one way or another. Restaurant honeymoons can be deceiving. It never fails that people get caught up in the bustling nature of the opening days and expect business to always stay as busy as it is in the opening weeks. It never happens. It always slows down. Everyone wants to try the new concept. People are making decisions as to whether they will abandon the concept they’ve been frequenting for years for new offerings and evaluating whether the new place is something they start to frequent. You win some, you lose some. The restaurant business is very subjective. Everyone has their own individual tastes and preferences. It’s best to put your product out there for the general public and let the free-market system work.
All restaurants are a gamble. What a new concept’s owner hopes to accomplish is to win over enough customers to sustain his or her business and to keep the team employed. The early days are vital for customer feedback. No matter how much planning has gone into a concept, there are always misses. Many times, it’s a menu item that you felt sure would be a huge hit that falls flat. Consequently, there are more times than not when an item that almost didn’t make the cut onto a new menu, is the big seller. It’s vital to be fluid and light on your feet in the early days. Changes need to be made quickly as guests are constantly evaluating the restaurant’s overall offerings. Hopefully at the end of the honeymoon, all of the kinks are worked out and everyone settles into a groove.
Restaurant honeymoons are filled with problems. Seriously, issues arise— one after another— by the minute. I was attending a restaurant business panel once where famed restaurateur Danny Meyer was speaking. During the question-and-answer period he made the statement, “Business is problems. A successful business is problems well handled. If you can’t handle problems, get out of business.” I don’t remember the context of the question he was asked, or even the topic of discussion that day. But that comment hit me like a shot. I wrote it down and have tried to live by that sage advice ever since.
We are busy now, but the honeymoon will come to a close in the coming weeks and business will settle into a comfortable pace. Hopefully, if we have done our job during the honeymoon, we will have enough business to sustain and survive.
In the meantime, I am having a blast. I don’t know how many more restaurant openings I have in me. But I am going to milk every nano-second of this one.
This week’s recipe: Dr. Pepper Glazed Ham