What not to do: restaurant advice from the trenches

October 11, 2016

Starting a new business is tough. Starting a new restaurant business can be especially tough. Researchers at Ohio State and Cal State Poly concluded that 57 to 61 percent of restaurants fail in the first three years, with about 26 percent failing in the first year, about 19 percent in the second, and about 14 percent in the third.

That said, if you’re reading this, we can assume two things: one, that you’re an owner or manager of a restaurant and two, you’d like for that restaurant to stay in business, perhaps for the rest of your life.

So we thought it might be a good idea to get some restaurant biz advice from someone who’s been through it—and became one of those aforementioned statistics.

Meet Sarah Haselkorn of St. Louis, MO. A serial entrepreneur from an early age, Sarah always had a knack for starting businesses. So when the need for healthy food options nearby presented itself while she was attending Washington University, Sarah partnered with St. Louis natives Tim Fetter and Adam Gremp to open up Green Bean, “a salad shop with a mission to save the world!”

Unfortunately, ultimately, it was the Green Bean that needed saving. Due to a number of unavoidable, serious life situations outside the business, as well as some mistakes made early in the business by first-time restauranteurs from which they were unable to rebound, the team at Green Bean closed up shop after two years in business.

Fortunately, Sarah was kind enough to sit down with us and share some hard-earned, hindsight advice for those in the restaurant biz:

Don’t fail to leverage your network

Entrepreneurs, by nature, are do-it-yourselfers. Being such, many have a hard time asking those around them for help. Sarah said this was a crucial mistake for her. She found out, in some cases too late, that those in her network had a wealth of knowledge that she could have leaned upon. Whether it’s a family friend’s delicious potato salad recipe, an uncle who’s owned his own business for years and knows how to navigate legal issues, or just your circle of friends and their numerous extra hands, you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help you get your restaurant off to a good start if you just swallow your pride and ask.

Don’t spend on non-essentials.

There’s a reason that the business world has been obsessed with the concept of the “lean startup” model lately—it works. In the beginning, it’s important to allocate resources carefully, as cash-flow will be tight and you’ll be operating on thin margins, so make sure to only invest in systems that will directly affect the bottom line in the core of your business. Perhaps your green salad-wrap lunch counter doesn’t need a world-class espresso machine right off the bat? Asking yourself the tough questions about which elements are truly essential to your business will give you some wiggle room enabling you to deal with the inevitable emergencies that almost always arise.

Don’t assume your communication style works with everyone.

Again, entrepreneurs are famously terrible at asking for help, so when it comes to building a sense of camaraderie and teamwork among employees, a lot of entrepreneurs have a difficult time delegating responsibility in a manner that suits everybody’s communication style. You may think that when you’re barking orders at your team, that they know you mean it with love, but unless you stop to tell them, reward them for jobs well done, and adapt how you speak to people depending on their personalities, you’ll have a hard time building the kind of team that you can depend on to do right by your business when you’re not watching.

Thanks Sarah for the great advice!

[image: The River Cafe by Herry Lawford on flickr]

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