Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Restaurant Consulting NYC | Location, Location, Location...| 4Q Consulting, LLC

Location, Location, Location...

Everyone has heard the expression: “Location, Location, Location”. A restaurant's site selection is as crucial to its success as great food and service. However, many restaurants that open in “great locations”, fail because they don’t adjust their business model to the particularities of that location.  

Choosing a location involves more than picking a place and signing a lease. Your location selection will influence many parts of your business plans and operations. 

It is highly recommended to work with a licensed real estate broker who knows your local market as well as an attorney who specializes in real estate. They will best be able to guide you to appropriate properties, and to negotiate the best possible deal on your behalf; be patient as this process takes time.  If you already have a certain location in mind, you shouldn’t become too attached until you know it meets your needs.

Before you create a business plan, write a menu, or dash off to the bank to apply for a loan, here are 4 essential elements of a location to consider:

Population Base/ Demographics/ Foot Traffic – There needs to be enough people who live or work in, or pass through, the area on a regular basis to keep your restaurant busy.  The population base and the different types of traffic will dictate some of your operating procedures. For example, if you are in a thriving downtown commercial area, you might only open for breakfast and lunch but close for dinner, as there is not enough foot traffic to stay open. Your location, and its demographics, may influence your menu design, as well.

To analyze the population base of a particular area fully, you can commission a site study. A reputable local real estate broker or the local chamber of commerce can also provide some of this basic information. 

Financial Realities – Rent is usually your largest fixed expense, and you will probably have significant capital investment to prepare the space to be operational, therefore your business plan must account for covering and recuperating these expenses.  In building your business plan, you will have to budget several scenarios to determine how many guests you will have to serve, at a specific check average to be profitable at a given rent; you will also need to determine if the plan is sustainable over time, to meet your financial obligations. 

Buying real estate might be cheaper in the long run than renting space in major markets where rent is high.  By purchasing real estate you might be able to: create a rental income stream; realize large tax deductions on your property taxes; and take deductions for your mortgage interest payments.  Purchasing works well for those with investors or large capital reserves that are not needed to run the day-to-day business operations. Consult with your attorney and accountant.

Accessibility – There is a reason that major restaurant chains are often located near main intersections or highway and freeway exits. Most successful restaurants, whether in urban or suburban areas, are easy to find.  Your restaurant should be street-facing and not tucked away in a building or set back. 
How your customers get to you is also a consideration. A parking lot, easy public or street parking, and nearby public transit all improve accessibility; alternately you might offer valet service. The bottom line is that your customers need to be able to find you, and should be able to get to you - make it easy for them!

Operational Restrictions – A space that does not immediately accommodate or restricts your operational needs is not a bad space, it may in fact be a very good space; it just changes your operational and financial plans. A few examples of restrictions on property that can affect the capital investment or the targeted cash flow of your business:  Many office buildings do not allow cooking in the attached retail spaces, as they do not want smells permeating the building; if they do allow it, you may have to build out proper ventilation.   Ensure the space is ADA compliant, and meets local public safety codes; if it is not, you will have to alter the space to adhere to regulations. The zoning of a location is vital; some municipalities may limit sidewalk or outside seating, or may not issue liquor licenses if you are located near a school or house of worship. 

Additionally, many leases contain conditions, covenants and restrictions (CC&R’s) issued by the landlord.  Know what these are before signing a lease, as these CC&R’s can affect your business just as much as public zoning regulations and can cost you precious capital.

Do your due diligence. By understanding each of these elements, and how they may affect your business plan, you can better choose the right location for your new restaurant.

4Q can provide restaurant site selection consulting services and works with New York’s best commercial real estate brokers to find a location that meets your every need. 

Don’t know where to begin?  Ask yourself, do you have the proper business plan in place to help you be as profitable as possible?  4Q Consulting can develop customized business plans, and operational guidelines to meet your needs.  Email us today for a free business consultation at

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2014-2015

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Restaurant Consulting NYC | The Value of An A on Your Next Health Inspection | 4Q Consulting, LLC

The Value of an A on Your Next Health Inspection

Many operators view the health inspection process as a burden, however it is a big part of owning and running a restaurant.  Inspections tend to be broad, intrusive and include many aspects of your business. Inspections review your physical plant (i.e. plumbing, equipment and flooring); licenses, permits and paperwork; food handling including delivery, storing, cooking, holding, serving and discarding; and finally, cleanliness.  

Successful operators have always spent time and money to incorporate food safety and sanitation programs into their daily operations to avoid the monetary fines, legal fees and bad public relations that can result from critical violations.

Additionally, we now live in the age of the educated consumer who has more information at their fingertips than ever before.  Often in major cities there are websites and mobile apps that allow consumers to look up health inspection results before making their dining choices; not having an A grade can dissuade potential customers from visiting your restaurant.

Here are 4 basic steps to institute a food safety and sanitation program in your restaurant:

Know the Code – The food safety and sanitation code is set at the federal level by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is usually updated every three years. The FDA codes are then interpreted and regulations are set at the state and municipal level.  These local regulations are often more strict than the federal guidelines and can change frequently.  Also, local health departments tend to focus on hot-button issues such as recent Trans fat bans, ice as food and consumer allergy notifications.  It is your obligation as a restaurant owner to know the most current regulations in your county or town, and remain in compliance.  

Work with your Local Health Department – Ignoring your local health department won’t make them go away or make your life any easier.  Quite the opposite – fighting with the health department can make your life miserable.  Actively work with your local health department to ensure you are in compliance from the start, which can save time and money during construction or renovation.  If your local health department provides training and audit programs, take advantage of these offerings. 

During your inspections, do not be adversarial or belligerent with the inspector – they are just doing their job and following objective standards.  If they cite you for a violation, fix it immediately, in front of them if possible. If you do not understand why something is a violation, ask.  The inspectors should be able to give a full explanation to you and your staff as to why a certain action has the potential to make a guest sick.

Train, Train and Retrain Your Staff – As we have discussed many times before, proper staff training is the key to any restaurant’s success; food safety and sanitation training is no different.  While some critical violations can come from your physical plant, the vast majority of violations result from employees’ improper actions.  Though it is not necessary for everyone on your staff to hold a food handler’s license, your entire team from dishwasher to bartender is responsible for food safety and sanitation in your restaurant.

A strong food safety and sanitation module during employee on-boarding is crucial to reduce behaviors that result in critical violations. Additionally, restaurants should be incorporating daily food safety and sanitation reminders into regular meetings, pre-service meetings and debriefings after every shift. 

Hold Your Staff Accountable - Create a culture of accountability in relation to food safety and sanitation in your restaurant. Daily checks and walk-through’s by managers keep this important issue top of mind for everyone.  As unsexy as food safety and sanitation is, repetition is the only way to make changes in behavior stick.  Repeatedly explaining to employees why an action or inaction can make a guest sick will eventually change their behavior and allow them to know when to take self-corrective action.  Incorporating food safety and sanitation into opening and closing duties, job responsibilities and performance reviews holds everyone accountable.

Passing your health inspection with flying colors takes hard work and dedication. The return on your investment is worth every minute and penny, as we see a direct correlation between great health inspection scores and an increase in restaurant sales.  Don’t let something that you can directly control be the downfall of your restaurant.   The bad public relations of a health department violation or shut down, often highlighted in your local newspaper, are nearly impossible to recover from.

If you are doing all of these steps, but still struggling with food safety and sanitation, consider hiring an outside consultant.  A consultant can often see through the emotional drama of your business to find the root cause of your problem.  Consultants can also perform regular sanitation evaluations or walk-through’s to get you ready so your inspections aren't a surprise.

Don’t know where to begin?  4Q Consulting can develop customized business and operational guidelines to help you start and run your business.  Email us today for a free business consultation at

All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2014-2015. 

Noelle E. Ifshin, President, 4Q Consulting, LLC        244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001