NYC has the most interesting, varied and delicious restaurant/cafe/bar scene in the world, hands down. But to be a relatively successful proprietor of one the now 23,705 such places in NYC is an exercise in skill, daring, committment and just plain luck. Of the 1,000+ new restaurants/cafes/bars that open in NYC each year, over 800 will have failed by the end of 5 years, and some of them will ahve failed very quickly indeed. This is an industry with very high turnover.
So what does it take to succeed? Well firstly it helps to know, even in some distant way, the most influential people in the NYC restaurant scene: Brooks Headley, Ignacio Mattos, Alex Raij, Rich Torisi, Mario Carbone, Danny Bowien, Alex Stupak, Wylie Dufresne, April Bloomfield, David Chang and Daniel Humm. The NYC restaurant scene is composed of overlapping relationships between owners, chefs, backers, mentors and promoters. To be completely outside this web of relationships is usually the kiss of death right there.
Many failing restaurant owners will tell you they have been done in by rising rents and certainly owners who have been on 15-25 year leases face some hard realities when the lease is up for renewal. But failure is not primarily down to rents alone. The biggest culprit is bad service. Bad or rude service will do in restaurants where the food is great proving that the overall experience your customers have is key.
Of course unimaginative or plain bad food definitely won’t get you into success territory. And the opposite is true. The most successful restaurants hit a sweet spot of great food, excellent service and an overall ambience which draws in the customers. The masters at succeeding focus on doing 1-4 things really, really well, rather than trying to do too much. And they aim their price point at a mid range that draws in the broadest range of customers. Of course there are some very successful high end restauratns but they cater to a very specific, very well heeled market.
Excellent financial management is paramount, which means creating a menu which uses prime ingredients but nothing so rare or exotic that the margins are unrealistic. A case in point are the very many superb burger places in NYC. Burgers are all relatively similiar but the best distinguish themselves spectacularly but not expensively without shooting the price up so high that NYC’s many burger aficionados won’t try them out.
See the video which gives you a good idea how one of the master chefs and most successful restauranteurs in NYC, David Chang, operates. He creates a tight menu, has his chefs cook it superbly, so supebly it creates a buzz and as he expands he uses all the most successful elements from past efforts and adds on a new dish or a new concept in presentation. Right now he has opened a new small restaurant Fuku and he is concentrating on just one dish, fried chicken sandwiches. It has already been declared the best fried chicken in NYC. And he is master promoter of his brand, clver man that he is.