Book Excerpt – Keep It Simple, Do Your Homework, and Focus On What’s Inside Your Four Walls

Keith Paul and his wife, Heather, opened their first restaurant in 2000. Now they own A Good Egg Dining Group, which has six restaurants and a catering business. We had a hard time narrowing down Keith’s interview to the points below. There is so much wisdom in his philosophies of focusing on his staff’s happiness, and on what’s inside each restaurant’s four walls. If you don’t pay attention to this advice, you’re just plain missing out…

It Doesn’t Have To Be Rocket Science (Keith and Heather went into the business with this philosophy. Needless to say, it has worked) – Let’s make sure that everybody that works for us is completely happy. We’ll do what we can for them. We’re going to take a vested interest in their personal life, their family life. And we’re not going to spend a bunch of money on traditional advertising. We’re not going to buy newspaper and radio and TV ads. We’re gonna just concentrate on what’s going on inside the four walls. And never, ever…if times are slow, we’ll never even think about skimping on quality of food, of silverware, of glassware…anything. So we’ve always stuck to those values and principles.

You Don’t Know It All – We encourage everybody to be themselves. Even the servers – we want their individual personalities to come out. Anybody that wants to speak up…we just promote that creativity. We want to hear ideas from dishwashers, from servers, chefs, cooks, managers, partners. We want to hear it all. Because we don’t know everything. So we want them to speak up. If they tell us they all need to come in fifteen minutes early to get their shift duties done, and their opening duties done, and that it will help the guest experience, then they’ve got our support, and so that whole thing just comes together. And then we’ll pick up those ideas and incorporate them throughout our group. And that’s just coming from…you know, we started out as a one unit, independent restaurant. And even if we had fifty restaurants, we’re going to stick to…we don’t want that corporate feeling.

Foster Your Staff Members’ Growth – As far as career opportunities, we do our best to promote from within. And that goes back to just listening to our employees. We try to be in the stores as much as we can, and we want them to tell us what they want to do with their lives. We want them to tell us that, yeah, they’re in school now, and they’re degree is in education. However, when they graduate they’d love to move from Cheever’s over to Red Prime Steakhouse and learn more about wine, and possibly take their Sommelier test. If someone comes to us and wants to travel, and go to seminars, and do all of these things, we encourage that. We want people to explain why they want to do it, and what’s in it for them, what’s in it for us. We know all of these things, but we want to make sure they know it, and can see the educational advantages. And if so, we’re definitely going to pay for it.

Be Careful Spending Money On Advertising – When we were starting out with Cheever’s and Iron Starr, we didn’t have the money to do any advertising. So that’s about 50 % of the reason that we didn’t do it. The other half of that is…I learned from being on the distribution side that’s it’s almost impossible to advertise or promote for one unit, or even two units. I didn’t believe in spending money on TV, radio, or newspaper that would reach people that were fifty miles away from me. I’m actually paying for that, but those people aren’t going to come visit my restaurant. I knew that the core customers were within a five to ten mile radius, max. So I wasn’t going to do that traditional stuff.

Look For Good People Over Experienced Ones – Well, I think it all starts with the interview process. There’s that hospitality gene that you really can’t train. It’s either you have it or you don’t. But, being a good person…that’s really what we look for. Just being a good person. We don’t necessarily look for people with tons of restaurant experience. We think if they’re a good person and they’re great at what they do…if they’re the best lawn mower in the country, then they’re going to be good at whatever they do. So we get them in our group, and we can work with them, and kind of find their place.

Be Second To Your Staff’s Family – Our deal is, we want you to work five days a week, fifty hours a week. Sometimes sixty hours during holidays and busy times. But that’s your average. And on your day off, we don’t want you coming around. Right when we hire somebody, we tell them, “You’re family comes first, and we’d love to be second.”

Number Two Won’t Balance A Failing Number One – I’ve seen restaurants go out of business because a one-unit guy opens up another one, and then all of the sudden, instead of one losing money, now you have two losing money. So he goes an opens up another one, and the third one supports the other two, and all of the sudden you go out of business. I’ve seen that a lot.

Being Top Heavy Is O.K. If You’ve Got Great People – I’m often criticized by everybody around here about how we spend so much money on salaries, and how we have too many people.” But those feelings go away after I explain to them that a lot of people that we have are specialized at what they do, so it’s taken a lot of workload off of what we’re all doing. They’re great at their particular profession, so it’s really an advantage to the entire group for us to have these people on staff. I don’t mind…we’re probably a little top heavy, and that’s probably just how it will always be.

Turnover Is A Killer – I think turnover is just a killer. I hate it more than anything. And I’ve seen it with one of our restaurants. About a year ago we started having…we get reports every week about prime cost, and the way the performance of the restaurant is going. And I would always get a comment in thereof, “We’re still training. We’re training this person. The front of the house is training this person.” And that’s not an excuse of why the labor cost is high. It’s the direct result of too much turnover. So now we’ve stopped the turnover, and there’s three or four extra points on the bottom line because of that.

You Better Do Your Homework Before You Get Started – I think the number one reason so many new restaurant owners fail is from not doing their homework. And not doing their homework causes these other components to arise. Meaning, they don’t have enough cash, because they think they’re going to make money right off the bat. Or they don’t have the extra pieces. Like lease negotiation. We didn’t know a thing about that when we were getting into it. And that’s huge. If you don’t have the right lease going in, and you have an air conditioner that goes down in your first month, then that’s $8,000 – $10,000 dollars you’re out of money. So there are just so many things, and it all really goes back to not doing your homework. Not reading personal stories like you’re putting into this book. Or just keeping up with trends, and eating out. There’s so many restaurateurs and chefs around the country that don’t eat at the competition. I just don’t get that. At all. I don’t understand it one bit. It’s all homework.

The Schedulefly Crew