By Adrian Johansen, Contributor
When people talk about the restaurant industry, conversations often revolve around those older entrepreneurs that are firm fixtures in the sector. Indeed, any talk surrounding Millennials is usually limited to the perspective of how business owners can attract more of them as customers, ignoring the fact that many are keen to enter into the field as culinary entrepreneurs. This is a shame, as encouraging new generations to contribute brings innovation to both the industry and consumers.
As a Millennial, you already know that you have an important perspective on the world around you, and you’re likely to have some interesting ideas percolating around what the industry is lacking at the moment. Not to mention that being among the first generation of digital natives you have a more natural relationship with advanced tech and what it can bring to food enterprise. That said, it’s not always easy to know how you should go about making your way into the industry and realizing your entrepreneurial ambitions. Indeed, a recent study suggests that Millennials tend to feel that a lack of small business knowledge is a key hurdle to them becoming entrepreneurs.
Let’s spend a little time going through some of the strategies that can help get you started.
As a Millennial, it may be the case that you don’t have much prior history in running your own business — particularly a restaurant. As such, your best approach is to be driven by your ambitions but guided by pragmatism. This will help you to remain grounded along your journey, and make decisions that are mindful of the realities of culinary entrepreneurialism.
Some considerations should include:
A Solid Business Plan. Think of your restaurant’s business plan as the framework upon which you’ll build your business. It should outline in detail all the elements that must go into the preparations, opening, day-to-day operations, and future direction of the business. Include who your target market is and what research you have undertaken to ensure that your choices can attract them. This not only helpful for any investors you’ll be looking to engage, but it also works as a roadmap for your onward actions.
Finances. This can be one of the more daunting areas for any restaurateur, but taking an organized and practical approach can help you avoid problems. When you’re getting ready to open, be responsible about the investments or loans you take out — go into the situation fully about how those funds should be used and make a plan for repaying them. After opening, make certain that you produce regular profit and loss statements. These are simple documents — you take your total revenue for the period, itemize business expenses, and subtract the expenses from the revenue to generate your profit or loss figure. However, doing this once a month when you’re starting out keeps you fully informed of the real-time state of your income, and helps you plan accordingly.
Know Your Restaurant’s Clientele
You’ll likely have some ideas of what you want your restaurant to be — whether this is a theme, a set of values, a certain style of food. However, one of the biggest mistakes food entrepreneurs can make is acting as though they exist in a vacuum. While your ideas and unique approach are important, this should also be guided by what your target demographic values.
Conducting consumer research doesn’t mean that you’ll be discarding your ideals to pander to the masses. Think of it as more of a way to make your customers feel more welcomed into your establishment. It also allows you to be mindful of the trends in customer needs and values in a way that means you can adjust your business practices to suit their lifestyle. As a Millennial, you should already know that your generation prioritizes sustainability in the businesses they interact with, but did you also know that around 40% of your generation also eat their meals while on the move. Taking time to understand the nuances of your targets can help you connect to them philosophically, but also engage with them practically.
Market research doesn’t have to be complicated either. Identify who your competition for your target diners are, and look at their online reviews. What did customers like, what put them off? Reach out on social media and engage in a dialogue with others in your industry and the general public. Don’t think of this as a static issue that only happens at the beginning of your time as a restauranteur, either. It should be part of your regular practice to seek feedback from consumers and analyze your industry.
As a restauranteur, you have to acknowledge that you won’t always know everything. Indeed, where possible you should always hire staff that knows more than you in various areas to take advantage of diverse expertise. However, you can thrive by being curious enough to constantly educate yourself in various aspects of the restaurant business — from new trends in food sources to better cleanliness standards.
When you first start out in the industry, there’s certainly no shame in admitting that you don’t have the expertise to develop the structure of this type of business. As such, you may wish to start small. Many Millennials have taken to engaging in franchise restaurants as their first foray into food entrepreneurialism. This can be a learning experience — you’re provided with a framework to run your businesses, with educational resources that give insights into successful operations. Once you’ve become comfortable with how restaurants function, you can sell your franchise to head out to start your own brand.
You can also certainly benefit from gaining more general business prowess. As you are at the cusp of making a change of career now can be a good time to take a master of business administration (MBA) course. You’ll be able to gain insights into key areas of financing and marketing and choose a focus that is relevant to your business goals. This type of knowledge can give you practical tools that help you have a competitive edge over other restaurateurs.
Millennials aren’t always taken seriously as entrepreneurs, but they have the potential to bring some serious energy to the restaurant industry. Take practical steps in planning and finances, and understand your clientele so you can make meaningful connections to them. Don’t forget to keep following your curiosity to keep your enterprise relevant and successful.