Unsolicited Advice for Restaurateurs

From someone who wants to spend her money on your food and write nice things about you

Illustrations by Emma MeskovicM

I’ve been writing mostly nice things about food for 15 years. I go out to eat a lot. It is one of my favorite things to do. Lately it seems that every time I turn around, I’m hearing of a new local restaurant opening up in Memphis, and I would love to see them all succeed.

I have never been a waitress or owned a restaurant. However, I get invited to a lot of restaurant previews and I often notice little things that I wish the restaurateur knew about prior to opening; it’s often these details that can make or break a restaurant. One of my fantasies is to have my own consulting firm that swoops in and helps new businesses make easy fixes before opening day. But since that fantasy isn’t likely to become my reality any time soon, I’m contenting myself with writing this column.

(I also have a fantasy about waitressing at the West Memphis Pancho’s for a weekend, so take this unsolicited advice with a grain of salt.)

Unsolicited Advice:

Don’t break from traditional grammar rules when naming your restaurant.

This actually makes writing about you difficult. Writers have to either explain your name or explain that they are purposely misspelling something. In grammar cases they may make a style decision to print your name according to traditional grammar rules anyway.

Set regular hours and keep them.

Customers rely on the hours posted on your website (or Instagram, Facebook, Yelp, etc.) and if they find you closed when you should be open, there’s a chance they won’t come back. And there’s an even better chance they’ll tell their friends. So start slow—at first open up for just one meal a day, and if things are going well after six months or so, expand your hours.

Two more thoughts on hours: 1) Stay open regular hours even if it is slow. 2) Decide your holiday schedule at the beginning of the year, not on a whim.

If your menu is four pages long, you are trying to do too much.

It’s better to do a few things really well than to try to do too many things, at least in the beginning.

People over 40 can’t read a 10-point font.

I’m sorry. We wish we could.

Let a copy editor read the menu before you print it or publish it online. It’s the best $35 you’ll ever spend.

Dumbplings, noddles, sandwhiches… Shall I go on?

On your menu do not include pictures of food that you do not serve.

Paying a professional, or skilled iPhone XR owner, to photograph your dishes can get you a lot of mileage both on your menu and online. But also, just using your words is fine (as long as you let a copy editor read them).

Make sure the chairs are the right size for the tables. Don’t build that banquette until you know what tables and opposing chairs you are using.

No one puts Baby in a corner, and no one wants to sit several inches below their dining companions.

If the tables wobble, make them stop wobbling.

Sure, folded napkins work, but so do other, more permanent things.

No one likes sitting on a bench.

More to the point: No one old enough to pay the tab likes sitting on a bench.

Fast-casual preset tips on Square should be: No Tip, 10%, 15%, 20%.

Eventually we will look up from our phones or check our bank statements and figure out that you put 25% first.

Don’t serve the avocado if it’s brown.

Brown avocados go in the trash.

Stacey Greenberg is the editor in chief of Edible Memphis. You can follow her at @nancy_jew.

Emma Meskovic is the queen of all trades at Edible Memphis. You can find her posting on social media, managing print files, designing ads, or editing the website. You can also find her standing on a chair taking photos of her food and proclaiming, “Sorry! This is my job!” @emmamesk