Okanagan Restaurant insight

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I am proud to be living in the beautiful Okanagan and this area is often talked about by the media and business real estate world as a place of major economic growth. Yes, we are growing super fast and it is often seen by many as the land of opportunities where you can just open your doors and your restaurant will be full from day one.

So you want to open up a restaurant in the Okanagan? I would like to give you an idea of what you should expect before you cash out and come here to invest in a restaurant. First of all, a good Realtor should be able find you a location pretty quickly, but you will most likely need improvements before you can start cooking. I have to say, the housing industry is absolutely crazy-busy here! So if you dream of opening a restaurant in our area, plan way ahead or there won’t be anybody to build or even renovate your walls before you open.

OK, you have your dream location - now what concept are you going for? You may have the best idea in the world but in reality the Okanagan may not be ready for it. I have seen four restaurants close their doors within the last year and two more are rumored to be in trouble. All of these restaurants thought they had the best concept in the world just like you do. There is never any shortage of ideas in the hospitality industry, and many have actually managed to survive and stay open pass the crucial three year mark. All I can say is do your research and be flexible and don’t be shy to adjust your concept according to your market, wherever you’ll put up a roof. For example, you may have always dreamed of having a very progressive concept, serving ostrich meat or even alligator meat. All of your passion and hard work can only take you so far if the people of the Okanagan do not want to eat any of it. So do your market research first.

There are many young families in the Okanagan, but there are many more semi-retirees and seniors people living in this beautiful corner of the world. When it comes down to food, as a general comment, young people are adventurous and older people not so much! If you plan to cater only to one generation, make sure that there are enough of those to pay the rent in your business plan. I have seen a great concept open two years ago and it’s now for sale, not because they did not do good food, but more because they could not find a market big enough to pay the bills and they did not adjust their concept accordingly or fast enough.

You are now ready to open and operate your restaurant selling food and wine, bravo! Now you need servers, cooks, chefs, bartenders and yes dishwashers too… the real challenges starts. In the Okanagan any of your low paying - low skills positions will be extremely hard to fill. Some restaurateurs in our area with years of experience can’t find enough staff and some even have to close their restaurant part of the week because they can’t find enough people to operate their business. If you think I exaggerate, during your market research ask around, you will find out that KFC pays $10.50 an hour and they can’t find enough people. Pubs can go throw 20 dish washing people in a calendar year for the same position. The Okanagan labour problem is not just in the hospitality industry but in every business in our area who needs workers. The cost of living/housing is so high that young people can’t hardly afford to live here now. So it’s harder to attract people to come work for you. Why would a dishwasher keep working for you if he can go dig wholes in the construction industry for more money? Once you do find your dream team, make sure to hold on to them at all costs. I don’t mean to keep paying more and more and more salaries, but try to create an environment in which people learn, thrive and enjoy. If employees are learning lots they are less likely to ditch you in a flash. If employees have the opportunity to be promoted they are less likely to leave you high and dry. The number one thing to adjust to each employee is their work schedule. Really try to give them days off that will allow them to be with their family. A young worker wants to be able to go out and have a drink with friends, an older work force wants to be able to go see the kids play soccer, and way older semi-retired employees will want time off to travel for extended period so adjust your schedule to meet the demand of your Okanagan work force.

OK, by now you should be pretty freaked out or if you have one of those hyperactive-type personalities indigenous to our industry (like me) you may have managed to persuade yourself that you can still do it and be successful. Our growth will not stop anytime soon, and people are not eating more meals in their houses but are looking at going out more and more to spend that retirement disposable income they have saved all their lives. So welcome to the Okanagan, we sure can use more good places to eat and if you don’t make it here, you can always try again in Africa, this place is for sale!

Chef Martin Laprise
The Chef in Stead.ca

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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