Dani Perez, one of the founders of Enderun College, noticed a trend among its students. Since the school was founded in June 2006, most of their undergraduate degree holders jump into the restaurant industry right after graduation. Enderun is one of the country’s leading schools for hospitality management and business programs.
“Being in hospitality education, a lot of our students aspire to open their own restaurants, especially kids taking Entrepreneurship and Culinary Arts,” Perez told Entrepreneur Philippines. “Generally, in the Philippines, there’re a lot of would-be entrepreneurs looking into a restaurant as their first business.”
While Enderun has crafted courses for students looking to break into a career in hospitality for the past decade, it had yet to offer a program for professionals wishing to shift into the restaurant business. Until last month.
On July 4, Perez, along with an esteemed panel composed of established restaurateurs, welcomed students who may no longer be considered amateurs or inexperienced, but were eager to learn and be called pupils again for the first day of the Restaurant Entrepreneurship Management (REM) program.
REM claims to be the first of its kind in the country, as it aims to equip its attendees with the basics of building a successful food venture, from conceptualization to choosing locations.
(from left) Mary Grace Café’s Adrian Dimacali, La Lola Group’s Dani Aliaga and chef and restaurateur Sandy Daza
The class was intimate with only nine attendees, five of whom have no prior knowledge or experience in the food industry. The program’s moderator, Luc Froelich, said they wanted to keep the class small to maintain a sense of closeness in the group. This way, students can also build strong relationships with their mentors.
On the first day of class, the students were given the privilege to ask La Lola Group’s Dani Aliaga, Mary Grace Café’s Adrian Dimacali, serial restaurateur Dodgie Violago and chef and restaurateur Sandy Daza for insights on starting a food business and the different challenges that shaped their careers. Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom they shared with the class:
1. Expose your palate to a variety of flavors
No one among the program’s students holds a formal culinary degree, but everyone vows to love food. Chef Sandy Daza said this passion for great flavors and exemplary dishes would be one of the key pillars for a restaurant owner’s decision-making process for his or her food concept’s menu. Not everyone will love a dish, he said, but the restaurateur can stand up for his menu choices simply because he knows what good food is.
“For me, you have to use your own taste, your own preference when serving food,” Daza said. “It’s best to taste different kinds of dishes from different cuisines so your palate will be exposed to all kinds of flavors. You can’t cater to everyone, but by exploring different dishes, somehow, you get a gauge of what good food is.”
Daza once had a restaurant in Paris, which he said was one of the most difficult markets to serve especially with the French’s palate. Today, he’s busy with Wooden Spoon, a casual dining restaurant specializing in Filipino cuisine.
2. Get ready to grind
The real challenge starts once the restaurateur starts selling his or her ideas. While it’s one thing to enjoy food, to be able to convince and bring people to pay for that food experience is another story. So how does one know if a concept would click?
For Dimacali of Mary Grace Café, there’s no other way to find out but to try.
“The one piece of advice I can share is probably to emulate how my mom did things: she started small and she did it slowly,” Dimacali shared. “In this business, you need to be kind of thick-skinned to sell your ideas. You can probably start in bazaars because through real-time feedback from customers, you learn to identify the strengths of your concept. But you have to be strong-willed to endure.”
Rejections can come in different forms. Some may never pass by your stall, while others will have harsh words for your dishes. Dimacali experienced it firsthand when he started helping his mom sell baked goods in bazaars, but he reminded the class that it’s all part of the business.
“The moment you start doubting and asking yourself, ‘What if they reject my idea?’, you lose. You really need grit to succeed,” he added.
3. Good service spells success
A restaurateur’s firsthand experience with customers will also build up his or her brand of service, a defining factor that may spell success for any concept in the industry.
Aliaga of La Lola Group shared that when he started his own restaurant and wine bar in Manila almost a decade ago, he was in the restaurant every day. But it wasn’t only because he lacked employees; he was there because he wanted to know every customer who came in and what his or her preferences were.
“You may be situated where there’s high foot traffic, but chances are, you’ll be faced with a lot of competition. Or, you can be somewhere secluded and have the chance to build up a following. Either way, it’s your service and food that will build up your restaurant,” Aliaga said.
4. Define your company culture
Aliaga reminded the class, however, that service isn’t only exclusive to customers but applies to the staff as well. Once the restaurateur has captured the palate of the market, he or she would need a strong, solid team to achieve and maintain success.
The Spanish-born entrepreneur shared how he once handled a restaurant blunder committed by one of his waitresses who quoted a wine price to a customer that was equivalent to just fraction of the real cost. The group of diners was ready to lash out because of the unexpectedly hefty bill.
“Instead of charging the waitress, I told the group not to pay for the wine and instead charge it to me. However, I asked the diner to promise to come back to the restaurant, and he did,” Aliaga said. “Now, he’s one of our patrons.”
The restaurateur said it could have been disastrous both for his external and internal operations, if he insisted that the customer pay for the costly mistake that his staff committed. His employees may hold grudges, plus, it would be bad publicity for the restaurant.
For Dimacali, however, while maintaining a good relationship with the staff is a must, restaurateurs shouldn’t hesitate to enforce an iron hand when needed.
“Or else, that bad practice will spread to the company. You have to learn how to discipline your team,” he added.
Elyssa Christine Lopez is a staff writer of Entrepreneur PH. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz