Are there tips independent restaurants can pick up from casual chain concepts, a category loosely defined as operations involving full service and bars, hold the high prices? A recent tour of some of the biggest brands in the business – Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster and TGI ’s included – suggests that warm bread and meal deals reinforce consistency and value, hallmarks of that dining segment.
One of the big advantages many chains have over sole proprietors is the time and effort they take to train the staff, spending from $25,000 to $500,000 on in-depth training programs that touch on product knowledge, service strategies, pre-shift briefings and continual coaching, or fine-tuning, says Bob Brown. He’s president of the Ashburn-based Bob Brown Service Solutions and a consultant who has coached local chains (Great American Restaurants, Matchbox, ThinkFoodGroup), national ones (Olive Garden, Red Lobster) and even Disney.
Some independent restaurant operators “don’t know what they don’t know,” says Brown. It’s one thing to give a server a menu and have him memorize it, quite another to “bring it alive” through a “food show” that let’s him see, say, the whole fish, smell the saffron and touch the fresh rosemary used in a restaurant’s dishes. The latter lesson, says Brown, “stays in your mind forever.”