Management, Profiles

Startups and Restaurants: Building on the Success of People

By Rory Crawford


Rory Crawford

September 13, 2016

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

At the core, it’s all about people—and what you can do to make them successful.

Startups and restaurants are more similar than people think.

I wrote an article a long time ago about why it’s so difficult to run a restaurant and why it’s so difficult to operate a business in the restaurant industry. And, in building a business quickly as a startup, you’re faced with significant challenges that are similar to running any complicated business.

When building a startup, you have a million things going on: you’re thinking about marketing, sales, the product, customer service, and you’re thinking about growing rapidly.

A restaurant owner or operator also faces daily challenges, forced to operate in the weeds and try to execute in the same way. You’re thinking about hiring and managing the right staff; you’re thinking about upkeep on appliances and infrastructure; you’re thinking about finances and payroll; you’re thinking about improving the guest experience; and you’re thinking about growing rapidly.

There are so many things you have to deal with day-to-day to ensure that your business is operating. In that environment, it’s difficult for owners of both restaurants and startups to step back and identify the most critical pieces of information they need to know, and the decisions they should be making on top of them.

Working With Missing Data

In a startup, making smart decisions is hard because access to information is challenging.

If you’re a large company and you’re established, you likely have tracking metrics for everything that’s important to you. You can see the information, and make decisions based on that information. When you’re a startup, you’re forced to build those tracking mechanisms yourself, and then make decisions based off of the information they give you.

So, often times, you’re operating with limited data. I think that’s extremely similar to the restaurant space—you’re operating with pen-and-paper spreadsheets and invoices in a filing cabinet. It’s very difficult to access the data you need to make the right decisions in that situation.

What’s interesting from a startup perspective is that we’re focused on identifying the pieces of information we need to know about our business every day and every week so that we can constantly make decisions to improve our business. From the restaurant perspective, I think it’s the same.

Team Focus, People Focus

We wrote a blog post on the high turnover rates in the restaurant industry, and that is a brutal part of it. Staff turnover is the single biggest detriment to growing and scaling a business because it’s so costly to refill those seats.

I think it’s about identifying the fact that it’s all about people. Doing everything you can to get good people and then keep them is something we’ve seen with our best restaurant and bar owners.

I’ve always thought that the best possible position for any individual, whether it be at a startup or any other business, is the intersection of what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. If you can find those two things, you typically generate a lot of value. That’s what we look for in a people perspective. We look for people who are passionate about and talented in the same thing that’s valuable to our business, and then we try to bring them in and support them in doing it.

Typically, the most valuable people didn’t get into bars and restaurants to count bottles. They joined to create incredible hospitality experiences, craft amazing new cocktails, challenge themselves and enjoy doing what they love. Any way an owner can reduce the time an individual has to spend on other things is extremely valuable because you’re essentially freeing a creative individual to do what they’re best at and what they’re most passionate about.

The Industry Perspective on Startups

I love talking to people in this industry for a number of different reasons.

I love talking to owners because they’re running and growing businesses. We’re facing very similar challenges. The simple fact is that we’re not stagnant and we’re not established. We’re young, growing, committed and passionate.

When you look at some of our best customers, they’re growing customers. They connect with us and understand us; we can work together as partners to enable each other’s growth, which I think is really neat.

When I talk to hospitality managers, I think they see that it’s exciting to be part of a startup, where you’re trying to change the way things are done.

It’s really exciting for me to connect with people and communicate with them about why we exist: to help them. To help them sleep; to help spend time with family; to help them focus on what they love; to help make their business more successful; and to help them be more successful as individuals.

We’re not a big company. We live and die by our customers. And I think our users and the owners we work with understand that.

There is sometimes a view that startups are a fickle place. Some people have a negative perception of startups, that because many are here-today, gone-tomorrow, it won’t be a long-term relationship. But, we’re not going anywhere. We’re supported by great investors. We’re not shrinking, we’re just getting bigger.

Another challenging perception people can have is that, as a company, we don’t understand their problems or their business. They often think we’re a software company like Facebook, and we don’t understand their day-to-day. They sometimes think we don’t understand what it’s like to count bottles at 3 a.m. on a Monday morning after a Sunday night closing shift, when you have to place orders by 10 a.m. But, as professionals who have worked in the hospitality industry, we do, and that’s a perception we really need to overcome.

The Final Connection

The greatest similarity between startups and restaurants is that you are emotionally connected with your customers.

One of the most beautiful things about the hospitality industry is that you’re delivering experiences to people. You can’t sacrifice a negative experience one night just because you bet the customer will come again tomorrow; they might not come tomorrow.

You have to do it right, every single night. I think that focus on the customer as an individual and as a business is an extreme similarity. The simple fact is that, as an owner, I’ll pick up the phone for a customer, or I’ll e-mail a customer any time, any day of the week, about anything.

Ultimately, it’s hard. It’s really hard to grow a startup. And it’s really hard to run a restaurant. 90% of startups fail; 80% of restaurants fail in the first five years. But that’s something really special.

There are lots of easy things you can do for a career. But, we’re not trying to do that. We’re trying to do the hard things, and I know that every single customer I talk to is trying to do the hard things every day, too.

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