I just returned from an idyllic few weeks on the Island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas where I was thinking about restaurant exit strategies. Several years ago, I exited my restaurants so I can speak from experience. But when you mention the term “Exit” to restaurateurs, it can have different meanings to different operators.
Maybe like me, you dream of someday selling your restaurant(s). Obviously, you hope to sell for a high price after all your years of sweat equity and commitment. Or maybe, you’d like to expand your operation in different locations, start new concepts or sell franchises. Quite possibly, you just want some well earned time off re-connecting with family. Can you do any of these things right now?
Running restaurants is by far the most challenging business I know, but I’ve also learned that many operators are running restaurants and not a business. There is a huge difference. I ask operators all the time “What business are you in, what are you selling”? They think it’s a trick question. Of course I routinely hear “I’m running a restaurant and I sell steak, pizza or pasta… I have a nice wine list….”. Follow me for a moment. When I created and operated restaurants, I was not in the business of running restaurants, I was in the business of running businesses and my products were entertainment and consistency. See that difference?
There are literally thousands of details to running a strong profitable restaurant and if you survive for 5, 10 or more years, count yourself fortunate. But are you really maximizing your profits or just spinning your wheels. You can have a busy restaurant and still not be making money. The rubber really meets the road with “systems”.
It’s been said that you have a “system” if you can leave your restaurant for a week, a month or a year and it will be just as successful, just as profitable if not more so when you return.
When I started my first restaurant, I decided right from the get-go to work “ON” my business today, so I could decide how or even if I worked “IN” it tomorrow. Systems I created made all the difference. Financial systems, Staffing, Motivation and Employee Recognition & Rewards systems, Marketing systems… literally systems across my operation. The result: After years of working “ON” my business, for many more years I became a customer in my business seeing what my guests were seeing and experiencing. I had the big picture clearly in sight, but I no longer needed to “work” there.
You see, systems allowed me to train my staff as if they were the owners. To notice, fix anything broken and to be empowered to deliver amazing dining experiences to my guests, both front and back of house. Financial systems allowed me to know at a glance exactly how profitable every dish and every shift was. Marketing systems drove countless new business in the door. These systems allowed me to work on numerous other projects, outside consulting, real estate developments and yes, starting other restaurants.
As you now know, I ultimately sold my restaurants. Systems maximized the value of my properties, gave the buyers confidence in what they were getting and delivered the strongest price possible.
You’re working just as hard day after day whether you have systems in place in your operation or not. Why not work “ON” your business now so you get to decide your future (maybe even from the island of Eleuthera). Systems are the key to freedom and will provide your restaurant exit strategies, whatever that means to you.
Go out there and Rock Your Restaurant!