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Parks, local restaurateurs address profitability at FGCU seminar

By Staff | Nov 19, 2009

When restaurateur Robert Parks was invited to participate in the recent Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce/FGCU Small Business Development Center’s food service management seminar entitled “Ingredients for a Successful Restaurant: How To Make A Kitchen Profitable,” he was ready to throw his chefs hat into the ring and help his food industry colleagues by offering his advice about running a thriving food establishment in challenging economic times.

Parks, the operating manager of the Twilight Caf on Sanibel, was a panelist for the event that was attended by local restaurant owners and prospective restaurateurs who were interested in learning about every aspect of operating their business – from monitoring expenses to promoting products and services.

During the seminar, Parks stressed the importance of being visible in the community by providing food samples at local events, participating in charitable causes, publishing coupons and press releases in newspapers, and utilizing social media and web sites.

“I’m reaching out to new markets and not just trying to hold on to the (customers) that I have,” he explained to the audience.

Parks noted that a successful restaurateur has a finger in every pie to ensure the business is running as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible, such as using the latest computer software for monitoring sales and costs to something as simple as insisting that lights and equipment are turned off every night.

Well-trained, motivated staff members who are treated fairly and rewarded for their hard work are also invaluable assets for any restaurant, Parks reminded the owners.

“You have to be the accountant, you have to be human resources, and you have to be receiving. You have to train yourself in every discipline if you’re going to be the restaurateur,” Parks said. “You have to look at yourself critically and find what your opportunities are and hit them.”

Because this particular industry can be as fragile as a chocolate souffl, Parks believes that patience and resiliency are important qualities for restaurant owners and their future triumphs.

“The definition of success is picking yourself up one more time than you fall down,” he said.

Other program panelists included facilitator Harry Looknanan (FGCU certified business analyst), Julio Estremera (FGCU certified business analyst), Dr. George Alexakis (FGCU professor of hospitality management) and Christine Ross (Bonita Springs Chamber president).

The group discussed several aspects of running a thriving restaurant business, including monitoring sales and expenses; maintaining a motivated staff; improving operational efficiency; and utilizing promotional tools. They agreed that even in difficult times, a restaurant can flourish if it is run properly from top to bottom, inside and out.

Looknanan recommended that those in attendance take advantage of the FGCU/SBDC’s free counseling services and low-cost programs so they can keep their business skills and knowledge current, while Ross encouraged the restaurant owners to fully use their local chamber’s resources to increase networking and marketing opportunities.

Ross also suggested that restaurateurs provide food samples at community events.

“That exposes you to people you haven’t had in your door yet,” she noted. “It costs you money to develop product for that evening, but the marketing dollars because people had that food in their mouth – you don’t get that by taking out an ad in a magazine.”

Dr. Alexakis relayed the importance of constantly evaluating and tweaking a business operation to make sure everything is running at optimal levels.

“It’s not the strongest that survive,” he told the audience. “It’s those who adjust, those who adapt.”

During a break, Parks and the other panelists mingled with the restaurant owners to answer questions and offer suggestions.

Liz Fattah gathered some helpful pointers during the seminar. Fattah and her husband, Michael, own Ristorante Farfalla in Estero.

“I was interested in how we could better market our restaurant,” she said. “I was interested in what other restaurants had to say about the economy and the restaurant industry.”

Parks also mentioned that he was glad he could offer his experiences with an appreciative group of colleagues.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to get ideas out and share with others,” he added.