Louise Palmer-Masterton is the founder of Stem + Glory, a vegan restaurant chain with two sites in Cambridge, England, and a brand new flagship store which is now open in central London. She is an expert in launching new businesses and in crowdfunding, with experience of founding a wide range of startups including a digital arts and multimedia company and one of the most recognised yoga brands in the UK, CAMYOGA.
Here, the award-winning entrepreneur takes time from her busy schedule to offer insight into her specialist area of the vegan business world, for vegconomist.
How I Launched an Award-Winning Vegan Restaurant, and How You Can Too
Lots of people dream of opening a restaurant, but many don’t survive. According to the latest figures from The Drinks Business, the number of restaurants closing was up by 24% compared the previous year. The news is full of ‘restaurant chains in trouble’ stories. However, alongside the demise of the chain, we are seeing the rise of the independent; and the success of Stem + Glory is certainly testament to that.
Having opened three successful, award-winning and profitable restaurants, what do I see as the secret recipe? What have I learned along the way?
Here are my top 10 tips for success and survival.
Find your passion.
For me everything starts here. My current business, Stem + Glory, is a vegan restaurant brand, coming from my own 35 year personal story with plant-based cuisine. So, if you are thinking about starting your own business, first rule – always follow your passion. That way it will be a love affair.
Find your place in the market.
With Stem + Glory. I had spent 35 years trying to find a decent vegan restaurant, so it became increasingly obvious there was a huge gap in the market. As the movement grew the opportunity also arose to test this out. But it was still the passion to share plant-based eating with the rest of the world that compelled me to take my ideas to trial; I don’t believe a gap in the market is sufficient on its own.
Identify your USP.
Every business must have one. With Stem + Glory it is ‘delicious’. Again, based on my 35 year experience trying to find decent vegan food, I knew that what was available was all too often rather bland and boring. Therefore. by providing exciting and delicious plant-based foods we knew we would very likely be on to a winner!
Have outstanding customer service.
In hospitality this is of primary importance. I am a firm believer that making other people feel good is pretty much the answer to everything. One kind word can change an entire day; this is a powerful customer service tool. Recruit on the basis of competence, confidence and kind disposition; the rest you can train. Your team is vitally important to you, nurture and care for them and they will care for your customers. Our USP is delicious food, but kindness and customer care are a very important part of our offering.
Our first location is very unusual – but it worked. For our second and third restaurants we chose slightly more ‘obvious’ locations. However, I think that more important than location is having a mechanism to drive people to your location. I do wonder if one reason for the demise of the chains is their reliance on high footfall locations alone to drive business? It’s not enough to have a good location and wait for people to pitch up at your door. For our second location we bought an existing business which has also worked well for us and there are advantages to buying an already fitted out space – we were able to open very quickly. And for our London restaurant we joined a new high-profile development near the Barbican. But we are still seeking unique locations since this has worked well for us to date. It’s always best to be a destination.
Themed nights and special events.
This is hugely successful for us. Look at the calendar and create specials and special menus around events. You have all the classic ones (Valentines, Mother’s Day etc.) but some of the more random ones have worked brilliantly for us – Burns Night, Cinco de Mayo. A themed special event menu with two courses for xxx or three courses for xxx is tried and tested and works. You can run elements of it for a few days around an event to maximise its power. Remember to market your event outside of your restaurant though – don’t just put it on and not tell people! Our special fine dining events have also proved very popular at Stem + Glory and for those we literally run a special menu for one night only and pre-sell all the tickets in advance. It’s been a winning combination.
Spend money on photographing your dishes.
We are hugely image focused and in 2019 you have to be able to entice people on social media with great images. Images of our food drive our Facebook campaigns and our recent successful crowdfunding campaign.
Have regular special dishes on your menu.
Having specials on gives you something to market on social media. We have literally filled our restaurant with a special dish. It also gives your chefs the chance to be creative, which is what they love most.
Experiment with your opening hours.
Analyse your sales per hour and costs to open. Every location will have its own rhythm and flow. Don’t just open at 8am because you think someone might come in for coffee! Look at your peak times. Our restaurant opens at 12 midday for lunch and 5.30pm for dinner. Our café opens 10-5 winter and 9-6 summer. In London we’re testing early-late opening to see how it works.
Market the restaurant – and then market it some more.
There is a direct relationship between marketing and success. At Stem + Glory we are fascinated by marketing, and we literally do not stop. If you can embrace new ways of marketing and new tools, you’ll be on to a winner.
I believe that being successful is as much about you as it is your product. If the going ever does get tough, approach things with curiosity to find solutions. Be authentic and stay true to your own vision and passion and let this passion infect your team. Be persistent, be ambitious, be bold, and above all, be kind.