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  • Writer's picturegfmeade7

SOUL TRADER


I am always amazed how people who are successful in other fields of business reckon it’s a piece of cake to get a food outlet off the ground. Just because someone has a keen interest in cooking and an ambitious streak never mind plenty of bucks, it does not guarantee whatsoever a success in catering. It has to be one of the most precarious industries to get a foothold in and make a real fist of it. When I get asked to advise or assist in new projects it is always a case of gut feeling for me on the individual behind it which will determine if this operator is going to rise or fall.

    For starters the first obstacle is location so if it’s isolated with no footfall you need pulling power to bring punters your way. Next is the structure, if it is an existing food outlet or if it’s being built from scratch or converted. This adds a whole extra phase with compliance and regulation issues to be met. Then it gets even trickier with choosing the actual product that is going to be provided. This means what type of food is going to be offered and to what style, standard, volume and price point. So the target market needs researching for the locality in order to see what is the amount that customers will be prepared to spend.


It is only after all this has been decided that the next phase can begin. There might be planning applications needed, licenses applied for and registering to be a food business operator with the local health authority. There are landlords, banks, insurers, architects and builders to deal with, then specialist service providers like fire, waste, pest control and other utilities to be connected like water, gas and electricity.


Only now can you actually really start to think about decor, furniture, kitchen equipment, food suppliers, recruitment, training and marketing. The financial output at this stage will be huge and when I am asked by young chefs about their ambition to have their own place with their name over the door and all of the above has to be done before they buy an onion then suddenly the reality dawns that it is not all as straight forward it as it may seem. The fact of the matter is that the cooking bit is only half the battle when you run a food business. The other half is in the name, business; you have to be a business head.  A business head has to be learned and only if you have been exposed to this side of the equation will a food business succeed.

  If indeed all of the above has been achieved then getting the front door opened for trade is another huge effort laden with obstacles. Simply to be an employer is a whole minefield in itself so man management skills are essential. So surrounding yourself with reliable staff will be crucial and having a crew that will be able to survive an opening is even more risky as it is not the same as just rocking up to an established operation.


Things change daily as amendments are being made and employees want routine so just getting to opening night is a marathon. The snag lists get longer, suppliers may not deliver, printers let you down and advertising deadlines are missed. Rent and bank loans have to be paid so the pressure is on to get money coming in.


Then reviewers like me will turn up and the not up to it chef has a meltdown not being able to cope with the stress of an opening night and walks out on you. Finally when you are a few weeks in you realise the amount of plates that need to be juggled and sold so you may forget time off or paying yourself for quite a while. It is a huge task to get a place off the ground and customers think it all happens by magic.

The worst bit is learning that after the dozens of overheads that have to be met every week that the actual profit margin is only a couple of per cent if you are lucky then you will wonder if it was all worth it to have your name over a door and have grumpy customers giving out and food critics dishing you up a roasting. This is why there is such a high failure rate in our sector as it is much more vocation than vacation.

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