R.I.P. Restaurant in Peace, Part 2
After my last column I received considerable response to the reasons why so many independent restaurants fail. As a brief reminder, these included failing to be entrepreneurial in place of being a wonderful cook, failing to have a marketing plan with a budget, failing to train staff every day, failing to have enough money to carry all expenses for 5-6 months and failing to know the profit margins of each item on the menu. You’d think this would be enough sink any business, yet there’s more to this and I was reminded of it when I met with my friend Dave Littman.
Dave is one of those folks you’d love to know; an effervescent personality who brings the sunlight with him everywhere he goes. Dave was also a Gaston County Health Department health and sanitation inspector for over 28 years who retired last fall. More on that in moment.
What came from our conversation is something I understood throughout my restaurant career and pass on to my clients. The inspectors are here as a point of contact and an educational resource for the restaurant owner and managers as well as to protect the public’s health.
Yet another reason why so many independent restaurants close so quickly is they fail to realize a lot of customers pay attention to these scores. Yes, we get it that the inspection was just a snap shot in time during the health inspector’s visit and from time to time the team may be in the throes of a chaotic meal. However, from the educational side, the inspectors are there to coach and teach proper food handling, preparation and storage among other things. They will work with you if you pay attention, ask questions, take notes and correct the problems in the next visits. Fail to correct the issues or act as though the inspector is an enemy and you’re going to get hammered.
Customers, such as myself, will turn and walk away from a restaurant with a score lower than a 94 because it speaks loudly that the owners and managers do not care enough for our health to pay attention. A score of 90-93 is a “gift” from the inspector. He or she could, with ease, find something else that would bring that score down even more but chose not to because the owner and managers at least acted like they were paying attention. For now at least. Do owners really want me to walk? This is a piece of the landscape of the toughest industry around and you dreamed about how glorious yours would be. Restaurant cleanliness takes as much work as prepping, cooking and serving and your customers know it.
By the way, you can go online and look up inspections here in Gaston County and throughout the state. You can also easily drill down to the actual violations. If it’s low only once out of the last 10 inspections that’s as telling as having many low scores. It happens, just don’t let it happen again.
So, regardless if your business is a restaurant, are you in a regulated and inspected industry? Do you train and prepare staff for this? Maybe it’s safety, product handling or environmental. Would you win or lose customers based on your inspection results? How important is it to the health of your business?
Lastly, when Dave Littman retired last fall so did 2 other long serving inspectors, James “Doc” Thompson (a supervisor) and John Carpenter taking over 100 years of inspection and restaurant experience with them. These guys wrote and delivered many best practices statewide over the years. Kind of makes you wonder how the current team faces the task. Next time I’ll wrap this up with one final insight on restaurant failures. Til then!
Take Action today to understand your business’s regulatory environment and then Go Run a Lap! Business is Fun!
Tony Marder is a Gastonia resident and President of ASM Ventures Corporation. His clients are family businesses who develop and implement new strategies to make more profit. You can reach him for questions or comments at www.enjoyingyourbusiness.com.