Restaurant ownership: how many is too many?

restaurant ownership
The delightful view from China Doll at sunset. Photo: Kim Jane

While having a hand in multiple restaurants is an effective way to spread the risk, is it better business than running just one venue? By Kerryn Ramsey


Even though owning and running a restaurant is incredibly hard work, many restaurateurs dream of opening a second, third or even 10th venue. But in the current market, is it better to put all your efforts into just one restaurant?

According to Wes Morgan, group beverage manager at China Lane, Mercado and Bacco Osteria e Espresso in Sydney’s CBD, and China Doll in Woolloomooloo, he sees value in running multiple venues rather than ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’.

“Having more than one venue helps with pricing from suppliers and consolidates everything,” he says. “It unlocks discounts across different suppliers that can be utilised within the different venues. This keeps food and beverage costs down across the group. There’s also the opportunity to utilise support across the group. For instance, a single team can help with training across all venues.”

restaurant ownership
Al fresco dining out front of Bacco Osteria e Espresso. Photo: Kim Jane

Location

Managing different establishments is even more challenging if venues are far apart. For the ‘China’ team, proximity played a role in choosing locations. China Lane, Mercado and Bacco Osteria e Espresso are on Angel Place and around the corner on Ash St. While staff can’t be in two places at one time, they can easily move between the different venues. 

Despite the attraction of proximity, the ‘China’ group is about to take on a new challenge. The brand will expand with the September opening of Chu By China Doll, a 200-seat venue at West HQ, a new precinct in Western Sydney’s Rooty Hill.

Staffing

Opening a tried-and-tested venue such as Chu By China Doll, is great business but doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Morgan notes that the key is to work with people’s strengths. The objective should not be to open five or six restaurants but to focus on food quality, service quality and overall guest experience.

“When you start something that is your own concept, built from the ground up, you feel a greater connection to it.” 

Sam Christie, restaurateur, Longrain, Cho Cho San and The Apollo

“Managing the personalities of different people within the different venues is always a challenge,” admits Morgan. “When a team member comes on board and says, ‘Hey, I’d really like to learn at China Lane for the next week’, we can definitely utilise that drive in a different venue. One of the major advantages of owning multiple venues is that you can use the resources and procedures from across the group.”

restaurant ownership
Impressive interior design at Longrain Tokyo. Photo: Nikki To

Sometimes there are concerns that running two or more restaurants could dilute the quality of the original. This can be overcome by each venue specialising in different cuisines. For the ‘China’ family, the establishments it has covers modern Asian, Mediterranean, and Italian fare. 

Hard decisions

Restaurateur Sam Christie also sees the value of diversifying. He’s the founder of Longrain Sydney and Melbourne (south-east Asian cuisine), as well as a founder partner in Sydney’s Cho Cho San (Japanese) and The Apollo (Greek). With a global approach, Christie has also opened The Apollo and Longrain in Tokyo, Japan, with his business partners, Transit.

One of his tips for expansion is to be original and to be prepared to take risks. Christie believes it is essential to trust your own ideas in a landscape in which so many concepts are lifted from other cities around the world.

“When you start something that is your own concept, built from the ground up, you feel a greater connection to it,” says Christie.

It’s also important to know when the time is right to completely rework a much-loved restaurant, as seen in the recent decision to relocate Longrain from Surry Hills. 

“Having many venues helps with pricing from suppliers and consolidates everything. It unlocks discounts that can be utilised within the different venues.” 

Wes Morgan, group beverage manager, China Lane, Mercado, Bacco Osteria e Espresso, China Doll

“I didn’t renew the lease this year and I’m actively looking for a new site for Longrain Sydney,” says Christie. 

Buying power

Christie firmly believes in the value of maintaining a stable of restaurants. By overseeing all the venues, you have increased buying power and it’s easy to compare different costs for different venues. There is also the opportunity to buy in bulk for a better price.

restaurant ownership
Sam Christie, restaurateur, Longrain, Cho Cho San and The Apollo

“For instance, when you have more than one venue you can work with a wine distributor and instead of buying wine by the case, you can buy it by the palette at a better price,” says Christie. “This means you can ultimately offer your customers greater value and better wine.” 

Flexibility

The big advantage of having multiple venues is that Christie has been able to re-house and relocate many of his staff to his other two venues in Sydney while he decides on a new location for Longrain.

In the past, he has also been able to offer staff opportunities to travel to other cities, including sending a chef to Tokyo for 6 months and moving staff between Longrain Sydney and Melbourne. 

“You can also train staff to work in all of your venues—having people cross-trained across venues really helps with rostering and holiday leave. It also gives our team greater variety in their work life which helps with staff retention.”

So, is it worth taking a risk and expanding your business? While it’s a volatile industry, the rewards are many. For Christie, one of the best aspects is the chance to unleash his creativity. “We simply want to share our ideas and passions with our customers,” he says. 


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