How to grow a restaurant business (and how not to)

Posted On April 23, 2024

What kind of restaurant has the best chance at scalability? What are the most common mistakes restauranteurs make? What should anyone who wants to start their own business ask themselves?

Lauren Fernandez knows, because she’s been there. Fernandez, our guest in a recent episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston,” is the CEO of Full Course, an Atlanta-based investment company and accelerator that specializes in helping restauranteurs scale their businesses with an eye toward eventual sale.

Fernandez is an attorney who became a restaurant manager and owner herself, so the advice she provides comes from experience. A self-described “MacGyver” whose team has over 200 years of industry experience, she’s particularly passionate about creating solutions for female restauranteurs and those from underrepresented backgrounds.

“Seventy percent of all restaurants are single-unit locations,” Fernandez said. “The vast majority of those are actually independent that are representative culturally. It’s your favorite Jamaican place. It’s your favorite Ethiopian restaurant. It’s your local Mexican joint. Those brands are the ones that deserve the shot at scalability, where there’s real reward financially for the founders. Nobody knows how to scale those brands, where to find them, or how to put the right capital structure behind them, and that’s what we do.”

The first things she looks for in a partnership are restaurants that have customer demand and owners who are open to their help and want to grow. Once her team gets involved, they often find the same problems:

  • Bad accounting. “Get a restaurant-specific accountant,” she said. “Prepare yourself that it could cost $2,000 to $3,000 a month, but you will get that money back and then some.”
  • Insufficient inventory control. “If you can do weekly to bi-monthly inventory, you will have a better understanding of what your actual food costs are,” she said.
  • Owners who are trying to do too much. “The founder is wearing 17 different hats,” she said. “They’re decent at three and probably need to hand over the rest.”

Much of the advice she gives could be applicable to other small businesses as well, she said – such as the questions she believes anyone looking to start their own business should ask themselves:

  • How much money do you need to make in a year, and what can you give up to make that happen?
  • What are you good at?
  • What are you passionate about? What makes your heart sing?

For Fernandez, she realized her passion was helping restauranteurs make their businesses work and grow.

“This is me on the other side of success,” she said, “turning around and building the bridge to make it better for the industry’s future by investing in the people that I think help make that future look brighter.”

Categories: Blog, Entrepreneurship, What's Working with Cam Marston