Adapt and Live, Change and Die
The Public Will Not Buy Into Your Dream!
"If one person says it’s too loud but four people say they love the energy, maybe don’t change the playlist just yet."
- C.K. Chin
Insanely enough, once you open, people might not warm to your concept. Jason Bernstein had planned on opening a craft beer destination with a 9pm rush. The people from the neighborhood liked the food menu, and by persistently showing up at 7pm, made it abundantly clear that they wanted the spot to become more of a restaurant. Bernstein obliged, but still serves plenty of craft beer. Scott Youkilis had plotted out a bar program based on simple cocktails done right, but his customers wanted more progressive mixology. Youkilis had no problem with that, as long as the “done right” part of the equation didn’t disappear.
When your original vision doesn’t take, it’s not necessarily about “what went wrong?” -- rather, says Bernstein, it’s a question of “how much went wrong, and how much is just different than what you expected?”. Making panicked changes could spell your doom, but obstinacy could seal your fate just as effectively. The key to survival is learning to adapt without losing your identity in the process, an art to which Bradford Thompson devotes an entire section of a French Culinary Institute class. “If you’re a Lyonnaise gastro-bistro serving tripe and the neighborhood isn’t having it, you don’t want to turn into a sushi bar.”
Walking that fine line that requires thick, yet temperature-sensitive skin. For starters, take individual Yelp reviews with a grain of salt (this pun is impossible to avoid, by the way). Assume that maybe 2% of your customers use it, and that at least some of their feedback might be constructive (something Nguyen Tran thinks restaurant owners should be thankful for, since before the Internet, if a customer didn’t like something, he’d just quit showing up and you’d never find out why).
Instead of living or dying by every gripe, Scott Weiner suggests looking for patterns of praise and criticism, the roots of which might take half a year to materially affect your business. Ignoring those patterns because things seem to be going great could prove fatal. “Don’t be fooled by a strong first six months. The public will tell you how you did in month seven.”
As for professional critics, if they don’t give you at least 30 days to get your act together, they’re just not that professional. Even a month grace period is pretty harsh (“I can’t think of any other profession where you’re in business for 30 days, and you think, ‘okay, we’ve nailed it, we’re done,’” says Youkilis), but given that the prevailing philosophy is now “if you’re open for business, you’re open for critique”, that’s just a reality you’re going to have to live with.