- big budget
- urban periphery
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Some of the concepts I propose are centred on high quality gastronomy. Alas, we are not all gourmet food-lovers in this world! Even worse, the catering business is largely dominated by fast-food and carvery/steakhouse type restaurants. Long forgotten are the exquisite fish cooked on the bone wafting with subtle aromas, the sumptuous desserts prepared to perfection. The cash-till takes centre place!
Although this concept is classed in the section requiring a large budget, it is far from being the most costly in the category. It is size which puts this concept into the big budget category as we’re talking about at least 150 seats. I would even say the ideal is 250 seats. Why so big? Simply because I want you to make money offering an economic menu which will attract customers because they believe they are getting value for money. And because the vast majority of your clientele are neither gourmets nor well-off. And in order to make money while selling at low prices you have to sell a lot. So, no half-measures here, it’s regular food factory that I propose to you. But be careful, you mustn’t take the easy way out by selling poor-quality food to your customers. The winning formula is a huge all-you-can-eat self-service buffet. We have recently seen many Asian restaurants proposing this type of buffet at very low prices resulting in a large increase in business. Eating as much as you want for a fixed price will always work. Think about it: if you choose a foreign holiday in an idyllic location wouldn’t you rather be given up front an all-inclusive price?
Let me explain how to proceed and make money from this concept. First, let’s talk about location. As I said you’ll need plenty of space, at least 600m2, even as much as 900m2, all on one level. Don’t let this put you off, you’ll be renting, not buying, the floor space. As for lay-out and decoration go for the cheap, cheerful and minimalist look. This concept is purely aimed at setting up just outside town with a catchment area of at least 250,000 inhabitants.
However you won’t be copying the big names in catering who only want to rent prime locations or to buy land at exorbitant prices to build their own premises. You are going to go for an existing commercial unit. Every town has a retail park on its outskirts where property if for rent at a reasonable price simply because they are not in a prime location. But you don’t need to be directly opposite a huge supermarket to set up business. You could also set up along a busy thorough-fare (minimum 20,000 vehicles per day) or you could consider a by-pass or ring road.
Regarding lay-out and decoration keep it simple with basic inexpensive furniture and some plants. The centre piece will be the opulent and extremely appetizing buffet. You should have a bar installed and, above all, a cash-desk on the way in because the customers will pay as they enter. The menu is at a fixed price and the cashier will only have to charge extra for pre-dinner drinks and/or coffee, giving a different token for one or other option. This method will cut out time billing customers after their meal and reduce the risk of overlooking payment.
The tables should be properly laid with cutlery provided for starter, main course and dessert-no plates, no glasses. You see, a very important point of this concept is the reduction in waiting staff, you’ll need only between 3 and 5 people to keep things running even in a 200 seat restaurant. By keeping staff costs lower, you can invest more in your buffet. To sum up, you’ll need a cashier, a barman (who can double up as floor manager) and 2 or 3 people to set tables and clear away.
As for the customers, they will help themselves to each course and as they go to the buffet they can deposit their used plates in a designated area.
People are used to clearing their own table in cafeterias and fast-food restaurants and anyway, the very notion of “all-you-can-eat” for outweighs the trouble. Remember, they are going to eat well for a reasonable price (without conjuring up memories of tacky cafeterias or holiday clubs!).
Here is how to provide tasty, appetizing food without breaking the bank and ensuring you keep staff to a minimum 3 categories of starters.
Just 4 or 5 sorts of salad which you can buy as long as the price is right and they are filling enough to begin to satisfy the starving customer who reckons he could just about devour the whole buffet! Second category: cold meat selection (charcuterie). The kitchen staff will have to get to work here because the star of the show will be a few home-made terrines. You’ll even have a little sign saying “all our terrines are home-made”. Why? Just think about the advantages: they are easy and inexpensive to make, they keep well and they are filling. And even more filling when eaten with lots of bread!
Nowadays, there are less and less home-made terrines, so if you can provide a good selection you’ll definitely score points. The third categories of starters are quiches, tarts and savoury breads, which you could party buy. The main course will be served by one of the chefs. Give pride of place to a carvery, perhaps a roasting spit just behind the buffet would be a plus. Roast beef, ham, leg of lamb, chicken, spare ribs are always a big hit and are within your budget. Serve with fries, heaps and heaps of fries, rice, a potato gratin and a couple of vegetables. Only one type of fish in the buffet; fish is expensive, it’s smelly and it’s not filling. You can even buy it vacuum-packed. With all that tasty food on offer, there’s no real need for fish.
A couple of traditional, well-loved dishes will complete the buffet: beef stew, couscous, lentil stew, chili con carne,”cassoulet”, lasagna, cannelloni. Of course you could buy these but home-made makes all the difference.
Provide a small selection of cheese because like fish, cheese is expensive. A few industrial made cheeses alongside a large round of Brie would suffice.
Now for desserts…..stick to the usual apple tarts, chocolate mousse, fresh fruit salad, “crème brûlée”. But I would strongly advise you to have a good pastry chef on the chicken staff, someone who could bake delicious cakes, pastries and tarts. Believe me, a good dessert will always bring the customers back. Home-made is often the cheaper option and anyway, somebody who can bake will also be able to make quiches etc for starters.
The customers will help themselves to drinks. You’ll need a mineral water fountain, soda and beer on tap and bag-in-box wine (hidden inside fake wine barrels). There are cooling systems for rosé and white wine. Propose just one white wine, two rosés and tree sorts of red wine. It’s not too hard to find decent inexpensive wine. Above all, steer clear of gut-rot!
So there you are, all you need to know to get up and running….from Monday to Friday. I have something even better to propose from Friday evening to Sunday evening. You’re going to offer something better, more expensive, simply by using better quality produce. During the week you’ll keep the restaurant full by giving value for money. At the weekend you’ll increase your price by 50% and to justify the increase you’ll have to offer more luxurious food: smoked salmon, shellfish, salads, tarts, quiches and main courses all a little more elaborate using pricier ingredients. Better cuts of meat at the carvery, a wider selection of cheese, exquisite desserts, one or two better wines. And you’ll concentrate more on what’s in season.
An aperitif and coffee will be included in the fixed-price menu. This is how you’ll attract a young festive clientele on weekend evenings. You’ll have a more family-orientated clientele at Sunday lunch-time, including a high proportion of senior citizens who are known to be big buffet fans! So watch out, no rap or techno musing blaring on Sundays! And don’t forget to let your customers know you can provide birthday cakes.
During the week you can advertise your famous weekend buffet by placing ads on the tables and walls_ a good way to have your weekday customers’ comeback with their families and friends at the weekend.
Before opening, a large part of your budget will be spent on advertising. You’ll deliver flyers in letter-boxes, use billboard advertising, publicity vans, and why not a few ads on the local radio. For the opening, give special offers on both of your pricing policy is up to you. But bear in mind that while remaining competitive you’re offering “all-you-can-eat” and lowering prices will make it hard to keep up the quality of your food. Nor must you go to the other extreme.
To finish up, I think this concept is far from being the toughest to open and run. Moreover, you’ll soon see that the words “all-you-can-eat” are music to your customers’ ears. Don’t worry, for every one glutton there are one hundred who eat no more than at any other restaurant. It’s the very notion of “all-you-can-eat” that will bring in the cash. Now, it’s all up to you !