March 21, 2017

Location, Location, Location (#8)

Sitting down to write this entry, what popped into my head was "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" and "Where's Waldo?"  And then I thought, "What the f*** does that have to do with anything?"  And then I thought, well, finding the right location takes a little bit of a) intellect (i.e., Ms. Sandiego) and b) time (i.e., Mr., errr, Waldo).  (And then  I thought, a) why I am talking about children's games, b) this is a bar blog! and c) this blog post is going to suuuuck...)

Shaking off that last thought and applying my intellect... my search for the "right" location seemed pretty straightforward to me (I do feel I have a handle on some things!). Desiring to be a neighborhood bar, find a location that is close to where people live or work. And being around other bars or in a place where there is some regular "foot traffic" is not a bad thing - a "destination" bar seems more challenging to me. And since (per Blog Post #3), the concept of the place is to "promote lively discussion and intelligent debate," what better location exists in the WORLD than being in close proximity to Nerd Central - Harvard and MIT.  Cambridge, here I come!

And then that striped, skinny, cane-carrying, bespectacled fellow, Waldo, reared his head. Or rather, did NOT rear his head. Finding a place has been more elusive than I would have thought. (Also, I tend to get distracted... did anyone else start thinking about where the phrase "reared his head" originated? Well, apparently no one knows - and by "no one" I mean no one in the first three Google listings I read... where was I...?).

I reached out to my real estate team - yes, now I have a team - and told them precisely what I wanted. And the listings poured in... Newton, downtown Boston, Brookline, Beacon Hill, Faneuil Hall, Needham... uhhh... guys?  Maybe I need to brush up on my brokerese... where's Cambridge? Or even Somerville?

Given the situation, I considered -  strongly - other locales. I checked out listings of existing bars/restaurants that are interested in "selling" their assets such as their lease, their kitchen and bar equipment, their furniture, and the most coveted thing of all... their liquor license! (As an aside, it is much, much easier and cheaper to find an existing place and "convert" it, rather than build out a place from scratch... called a "vanilla box" in the industry - good thing I'm a chocolate fan.) And - shocker! - nothing "felt" right... this one's too small; this one's too gross; this one's too touristy; this one's too expensive; this one doesn't want me because I have no experience (ouch!) - I felt like Goldilocks, only without the hair (or the girl parts).

Maybe I have developed a bias.  But I have seen 2-3 places in Cambridge and they spoke to me. They "fit" my vision. I even...wait for it... made an offer on one place!  It might not come to fruition (offering 60% of the asking price might not be the most winning strategy), but hey, I broke through that psychological barrier. Wahoo!

And there you have it. Cambridge or Somerville, here I come. Unless, of course, I find Waldo and Ms. Sandiego doing shots together in a bar in Brookline...

Sei gesund,

March 3, 2017

The Greatest Show on Earth (kind of)! (#7)

Barnum & Bailey might be giving up, but not me!

I just attended my first restaurant and bar industry trade show.  Perhaps not the Greatest Show on Earth, but it was definitely the greatest show... in the Boston Convention Center... last week. The New England Food Show, sold to me as "Any industry person or vendor you want to meet will be there... and tons of folks you might not want to meet." With that kind of introduction, how could I say no? My friends at Toast (a point-of-sale system for restaurants) hooked me up with a registration (hey... my first shout out!). And so I ventured forth...


Holy crap is there a lot of restaurant/bar stuff out there!  From food and ingredients of all sorts, to furniture to glassware to kitchen equipment to software systems to consultants and vendors and even an insta-freeze-your-cocktail-glass-with-liquid-nitrogen machine! It was a little overwhelming for a newbie like me, so I was happily distracted by a quick glance at the education sessions and decided to attend a few - which I was sure would TOTALLY be a replacement for decades of experience!

Ok, perhaps not a replacement, but they were pretty good... and I think they helped reaffirm that I am actually learning something about this industry! Here's the brief summary...

Engineering Your Menu - or stated another way (by me), Know Your Costs.  It was heart-warming for me to hear the presenter say, "This is a business first. The goal is to make money."  And while I'll forgive him for suggesting that Management by Excel was not the best way (I believe Excel is ALWAYS the best way), his point about knowing the full, true cost of each menu item - food PLUS labor - was well received. He suggested ordering menu items by most profitable within each section, so think about that the next time you order from the top!

Loyalty Programs.  The presenter highlighted great points on Simplicity, Relevancy and Value of the program. I have big, wondrous, probably impossible-to-implement ideas on a Loyalty Program for the bar.  (Hmmm... so much for simplicity.)  For example, I want...
  • my loyal patrons to be recognized when they walk in (think: "NORM!!!")
  • a buddy system (come with your "buddy" and receive discounts)
  • special treatment (cut the line - oh yes, there will be HUGE lines!; or send a tweet to the Big Board!; or get priority status in the drink-making queue - oh yes, there will be a drink-making queue!)
  • and yes, of course, a free dessert on your birthday! (no free drinks in Massachusetts :-( )
Personnel.  Finding great people is tough now in Boston - the market is super tight. The panel emphasized many ideas that are totally consistent with my thinking (Yay!): hire people based on cultural match - most anyone can be taught; beware of primadonna chefs (sorry primadonna chefs, if you are reading this!); find folks hungry to learn their craft and empower employees to own the customer experience. For me, hiring staff is still the most daunting part of this endeavor.

Technology.  Finally something I can easily wrap my head around!  Only 22% of restaurants have "pay-at-the-table" technology, but Gartner says it should go up to 50% in 2 years.  I want to have not only pay-at-the-table, but order-at-the-table, as well. And don't get me started on the location-based technology the presenter was pitching... My inner nerd was all abuzz during this presentation!

Equipped with my newfound knowledge of nearly all things bar/restaurant-related (or, well, 4 things), I felt pumped up and jazzed to hit the Show Floor!  Oh boy, it was huge!  I did a quick spin through the booths.  Spin is the operative word.  It was dizzying. It was like a 3 ring circus out there?  Get it, "circus?" (pssst... remember the opening to the blog?!) I have now just come full circle. With that, until the next post...