Book Excerpt – Hiring Effectively, Opening Your Curtain, & Focusing On Volume Over Profit Margin

Arch Rock Fish is not your father’s fish house. Serving simply grilled fish, artisan and locally sourced food, local California wines, and offering warm service – it’s a true neighborhood joint. And Jeremiah Higgins is focused on turning it into an institution in Santa Barbara. Jeremiah rose quickly through the ranks, starting as a bus boy as a teen, and becoming a manager by the time he was eighteen. Since then he has led success after success for various restaurants and restaurant groups, helping turn around and grow several well known restaurants in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. He co-owns Arch Rock Fish, and also helps run HJL Group Restaurant Advisors with Scott Leibfried and Cobi Jones. Jeremiah is a high-energy, upbeat guy who works hard, is a fantastic leader, has a great business mind, and exudes success. Here’s some of what he had to say..

Growing Sales By 40% In One Year. I motivated our staff. I looked at our sales daily. At what days were slow. At what hours were slow. I looked at goals for the month. For the week. For the day. I basically started breaking things down, as I had been taught in school, and as I had learned from running the restaurant daily. I looked for the spots that needed to be filled in. I looked for the opportunities. And I realized that areas where we were slow in sales were opportunities, rather than areas for discouragement.

Do As Much Business On Mondays As On Fridays. Most managers think every Monday has got to be slow because it’s a Monday. I would look at Monday and say, “Let’s make Monday just as popular as Friday, for a different reason.” So that’s basically what we did. I involved the staff. I also involved the locals. We really went after them, rather than the tourists. We made it a place that everyone enjoyed coming to regularly.

Running Restaurants Is Like Making Movies. It has a lot of similarities to the film business. You’re going on stage every day. Each day is a brand new day, and a brand new show. The money is tight. The margins are really tight. The staff is your cast. And your job is to inspire every single day to get the results that you want. You’ve got to look at people individually, and figure out what motivates them. And then just pay attention to the details, and run a tight, clean business. And if you do, I know that you can be successful. There are a thousand moving parts in a day, that’s what excites me about the business.

It’s All About Volume. I’ve always said to anyone that we advise in the restaurant business “You don’t put percentages in the bank. You put dollars in the bank.” Yeah, it’s great to have a 32% food cost. But if you don’t have any money coming in, then what’s the point? So we’ve always operated under the philosophy that volume is very important. If you do enough volume, then the bottom line is always healthier than it would be if you lived and died by those textbook food cost analyses, and things like that.

Welcome Your Staff When They’re Not Working. Many restaurants have a hard rule that none of the staff can eat or drink at the restaurant or the bar. But the staff, especially the young staff, loves to eat and drink and hang out at their own place. And if they’re respectful of the rules, there shouldn’t be a problem. And they usually bring five to ten friends down a day, when they get off work, before they go out. The staff became a great word of mouth for us. The best, in fact.

You Don’t Have To Spend A Ton To Create Awareness. If you tap into people and excite them, and make them feel a part of the business philosophy and business growth, then they will support you in that. And that’s been very apparent with Arch Rock Fish. We get a lot of press because of it. Over a dozen articles around town were written about us before we opened. I spent $12,000 on pre-marketing. The rest of it’s all been free press and word of mouth.

Promote Your Community, Not Just Yourself. To us, the term “A Neighborhood Joint” isn’t just a phrase. It means helping our own local community thrive, by promoting the people around us. And not only our restaurant, but the restaurant across the street.

Show People What’s Behind The Curtain. One of the questions I get a lot is, “What does it take to open a restaurant?” So we thought we’d use Facebook and blogs to document what happens, from the start to the end. We showed a history of what it takes to open a restaurant. Our guests can see where Arch Rock came from, from choosing our silverware and our plateware, to our menu, to the purveyors. A business owner usually does not want to share what happens behind the curtain, or let anyone see the little man cranking the wheel. It’s usually a very protective kind of a thing. “Don’t look at what I’m doing. Don’t copy what I’m doing. I’m not going to tell you until I do it.” We decided that we were going to do the opposite. We decided we wanted to show everybody, from day one, behind our curtain.

Promote Your Vendors And Purveyors. We also mention our purveyors in the press. We didn’t do one interview where we didn’t mention Jordano’s, or Telegraph Brewery, or Brian from the Santa Barbara Fish Market, or some of these big purveyors that we use. We brought them down to share our success, and to get some press themselves. Why not? You promote me, I promote you. Why not build that kind of relationship with your vendors and other people out there? I don’t understand why you wouldn’t do that. There really is enough to go around. And more will go around, the more excited people get about where they live, and what they’re doing.

How To Find The Right Partner. First of all, you’ve got to get along with them. You’re going to basically live with a business partner at a restaurant. You’re going to spend ten to twelve hour days, minimum, with this person. So before I thought about partnerships, I thought about people that I share the same philosophy with. People you can laugh with. People you don’t get too stressed being around. People who have a mutual respect for others. Not only in the way that they speak to staff and the people around them, but that they enjoy life and respect others. At the end of the day, to have a successful partnership, you’ve got to have common goals. And you’ve really got to know that person inside and out before you go into partnership with them. And you’ve got to know how they react to different stress levels, and different problems that arise. Because there will be problems in a restaurant. You’re gonna put out ten fires a day, but it’s how you and your partners deal with putting out those fires, and how you deal with problem solving, that will help make a strong partnership.

Hire Personality Over Experience. (On how to find good people for your team) Number one is I would put them through an interview process that’s structured. Number two is I would meet everybody before they are hired. You’re never too busy to meet somebody that you’re going to hire, and who is going to represent your business. And the third thing is the easiest. I don’t care what’s on a resume. I do care of they have some experience, but I have been known to waive that requirement as well. I go off of personality. If that person engages me in the first two minutes, with a twinkle in their eye, or a smile, or a good story, or whatever it happens to be…if they can engage me in the first two minutes, they’re going to engage my customers. If they don’t have that personality, if they don’t have that enthusiasm, and that twinkle in their eye, I can’t teach them that. It doesn’t matter what concept I have, I can teach them the procedures, the menus, the wine lists. I can teach them how to serve a table correctly, and how to say goodbye, and all of that. But I can’t teach personality. So the number one thing that I look for is personality.

Hire Poorly And You’ll Pay For It. Hiring the right people is so important. It’s critical. The nationwide average is about $2,200 to hire and train somebody. Why make a mistake? Why spend all of that money, and then have to do it all over again a week or two later? And that $2,200 doesn’t even account for the cost of lost customers if that server is not the right person at your table, and it’s turning off customers.

The Schedulefly Crew