What it takes to turn your food passion into a successful business
The Business of Food (4 of 4) is the final instalment in a four-part series of articles focused on exploring what it takes to turn a passion into a successful and profitable business. In this article I cover, Food Safety, Kitchen Equipment, Supply Chain, and Ethical Approach.
We have an important responsibility in our industry to ensure the health and safety of our customers while delivering exceptional dining experiences. Any misstep on food safety aspect can be detrimental to your business, and more alarmingly, hazardous to your customers and their wellbeing.
While I will not fully explore this vast subject in this article, I just wanted to open your eyes to hygiene and food safety when coming up with a menu. This function should sit part of the support services (non-revenue generating functions within your restaurant) and requires dedicated internal control systems along with assigned resources to manage it. I discuss the importance of support services in the Business Model articles.
The processing of ingredients, the variety of raw proteins on your menu, cooking / holding / regeneration methods, and food displays are all things you need to consider from a food safety lens. You have the basic considerations to be mindful of such as cross contamination, handling of sensitive ingredients, and their shelf life and production techniques. These days you also need to pay attention to how your food is delivered. Temperature control and regeneration methods need to be carefully planned and executed.
You also need to be aware of common allergens while creating your menu and train the teams, both front and back of house, on handling sensitive ingredients and informing guests of them.
As with all other aspects of your business, each component is interdependent on multiple other resources and departments. Food safety is interlinked to:
- Purchasing and supply chain
- Kitchen team and procedures
- Service team and procedures
- Cleaning team and procedures
- Maintenance department
- Training and HR
- Administrative team and procedures
- Pest control contracts and systems
Food Safety in Food Preparation
With your food preparation, you will need to consider the following points:
- Type of animal protein being used
- Processing of raw ingredients
- Number of team members handling the ingredients
- Equipment required to process the ingredients and their cleaning / up-keeping
- Space available and the proper segregation of the various sections
- Prep, cook, chill, regenerate, dispatch process and how that affects your product and service
- Water quality arriving to your site
- Delivery of food safely
- Tracing, tracking and paper trail
- Monitoring and quality control procedures of entire process
Think of kitchen equipment while you are creating your menu. There are implications you need to consider regarding your site, local regulations, operating costs, and your budget.
Sometimes, your location will steer your menu development journey. Try to visualise your cooking processes and techniques while creating your menu to ensure efficient usage of space and equipment. Your aim is to connect the menu and food you want to produce with the equipment required, the space available, and services needed (gas, charcoal, electric load, etc).
Local and Landlord Regulations
Various countries, cities, even local districts have different codes for kitchens and equipment. The obvious contentious example is charcoal. You need to be careful in terms of both legislative / code issues and the costs of fitouts to accommodate specialized equipment. In the example of charcoal, you will require a water mist hood, which comes with a hefty price tag and investment cost, if they even allow it in the region you operate in.
There are three key points to consider pertaining to your operating costs with your kitchen equipment selection:
- Human cost: Sometimes certain equipment and machinery can save you on your human cost required to produce your food.
- Maintenance cost: Preventative maintenance is key and has to be part of your cyclical routines.
- Utility cost: We can further divide this into; energy efficient equipment and the primary energy source you opt for (gas, charcoal, or electric) depending your location.
Try to be efficient and smart with the selection of equipment and avoid single use machinery for a one product/menu item. The budget also gets affected with the quality/brand of equipment you can afford. It is always a balancing act. Higher initial investment (in premium equipment) could yield savings on maintenance and operating costs. It all depends on the budget you have to begin with.
What I learned over the years is that the best strategy is one that allows flexibility and adaptability, basically, future proofing. Give yourself tolerances to adapt and change as you go along.
“Let the ingredients speak for themselves”. Any great chef will give this advice to up-and-coming members of their team in our industry. Foraging, local sourcing, farm to table are all movements to bring us back in connection with where our food comes from and how you source the building blocks of your plates and menus.
A lot of times there are forces at odds. The drive to buy local, from small vendors, sustainable, ethically farmed and produced, could mean you pay a premium for the ingredients. Another issue is sometimes dependability and consistency of supply. Therefore, many opt for the straightforward route of going with large-scale industrial resellers and producers. While you will read a sizeable portion of my articles focusing on numbers and making profits, I would urge you to consider opting for the more “ethical” approach to procurement. There are many ways of doing this while still being profitable and competitive in the market. What matters more is your value proposition, not price point. Today’s customers are assigning more value to being in harmony with nature and all things sustainable.
Tech and Agriculture
Don’t underestimate the importance of technology in agriculture. Yes, the two can coexist. Sustainability and technology. The way we produce and distribute food is constantly evolving, from laboratory grown meat, to non-meat protein alternatives and the vast growing world of agritech. Who knows, perhaps soon, you can grow most of your produce at your own premises even in urban environments. Rather than from farm to fork, the future could be from city to fork.
The most valuable piece of advice I can give beyond just sustainability, pricing, and quality is relationships. Establish strong relationships with your suppliers. Yes, it is important to have options for a single ingredient in case of any interruptions in one source. However, the stronger your relationships are with your key suppliers, the smoother your operation will be. I observed countless occasions when good suppliers saved the day. This is evident today more than ever in these trying times.
The point I want to highlight here is, yes pay attention to the business of food, monetize your passion, make profits from making food, but I urge everyone to do so with an eye for not only what is better for the bank account but what is good for others around (your team and community), the environment, and your industry. The question is not either this or that. You can incorporate the word “and” into this sentence. Make profits “and” have an ethical approach while doing so. It makes more business sense in the long run. I tackle this issue further in my article about Permaculture and what we can learn from it in our industry.
That is one reason I am a big fan of the neighborhood strategy I discuss in the Business Model article. It makes financial sense, and it is good for the environment. Sourcing ingredients locally falls under this umbrella. A zero waste menu also works within these parameters. An ethical approach can be a profitable one, you just need to do the effort to consider it.
Your team is the cornerstone of everything you do. You succeed or fail because of the team surrounding you. Yes, there are the basics of hiring well and training well, but the more important point is treating well. Be kind and good to your team, and you will see that in return.
Engage with your community. Look at ways you can give back through food programs, youth development programs, charity support initiatives, or taking part of community festivals and events. Let us not forget that a restaurant is a social business.
What you can take away from this
My attempt here is not to dull out a creative craft, after all cooking in our industry is referred to as culinary arts. Personal expression, innovation, and creativity are the core building blocks of any restaurant menu. I hope to open the eyes of whoever wishes to enter the industry, is already in the industry and wants to open their own outlet, or already has a running business, on the importance of the business of food. To have the creative freedom to express, innovate and wow customers, you need to get on top of the basics and consider the points discussed in this series of articles when creating a menu. You also need to get comfortable with numbers.
Your menu and the building blocks that make up the menu need to be your focus. Place your customer as your focal point. Know them and then cater to them. As simple as this statement is, it comes with a lot of complexity. You will need to ask yourself many questions if you are embarking on a new venture and decided to open a restaurant. If you already own and run one, then a good idea is to pause take a few steps back and assess how well you are doing in the business of food. With many questions will come a lot of answers. The point is not to overcomplicate things and turn a creative art to a very cerebral process. Mix the two and you multiply your chances for success, enjoy what you love and make money / profits doing it.
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