Perhaps the surest sign that the local culinary scene is thriving is that there’s always no easy answer to the question, “Where are we going to eat?” There seems to be more restaurants, cafes, food stalls and even humble carinderias today than ever before, and they’ve mushroomed everywhere from huge malls and commercial centers to food markets and food parks, giving diners near limitless options for their next meal.
“I’ve been in the business for more than 20 years and I've noticed that there’s a certain push that’s been happening (in the industry),” said Adolf Aran Jr, president and CEO of Courage Asia, at this year’s Restaurant Investment Conference. “The dynamics are different, the locations are cooperating, there are new rulings and policies, unlike before. Suppliers are using a combination of imported and locally sourced ingredients. So the entire value chain seems to be cooperating.”
Courage Asia, a management consulting firm engaged in hospitality training and events and talent management, organized Restaurant Invest Conference, which gathers industry experts and food business owners to discuss key issues and share experiences.
According to RJ Ledesma, co-founder of popular night food market and food business incubator Mercato Centrale, over 2,000 restaurants and food concepts opened in Metro Manila last year. Of this number, he estimated about 1,500 closed down before reaching their first anniversary, mostly due to either mismanagement or a lack of capital.
Ledesma was one of the speakers at Resto Invest. Despite the high failure rate for new restaurants, he said there’s no shortage of people who still want to go into the food business. He dispensed a few tips for those still inclined to pursue their restaurant dreams:
1. Food should never be a fad
Ledesma defined a trend as “a general development (that is usually lasting) in a new direction in a particular industry.” He differentiated it from a fad, which is something you will try out of novelty, but doubtful of repeat purchase.
He cited as an example the so-called “croughnuts” or croissant donuts, which was hugely popular for a time but has since largely disappeared.
“Remember that your business has to be sustainable,” he said.
2. Your food needs to tell a story
“The main question to ask is, ‘What is the heritage of your food?’” Ledesma said. “People are attracted by a story.”
The menu of the Dekada restaurant, for instance, centers around historic Filipino cuisine, while Fely J’s Kitchen, which was named after the mother of famed restaurateur Larry J. Cruz of the LJC Group, offers recipes she picked up from her travels.
3. Have a hero or signature dish
“Quite simply, it’s food that you want to be known for,” Ledesma said. “When you mention Rose and Grace, immediately you think of their bulalo. Aling Lucing’s is known far and wide for their sisig.”
Ledesma also mentioned the halo effect of having a signature dish—it will bring in the crowds but it could also get people to try the other dishes on the menu.
4. Your menu should always have a good chicken dish
Ledesma quoted a study by food rating and restaurant aggregator startup Zomato that said most Filipinos will always look for a chicken dish in the menu.
“There’s no denying that we Pinoys love chicken,” he said.
5. Support with social media
In mentoring food business owners, Ledesma said he always underscores the important of social media. “In fact, one of the first things we tell food businesses is for them to set-up social media accounts as soon as possible.”
Ledesma, who is also a TV personality and bestselling author, also enumerated basic tips for those managing their businesses’ social media presence:
- Be omnipresent, which means having accounts in multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.
- Consistency is better than frequency. “Try to find time to post updates at regular hours or intervals.”
- The more dynamic the post, the better. “Video is better than photos is better than text.”
- Make posts interesting.
- Boost the post for visibility.
- Encourage discussion and invite participation.
Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Entrepreneur PH