Consumer tastes aren’t the only things changing these days — restaurants need to constantly expand their menus, services — and even space — to ensure they remain competitive in the market. M Restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, knows that all too well, as they began an ongoing process of expansion back in 2011 that continues to this day!
Yesterday, M Restaurant owner Deborah Boardman-Lefevre spoke to us about her overall strategy for restaurant success, from farm-to-table focus to how her employees act as a team. (You can read more here.)
Today, we chat with the entrepreneur about the many great updates to made M Restaurant recently, starting with a kitchen expansion — all done through a financial partnership with Rewards Network.
Could you tell us about your first renovation and why it was important to start with expanding your kitchen space before making front of house expansions?
The original kitchen was 20 by 25 feet. It was a postage stamp! With such a glorious, quaint, and unique property, we wanted to expand in 2011 and take on doing weddings ourselves. In the past, we had rented out the venue to other event planners and chefs.
We knew that to be successful in this venture, we had to expand our prep space. That is when we were introduced to Rewards Network, the restaurant angel, and we were able to pay for this expansion that more than doubled the size of our kitchen.
We were so honored to help support your kitchen expansion, and all of the other updates and upgrades you’ve done since partnering with us.
Could you tell us more about those changes you’ve recently made, both front of house and back of house?
Last month for the back of house, we had to buy three major appliances: a huge freezer, a new stove/oven, and a new convection oven. All three died at the same time!
Last year for the front of house, we doubled our bar space and my husband Gene designed an incredible outdoor bar that uniquely wraps itself around a 40-foot holly tree in our garden! That has been huge for us because now there is an oasis with a central bar that completes our cocktail area.
We also renovated the library in the historic hotel this past spring, painting the walls and having a period mural painted above the mantle by Bill Whiting, a local artist.
Over the years we have replaced all the carpeting in the hotel and repainted and renovated all the outside woodwork on both the hotel and restaurant. That was a huge task because the integrity of the historic home had to be respected, so the prep and execution was intense and very time-consuming.
How often do you make updates and expansions like this?
It is always important to have regular upgrades and to keep the property fresh because it is all about the details. I have always said this. It is all about the details, and for discerning eyes, we try to keep ahead of the curve and keep all those details in check daily.
What mistakes do you think other restaurants make in their updates and expansion efforts?
I think restaurants often overlook the importance of lighting and sound for the overall experience of a diner, so they often bring in lighting that is too bright and have huge sound systems that make it impossible to enjoy an evening of conversation. These two things are my pet peeves, and I will not eat in a restaurant where I have to yell at my companion or the lighting is so harsh it makes me squint.
But in general, I think restaurants often do not bring in professionals to help them design a space that works from A-Z. There are so many details that go in to a successful design, and if you or your team does not have an architect or interior designer who understands important details, they will be overlooked. Then later on, the owner will wonder why she or he does not have return customers.
Dining is an overall experience, and lighting and sound are just as important as the food and service.
How do you manage your finances so you’re able to make these kinds of costly updates and expansions?
We always prioritize and try to do upgrades at a time when our cash flow is consistent. Those months for us are the wedding months, but now that we have a clear top tent up eight months a year, we can offer weatherproof dining with a garden experience, even if it is raining. It is actually truly lovely to sit in a clear tent, protected from the elements, while you can relax and continue to enjoy your meal!
By the way, we also believe in the importance of connecting with customers after they’ve dined at M.
Could you tell us more about how you use the feedback you receive from our members in our Comment Management System?
If I go to a restaurant, I send a review, and the owner responds, that makes me want to go back because it shows that not only do they care about feedback, but that they have gone the extra mile to acknowledge the time and effort I have put in to write the review. It is a win-win for everyone.
What do you think have been the greatest benefits of working with Rewards Network?
The greatest benefit has been the enthusiasm and optimism it always brings to the owners and our staff to continue to work in a place that strives to offer top-notch service, a setting second to none, and phenomenal food, all with our best foot forward – much of which would not be possible without Rewards Network.
Our partnership with Rewards Network has allowed a small, family-run business like us to triple our income in five years. It’s also helped us live our dream of having a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel, restaurant, and event space that literally feels like you are, in fact, in the south of France. The renovations, additions and upgrades have helped us stay competitive and to stay afloat in this ever changing world of hospitality and culinary arts.
Why would you recommend a partnership with Rewards Network to other restaurants?
A partnership with Rewards Network offers a solution that answers all your questions of “How are we going to afford this?”
The business model lets everyone fulfill their dreams with a win-win relationship of filling seats in slower times, bringing in happy return customers, having an average customer with a higher check average than others, and an affordable financing model that lets you continue to prosper while maintaining your sanity!
Want to explore renovating your restaurant, but don’t know where to start? Download our free eBook “The Secret to Remodeling Your Restaurant” as your first step!