Tips for success in a small-town restaurant
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Restaurants in small towns across the U.S. struggle to stay alive on a daily basis. New restaurants are opened often, but they close often, too. How does a small-town restaurant succeed in such a difficult environment? The owners of Magnolia Station offer some pointers.
Located in the small Texas town of Pilot Point, Magnolia Station is a patio-dining restaurant revamped from a 1940s full-service gas station. Magnolia Station is well-known in the small town and in the surrounding towns — not because of its unusual design, but rather for the quality of food and the amazing customer service.
Magnolia Station is owned, operated and fully-staffed by two individuals: Charlie "Chas" Miller and Richard Howell. When the pair bought Magnolia Station a couple years ago, they knew they had to step up the game. During the transformation of Magnolia Station to what it is today, Miller and Howell came up with several tips for small-town restaurateurs.
Customer service should be your top priority. If the customer is your main focus, you have the best chance of succeeding.
Charlie "Chas" Miller (left) and Richard Howell are the owners of Magnolia Station in Pilot Point, Texas.
When the customer walks away, restaurateurs need to make sure they have done everything possible to make the customer happy and feeling like part of the family.
"Service is extremely important in a restaurant. I always say that people will come to the restaurant for food, but they'll come back for service," Tom Colicchio, chef and owner of Craft Restaurants and Colicchio & Sons, said to Curiosity.com.
"Be true to yourself and first and foremost take care of your customers," Miller said. "If you don't have compassion for your customers, then business like this is not something you want to get into. You have to love the customers and you have to love the industry."
Even if you have top-notch customer service, customers will not return if there is not quality food.
When Miller and Howell took over Magnolia Station, the first thing they addressed was the quality of the food. They made the decision to improve the quality of the food while keeping prices affordable. And that improvement began by purchasing quality ingredients.
"There's no room for a freezer here, so I buy ingredients fresh every week. Nothing is frozen," Howell said to the Denton Record-Chronicle.
They also keep the prices affordable by keeping overhead costs down — Miller and Howell are the only two employees.
Translating customer service and quality food to customer satisfaction requires effort.
You cannot just offer great service; you have to make sure your service translates into customer satisfaction. One of Magnolia Station's mottos sums it up: If you enjoy the food, tell your family and friends. If you don't enjoy the food, tell us before you leave.
Every customer is unique. Something that could keep away one customer might not make any difference to another customer. You have to try to get customer satisfaction from all angles. Magnolia Station does this by ensuring all aspects of the restaurant are top notch.
"We get people coming back because of the food, the service, the atmosphere, etc.," Miller said.
In order to succeed, you must know who your customer base is. You have to know who the possible customer base is to your restaurant to run your business and market correctly. For example, a small-town restaurant in the middle of Texas should offer something different than the small-town restaurant in the middle of Vermont.
You also need to know when the customers will be coming in and how they will be dining. Some restaurants offer both to-go and dine-in service. Which does more business? Why? Do more customers come in during lunch or dinner?
One of the driving forces behind Magnolia Station's success is passion. Without a passion for food, customer service and the industry as a whole, you will not succeed as a restaurateur, especially a small-town restaurateur.
"This is a labor of love," Miller said.
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