What makes a successful restaurateur? Consultant and author of The Art of the Restaurateur Nicholas Lander tells Janie Manzoori-Stamford about the key characteristics he thinks are most important
A good sense of humour
So much can go wrong that this is the bedrock on which restaurants are built. Successful restaurateurs usually have a good sense of humour.
Three loves – food, drink and fellow human beings
Elena Salvoni [Catey Lifetime Achievement award winner
and Soho maitre d' who worked in hospitality for more than 70 years] once told me that she loved seeing people come in to her restaurant as a young couple, then to return when they got engaged, when they had children and when they had grandchildren.
It doesn’t have to be good food and drink either. Restaurateurs have to be open to everything and will taste a lot of bad food along the way.
If you pick an inexpensive site on its way up, the cheap lease can help you to open slightly under the market and will cushion any early mistakes. Some of the best restaurants are in the most unlikely locations. Soho House founder Nick Jones, for example, chooses unfashionable areas and transforms them.
Understand financial arithmetic, a P&L account and how important it is to use your cash wisely. Pay your small and independent suppliers as soon as you can.
Nigel Platts-Martin is one of very few restaurateurs to have opened lots of restaurants but never had to close one. He says the most important person in his restaurant empire is a builder who has transformed and maintains all his buildings.
Lead from the front
Inspire, lead from the front and communicate. Be there, even if you’re not that competent. An Australian restaurateur summed this up when he said a restaurateur must “loiter with intent”.
Know what really has value
Appreciate that the two most important pieces of paper in any restaurant are not the menu and the wine list, as every TV show maintains. They are the lease, which you can sell if you find yourself in trouble, and the alcohol licence, which is increasingly very hard to get.
Combine vision and determination because one without the other simply is not good enough. This applies principally pre-opening and in the first few months when so many will try to dissuade you from putting your dreams into practice.
Our son Will Lander has just had this at the Quality Chop House [in Farringdon, London]. His original plan to have a four-course sharing dinner menu was much debated in the first few weeks, but they stuck to it and it now seems very popular.
Have the courage to hold on to the essence of the restaurant but bend to the prevailing social winds.
For example, today women are far more crucial to any restaurant’s success, and also far more adventurous eaters than men, and this is a significant change, certainly from my day, that restaurateurs ignore at their peril.
Combine sensibility with a thick skin. Understand what is going on, keep abreast of what is in the air but don’t get too upset by criticism or a swingeing review. A restaurateur’s biggest enemy, says Joe Bastianach, is not the restaurant reviewer but his or her ego.
The hardest three
Finally, I believe that this is the most recent and difficult challenge for restaurateurs to be aware of and responsive to: the environment, in terms of conserving water, climate change and linen; the importance of local community and what you can do for it, not what it can do for you; and the power of every restaurateur to do good through the likes of charity work.