The Terrible Twos

I get a lot of questions about opening a second unit. Perhaps my thoughts on the subject will help you get ready to expand . . . whether you ever choose to do it or not.

By way of background, I had an inquiry from someone looking for sources of research to decide where to open a second restaurant. I gave her some ideas and added a comment that prompted the following dialogue:

Q: You mentioned that opening the second restaurant would be the hardest thing done - more so than the first and all the others following! Would you be kind enough to say why? The first took three years, a lot of money and losses and lessons! We can't imagine why the second would be harder!

A: Going from one store to two is the hardest jump you make. Two to three, three to thirty is just increasing the size of the game, but one to two is a fundamentally different game altogether. It is difficult primarily because you can't run two the same way you run one. You are past the point where you can do it all yourself and you go from managing restaurants to managing managers.

You need to have better systems since you will not (necessarily) be on the spot to decide how situations should be handled. In fact, it is usually not that you run #2 and find a manager for #1 . . . you typically end up with two new managers and you get pulled away from the day-to-day of running a restaurant to the business of running the business.

I suggest you get #1 to a point where it can run as well or better without you there before you seriously consider a second unit. One test is to imagine how it would feel (on both ends of the phone) if you suddenly called the restaurant to say that you have to leave the country for three months and you will not be reachable. How comfortable would you be with that? How comfortable would your staff be?

When the place can run as well (or better!) without you there, you are ready to consider a second unit. This means that you had better be setting up solid operating systems (and refining them) right now if you ever want to have a prayer of expanding successfully in the future.

Be aware, too, that restaurants are like children. The new child often gets all the attention (and the better decor, equipment, etc.) which creates jealousy and occasional tantrums in the first child. I acknowledge that new projects are more exciting than old ones, but be sure that your first unit doesn't feel abandoned.

In addition to my "gut check" test above, I also advise operators not to let their egos get in the way of their prosperity. At some level you always know when you are getting in over your head and it is important that you learn to heed that little voice that tells you that you are not the best qualified person to be doing some of the things you are doing.

It is easy to rationalize putting up with your own incompetence by saying that you can't afford anyone else to do it but that is often a cop-out. If you really want to do something, you can always find a way to get it done.

So, for example, if you are starting to think about hiring a GM but holding off because of the cost or because you are afraid they will do a better job than you (and make you look bad by comparison) or because you won't have anything to do if you hire a GM, that is a good clue that it's probably time to consider getting more help.

This may be the easiest way to ease into it: Hire a strong manager to work with you in store #1. Gradually give this person more and more of the things you have been doing until the new person is essentially running the place without you. Now you can open store #2 more safely. Get a strong manager there and repeat the process until you are out of the day-to-day in store #2. You are now essentially the director of operations.

When you become more involved with expansion than with operations, either hire an outside operations expert or promote the strongest manager in your system (who should have already trained his replacement.)

A Note from the Doc:
The only sure way to expand without killing yourself is to make yourself dispensable first. This is not a bad idea even if you never plan to add more units. At the very least it will free you up to have a life!

for more information contact:
Bill Marvin, The Restaurant Doctor™
(585) 606-0000

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