23rd April, 2018
Many hospitality owners dream of rave reviews and lines around the block. But few are prepared for this kind of success.
For French Bistro Madame Rouge, this was a scenario on the cards when it became the only new restaurant in Queensland to win a chef’s hat in the Good Food Guide in 2017 – a national award.
Owner Mary Randles told The Pulse that the bistro could deal with the extra demand due to the award win, but it took her completely by surprise.
“I only went down to the awards because I promised my front-of-house manager we would. We had a lot of a hard work put into the first six to eight months of the business – losing money initially,” she said.
She said the major change was that the restaurant was now booked out during the week – not just on weekends anymore.
It was a contrast to her husband, Phil Johnson’s, award experience. In 1997 his E’cco Bistro won Gourmet Traveller’s Restaurant of the Year Award – still, it’s the only Queensland restaurant to take out the gong.
“He still remembers coming back from the restaurant on the Monday to find layers of faxes on the floor with bookings,” said Randles.
She said situations like that don’t occur as often as before in the hospitality industry. There’s more great-quality restaurants to choose from.
Still, there are times when the pressure of running an award-winning restaurant (and the focus that comes with it) becomes too much to bear.
In late 2017, one of France’s top chefs, Sébastien Bras, asked for his restaurant’s three Michelin stars to be removed. He wanted to stop the pressure of having each dish from his kitchen hyped as a three-Michelin-star meal.
Randles said only a one hat award was a blessing. The bistro received the benefits of increased publicity but it escaped the extreme expectations that comes with two- or three-hat restaurants.
“There are times when you do feel the weight of the award, but that’s just about perspective. If you’re trying to create the best meals you can and you’re winning awards, it’s about maintaining the approach that won you the awards in the first place,” said Randles.
Smaller businesses can also struggle with the practical side of success with more customers beating down their door.
Other restaurants that have faced the demand generated by great reviews have turned to tech solutions. There are virtual line apps such as LadderChat – where people are placed in a ‘virtual queue’ and the app notifies them when their table is ready. No lining up is needed.
Also, solutions like Open Table allow businesses to show their open reservations online.
Some restaurants still use the old-school pen and paper booking system to manage wait times for eager diners. Or those that instruct wait staff to turn tables as soon as possible (and face some miffed diners in the process).
Success can also deter restaurateurs to innovate.
When you win an award, there can be a temptation to repeat the winning format.
If it got you the award in the first place, why not do it again?
Randles said while being a French bistro placed the brakes on some innovation, she found that stagnation would be business death.
“I think you have to evolve in this industry or you’ll get left behind,” she said.
“Obviously you stick to your core values of who we are and what we do, but if you stand still you’ll be out of business.”