Scaling a restaurant business means different things to different owners. It’s not necessarily as simple as adding space and tables. Restaurants also grow by adding services, expanding dining hours, or adding additional locations. If your business is thriving and you think it’s time to grow, consider these tips for how to scale your restaurant.
Assess Your Readiness and Take It Slowly
Scaling up takes time and patience. It also takes great staff who know the business and your methods through and through. Knowing when the time is right involves assessing what your idea of scaling up is against what’s happening right now. Before you dive headfirst into planning a new location or an expanded service, consider:
- Loyal, repeat customers: all restaurants cherish their regulars. How will those stalwart supporters react to expansion? Opening a new location or expanding your hours has a better chance of success if your current patrons are enthusiastic and supportive. Do your regulars currently write good reviews, promote you on social media, and talk you up by word of mouth? Their willingness to boost your business by sending their friends to your new location or encouraging them to try breakfast, brunch, or lunch instead of sticking to dinner every visit can help you succeed with an expansion.
- Cash flow and cost: margins in the restaurant business are thin, and the slightest setback can put a big dent in your cash flow. Expansion takes money. If you’re skating on the edge, just getting by running what you’ve got now, then this might not be the time to consider scaling up.
- Demand: If you’re booked for months in advance and you’re routinely turning people away, adding a location might make sense. Just keep customers happy while they’re waiting to be seated, and they may be pleased to visit your new spot with a shorter wait time when it opens.
- Staffing: do you have enough help to pull off an expansion and keep your original business running well? Letting things slip in your restaurant because you’re focused on your new place could negatively impact both. You’ll end up short of cash and customers.
Duplicate, Innovate, or Invigorate
Expansion options include opening another location that will serve the same menu, have the same décor and branding, and duplicate purchasing and kitchen operations. Another option is to open a new location with a new direction. You could focus on a more casual restaurant with a lower price point, explore a different cuisine, or make the new location a streamlined version of your flagship. Or, you could stay put, but expand your hours and offerings. If you’ve been offering lunch and dinner only, what would happen if you added weekend brunch?
Another option is to open an extra kitchen devoted solely to delivery or catering. Patrons will expect the same quality whether they are dining in or ordering out.
A catering operation will expand your customer base to encompass events. If you choose that direction, you’ll need to determine how you’ll prepare, transport, and plate or present your food at a location that could be unpredictable; you’ll have to adapt to a new floor plan, accede to the venue’s way of setting up tables, and figure out how to keep your food fresh and hot until it’s time to serve.
If you elect to open a new location, do your research, and know your market. Be extremely attentive to the language and terms of any lease you’re thinking of signing. Will your new location emphasize lunch over dinner, or take-out over dine in? Once you choose a new location, you’re stuck with it for the duration of your lease.
Use Scaling as an Opportunity To Upgrade Technology and Equipment
If your reservation and point of sale systems are bursting at the seams, slow, or difficult for your staff to master, scaling may be an opportunity to upgrade if you’ve got the cash. Opt for consistency by using the same system in all your locations. That way, staff can move seamlessly from one location to the other if needs require it. The right POS system will help manage inventory and purchasing, and even create floor plans and monitor the timeliness of getting orders up.
Expanding your menu may also require new kitchen equipment. For example, if you’ve been a breakfast only joint and now you’re adding lunch, you may need to add a grill to your griddle. If you’re known for your steaks but now you’ll be serving twice as many of them, an additional electric meat tenderizer may be necessary to keep your cuts as succulent as they should be.
Plan Training and Accept Giving Up Total Control
Scaling is not a one-person operation. Identify the employees who can move up and help you succeed. When restaurant workers see there is an opportunity to advance, they’ll appreciate it and work to help things go well. Identify the leaders you already have, and plan to add more staff as you prepare to expand. Managing one operation is difficult enough; managing a second or expanded restaurant requires delegation. Make sure you have people in place who understand your methods and your menu, so you’re comfortable letting go of total control over everything. When you scale up, you can’t be everywhere at once and you must trust your team to carry out your vision and execute your menus flawlessly.
It’s up to you as the owner and manager of your operation to prepare policies and procedures that your staff can understand and follow from one location to the next. Standardize your FOH and BOH operations. Find out what your employees need from you to inspire loyalty and referrals of new workers. Some staffers may want to add cooking skills, while others may be more interested in operational things like purchasing, inventory, and human resource work.
The high turnover in the restaurant industry makes scaling a challenge. Ask your employees what would help them stick with you. They could tell you things you hadn’t previously thought of. Some may need more predictability in their schedules, while others need more flexibility to care for children or elderly parents. As you grow, expand your employee benefits if you can afford it. Help workers define a career path with you and understand the steps required for advancement. All these things can help you retain great workers who will be assets as your business expands.
Scaling your restaurant can be gradual and finite. You don’t have to get bigger than you want to be. On the other hand, perhaps you dream of building an empire—a full-blown restaurant group with many locations, concepts, and cuisines. Keep your business running without compromising quality or customer service as you slowly expand, and gather a team that shares your vision and is enthusiastic about making it happen.