If you like food, comedies, and big stars like Robert Downey, Jr., Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson, then Jon Favreau’s new film, “Chef,” should be on your must-watch list. The movie follows Chef Carl Casper, played by Favreau, as he dramatically parts ways with a trendy Los Angeles restaurant and starts serving Cubanos from his own food truck, El Jefe. While “Chef” is superbly witty and has plenty of mouthwatering food shots, there are also insightful takeaways about the restaurant industry from the film. Fair warning—spoilers are ahead.
Here are six lessons restaurant owners can learn from “Chef”:
1. Don’t get stuck in a rut
In the film’s beginning, Chef Casper desperately wants to update the menu at the restaurant where he manages the kitchen,but the owner, Riva (played by Dustin Hoffman), refused to change anything. Even though the restaurant still attracted diners, it hurt the business in the long run when a powerful food critic bashed them for their uninspired dishes.
By offering the same menu items for years, never taking an assessment of your business, not addressing customer feedback or not updating your decor, you may seem dated and lose business from bored customers, and possibly fail to attract new ones.
2. Serve your passion, not just what sells
When the food critic visited the restaurant in the beginning of the film, he observed that Chef Casper has lost the spark he had when the critic gave the chef a positive review in the past. Diners can tell the difference between a business that actually cares about what they’re selling and one that only wants to make a profit. When Chef Casper started selling the expertly-crafted Cuban food he loved on the El Jefe food truck, though, his business boomed.
Restaurant owners can’t blindly lead the kitchen, but need to find their chef’s passion and see how that passion can benefit the restaurant’s mission.
3. Admit when something new didn’t work
Riva rejected Chef Casper’s new ideas because of past failures of his more innovative dishes, namely the sweetbreads. Although Chef Casper kept pushing to serve more creative dishes, he needed to take a step back and learn from his mistakes to discover what his diners actually wanted.
Even if you’re passionate about the changes you make in your restaurant, you need to continually assess whether the new ideas are working, need to be tweaked or should be scrapped.
4. Respond to criticism with kindness
The pivotal moment in “Chef” is when Chef Casper blew up at the food critic, both via Twitter and in person, over a negative review. While the chef’s expletive-filled reaction to the criticism was inappropriate, Chef Casper had one right move when he asked the critic to come back and try the food he really wanted to serve. Owner Riva made a big mistake when he squashed Chef Casper’s redemption plan, because one great way of responding to a diner’s bad experience is to apologize and invite them back to the restaurant for another shot.
Don’t react emotionally, especially in today’s digitally connected world. But do remember to respond and take responsibility for your guests’ experiences.
5. Use social media to your advantage
While “Chef” made social media marketing seem so easy even a kid could do it, there was a precise strategy Chef Casper’s son, Percy, used to promote the El Jefe food truck. He showed their everyday life to give the business personality, let followers know about events and appearances, used a combination of social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine) and interacted with their fans by responding or posting photos of/with them.
Restaurant owners should use social media to create a community of their diners that will expand the network to new customers, but also maintain a professional image.
6. Make industry connections for new opportunities
Chef Casper turned his post-Riva life into a successful career by using his connections: his ex-wife’s ex-husband gave him the food truck, his former line cook at the restaurant became El Jefe’s second in command, and his greatest enemy, the food critic, became the financial backer for his brick-and-mortar El Jefe.
You never know who will walk into your restaurant or into your life with a way to open a door for your business into an even more profitable future. By making the right connections in the restaurant industry (like with Rewards Network), your business will benefit from future possibilities for growth and development.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help your business grow.