3 Lessons From Top-Rated Restaurants for Small Businesses


To stay ahead in the business world, it’s important to always keep your eyes and ears open. Pay attention to what others are doing. That doesn’t just mean following the moves of your competitors. It also means looking to other strong enterprises, whether they’re in your area of expertise or not, and learning from their successes and setbacks.

Three important lessons every business owner can learn from top-rated chefs and their restaurants are:

1. Don’t overlook the small details.

An important part of running a successful business is knowing how your customers feel about it. You could have a universally needed product or service, but if you aren’t capturing the attention and hearts of your customers, you’ll find little success.

Olmsted, a restaurant in Brooklyn, does not overlook the small details in favor of what the restaurant is all about. Though Chef Greg Baxstrom knows that the key to a successful farm-to-table restaurant is great food, he also knows the customer experience is more than delicious dishes.

One aspect Baxstrom focused on is price, according to a Forbes contributor whose name is, confusingly enough, Larry Olmsted . While the typical farm-to-table restaurant charges high prices for super-fresh food and creative dishes, Baxstrom’s most expensive menu items don’t cross the $25 mark.

Another aspect is atmosphere. The restaurant is tiny, and Olmsted compares it to a townhouse. Patrons feel comfortable in the cozy restaurant, and Olmsted commented that he felt like a guest at someone’s home while eating there.

Finally, service. Baxtrom’s staff are prompt and friendly. Poor service in a restaurant can be a serious detriment. It ruins the customer experience and has the power to overshadow great food.

Baxstrom knows the importance of great customer service, a welcoming and inclusive business model and setting the right price. No matter how important or stunning your product is, these three aspects are crucial pieces of the puzzle of a truly successful operation.

2. Do the thing that scares everyone else.

How can you set yourself apart from the competition? Figure out how you can succeed in an area they’re too afraid to try.

Chef Benjamin Sukle at Oberlin, a restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, embodies this notion with his crudo, which he creates from bycatch.

Bycatch is the fish that no one else wants. For example, if a commercial fishing boat is trying to bring in hoards of salmon, but reels in mackerel or scup instead, this unintended capture is bycatch. Most chefs pass it by, their eyes set on that red salmon their customers crave.

Sukle, on the other hand, walks away with the bycatch – whatever it happens to be that day. He brings it back to his restaurant and dresses it up in such a way that, according to Bon Appetit writer Andrew Knowlton, makes you wonder why you’ve never heard of scup before.

Sukle saw an opportunity that no one else was taking. He seized this opportunity and made it his own. A smart business owner will take the time to find that diamond in the rough and turn it into a successful strategy.

3. One size doesn’t fit all; know your business model.

Olmsted wrote that he loves to find the best pizzas and pizzerias in the world. One of his all-time favorites is Tony’s Pizzeria in San Francisco. The restaurant boasts eight different ovens, each with a unique baking style – some are gas, others coal or wood. Tony’s will serve you any American or Italian style of pizza you can imagine – with one exception: you will not see Chicago-style pizza on the menu.

This isn’t because Chef Tony Gemignani hates Chicago, or it’s pizza. It’s because the deep dish pizza the Windy City is known for takes much longer to bake than the other styles served at Tony’s. To prepare a Chicago-style pizza among the many other thinner-crust pies would be impractical and overly complicated. So, it’s simply not on the menu.

The chef recognized that adding this much-loved pizza style to his menu would do more harm than good for his business. It’s important to know your limitations in the business world, and not get distracted by a fad that will ultimately be too difficult to keep up with.

This doesn’t mean you have to give up on something that you’d love to create or sell, but clashes with your current business model. Gemignani opened up a new restaurant in San Francisco called Capo’s Chicago Pizza & Fine Italian Dinners. As the name demonstrates, this restaurant is dedicated to Chicago-style pizza.

Like Gemignani, you may have to work hard to find the right outlet for your business ventures.

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