A Restaurant & Culinary Management class at ICE

Why Culinary Business Training Can Cure the Industry's Vulnerability

Education will be more important than ever in the post-pandemic world.

A Restaurant & Culinary Management class at ICE

In thinking about the future of our industry, there is understandably reluctance to enter it after restaurants and hotels shut down worldwide, but on the other side of this, there will be more opportunities than ever and it will subsequently be more important than ever to have the necessary skills, information and tools to be successful and profitable in this era.

After personally going through 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis (that had lasting effects that have not completely dissipated to date), and Hurricane Sandy as a restaurant owner, I can attest that each and every time, there were adjustments to make in my business model. I think this will be our industry's most challenging catastrophe to date.

Let’s face it: These crises exposed us as unprepared and unsophisticated. When things go well, we can hide our deficiencies and flaws. My apologies (and congratulations) to those that strategized and reacted well, but as an industry, and especially those that represent the small independent restaurants (as I did), operators do not plan, train, educate or execute well for crisis management. Many didn’t spend enough time training managers, lacked capital, maintained razor-thin margins, lacked adequate financial planning and usually had no contingency plan for a rainy day. Well, it poured! And most got caught without an umbrella.

No one expected COVID-19 to happen but something much less would have toppled us as well (basically anything that stopped us for 30 days or more) and was already beginning to.

Steve Zagor instructs a Restaurant & Culinary Management class at ICE.
Steve Zagor instructs a Restaurant & Culinary Management class at ICE.

The problem starts early on. Here’s why so many of us fail to begin with (use any industry statistic you want):

  • We don’t start with enough capital and usually open with little to none because we fail to budget properly.
  • We don’t spend enough time on projections because we don’t understand why they’re important. If you’re smart, you know it determines what should be your maximum capital budget and how much you should spend on your lease. You likely still don’t understand that significance.
  • We fail to understand that although our lease is a much smaller percentage than our cost of sales or labor, if things go poorly, it’s harder (virtually impossible) to make the adjustments needed to get our ratios in line.
  • We fail to understand that knowing and understanding basic general business principles is critical to restaurant success. How many bartenders, cooks, chefs, servers and managers do we all know that opened without business experience? Do you know many other businesses where that’s the case? I don’t.
  • We don’t like or understand new technology and therefore don’t take advantage of how it can assist us (and in how many ways).
  • We have no contingencies or crisis management plans. We probably never even considered them.
  • We have never been trained in management (many of us have worked in venues where the best server becomes the manager – and with no more training than to follow someone else around for a few days, who also may not have been so good or had formal training).
  • We don’t understand the complexities of purchasing and have no idea where our money went until it’s too late.
  • We are weak in negotiations, strategy, leadership (team building), creating a strong culture (70% annual turnover industry-wide) and operations.

Now we understand why we are vulnerable to failure. It doesn’t take a pandemic. The good news is all it takes to fix this is education (and execution), which has never been more important than it is today. The stakes are higher than ever, and while there will be many losses in the coming year or so, there will be big winners. I can make an argument that there’s never been a better time for new players to come into the business. And I know that seems counter-intuitive at this time.

The restaurant industry needs strong, educated leaders to recover from this disaster. Our business has always had a low barrier of entry, and it will continue to, but those that will rise to the top of many companies or run their own venues will be armed with the skills described above. This is no longer a sector that can succeed with creativity, guile, will and guts (all good features). It will always take more. Plan accordingly.

Strategize for your future in food with career training in Restaurant & Culinary Management at ICE.

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