Before opening a restaurant startup – and during the operation of one – one of the most important things that a restaurant entrepreneur can do is eat at other restaurants. In fact, you should be more familiar with competing restaurants than One Fat Frog employees are with area bars (especially those with cheap drinks).
Think about it. Before a coach sends his team onto the field, he has studied countless hours of game film of the opponent, showing all of their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. Before troops are sent onto a battlefield, extensive intelligence is studied. The Frog says the same type of covert operations should be part of your restaurant startup business.
It may seem counter-intuitive for you to be a paying customer at a competing restaurant, but you will gain valuable insight by doing so. Corporations use mystery shoppers to tell if retail stores and restaurants are doing a good job of serving customers and you should do the same for your competitors. How are competing restaurants treating customers? What specials do they have? What is the ambiance like? What did you like about your dining experience? What did you dislike? If you can answer these questions, you will know what aspects to copy and what aspects to make sure you avoid. If you left early because it took too long for the server to ask if you would like dessert, make sure you train your servers to be more attentive. If you thought the food presentation made your meal more pleasant, make sure you put an emphasis on presentation in your own restaurant. Take it from this Frog, there’s no such thing as too much opposition research.
Once you have thoroughly mystery shopped competing restaurants, you will know what you like and dislike about competitors and can incorporate that into your restaurant strategy. And once your restaurant is up and running, you should encourage people you trust to mystery shop your own restaurant and give honest feedback. It is only through this type of feedback that you will know what your restaurant does well and where it need improvement.