by Elaine Fogel

3 Signs a Start-Up is Going to Fail Miserably

Poor EvaluationHubby and I went to see “Gravity” Saturday night and decided to try a new food court restaurant after the show. The young female server behind the counter informed us that they were working in soft-launch mode, and that the official opening was a few days away. She welcomed any feedback we had to offer.

Oh-oh. Did she know what she was getting into with me?

Although I went into the situation with an open mind, it didn’t take long before I had two cents… scratch that… 10 cents to offer. First and foremost, the concept didn’t make sense.

The restaurant’s focus is on crèpes, with the signage indicating two streams of choice – savory or sweet. Since we were there for dinner, we didn’t bother with the sweet options.

Right off the bat, I couldn’t figure out how things worked based on the signage. If I required a verbal explanation, can you imagine how many hours the staff will need to spend explaining it to customers?

Sign #1:
Just because business owners understand their business concept, doesn’t automatically mean that everyone else will. That’s why God invented marketing research. 

Next off, we decided to order one crèpe with fillings and one rice bowl with veggies. Are you still with me? It’s a crèperie… where does a rice bowl fit in?

Sign #2:
When a business concept has a theme, it needs to be consistent or it can be very confusing. Do they serve crèpes or do they serve rice bowls? And, if they offer different things, why put the word, “crèpes” in the restaurant name? (And, no, they didn’t use the accent mark, I did.)

Since we follow a plant-based (vegan-style) diet, we eliminated the chicken and steak options opting for falafel instead. For toppings, the server offered salsa, guacamole (on falafel?), or tabbouleh. (She said they didn’t have any tahini but she would suggest it to the owners.) Since tabbouleh is Middle Eastern like the falafel, we chose that.

What arrived was a basic pancake stuffed with our filling choices. In retrospect, I should have asked about the pancake having dairy and eggs in it (non-vegan), but my brain was on hold while I attempted to make heads or tails of the menu.

The rice bowl contained basmati rice with soggy, pre-cooked steamed vegetables. Yuck. And, because we didn’t choose any meat, we were still charged the $6.95 price. Ouch.

Sign #3:
Business owners need to allow for flexibility, even when they believe they’re offering many options. Some items on the menu were marked, “vegan,” which demonstrated some understanding of the plant-based diet. Had they done the research and invited real vegans to test the menu, they may have discovered that charging full price for a dish that is missing its more costly component (meat/chicken) should cost less. Rice and a few soggy vegetables for a mall food court meal do not add up to $7 to me. Flexibility is in order.

There was more, but I’ll spare you the details. When we finished our ‘meal,’ I provided my feedback to the server. She graciously offered a refund on the rice bowl, explaining that it was a soft launch and they appreciated the feedback which she will share.

I then advised her to look for another job, as I predicted that the place wasn’t going to last long. But, then, I could be wrong, and in the next five years, the restaurant could have 25 locations across three states. Time will tell.

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