Valuable business lessons learned from a struggling Greek Taverna

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Every summer, for the last 12 years, I’ve travelled to Crete to enjoy a week or two by the sea. And every year, we visit the same Greek restaurants and bars along the coast. This time, we were really disappointed with one of our favourite tavernas, one that we felt had been changing for some time. And not for the better either.

Of course, it's easy to look at another business and point out where they could be going wrong. Far more difficult to analyse your own. My intention here isn't to criticise (or name and shame).

It's to uncover some of the mistakes they've made (along with some of their neighhours) to perhaps look at where we could all improve. In the meantime, I hope my favourite taverna turns things around. They're lovely people.

It's lost its core values

It began as a humble family taverna. With a small menu and authentic, home cooked food. It didn't try to be something it wasn't. The owner greeted you with a warm smile as you were shown to a table. It was wonderful.

Today, it has expanded across the square and there is no sign of the owner. It has lost all of its original charms and is just another restaurant catering to the tourists.

In business, it's important to remember what made you popular in the first place. The very core values that made you stand out from the competition. What did people love about you back then? Quality? Fast service? Friendly? Write down the three things that make your business awesome and unique.

Next, create your unique selling proposition. One that you place on your website and social media channels to highlight what makes you special. It's a simple positioning statement that:

  • explains how your product solves customers’ problems or improves their situation (relevancy),
  • delivers specific benefits (quantified value),
  • tells the ideal customer why they should buy from you and not from the competition (unique differentiation).

In the taverna's case, how about: "We cook authentic Greek food in a family restaurant established since 1999. We provide fast service with a smile." Ok, it needs some work. But hopefully, you get my point.

It's trying to do too much

The menu has expanded to include burgers and pizza. It is, in fact, enormous and there is too much choice. The quality of food suffers as a result. And it has forgotten its core values of being "authentically Greek".

Are you trying to offer too many services? If we spread ourselves too thinly, the quality of our work can suffer. Focus on what you're really good at, and enjoy. Make yourself a specialist in that field.

One of the benefits of focus is that you can often charge more. Our Greek taverna, for instance, might be catering to a larger crowd but they can no longer justify high prices for their meals. If they stripped back their menu to five starters, 10 main meals and five desserts, they could truly focus on the quality of their ingredients and ensure their food is worthy of top dollar.

In theory, a business that offers too much might be cheapening its offering.

It copied others without understanding why they were successful

Across the road from our Greek taverna is a competitor. One that started life as a tacky sports bar, selling low-quality cocktails and naff pizza. On seeing the success of its neighbour, and how it expanded so rapidly, the owner decided to create his own restaurant. But never really understanding how to.

It springs to mind the Cargo Cult of the South Pacific. On a similar vane, this owner thought that simply changing the interior design of his restaurant would automatically bring more customers. He does ok. But this is a small resort and people talk. The food hasn't really changed. Or the ambience.

If you're going to look at why others are successful, and emulate what they're doing, then you might struggle. A business that continually copies the competition on a superficial level isn't really doing anything different or focusing on what it could do better.

For instance, spending a small fortune on a gorgeous office space with impressive furniture isn't going to automatically win you new clients. You have to be unique and know who you are and what you're selling. Live and breathe your business. Ignore the competition or you'll always be playing catchup.

It's not providing an adequate service

During our last meal at the Greek taverna, we sat and watched four tables get increasingly agitated by a lack of attention. Their drinks orders hadn't been taken. Or they'd been waiting to ask for the bill. For us, we sat (out of loyalty) for nearly an hour, waiting for someone, anyone to stop by our table and see if we needed anything else.

Customers like to know what's going on. Much like diners at a restaurant, you don't want to ever give them the opportunity to get up from their table and approach you for the bill.

Likewise, never give your clients the chance to wonder where you are or what you're doing. Put a system in place to provide excellent customer service. Communication is key. A friendly update each Monday morning, outlining what you're doing that week, will suffice. Status reports and shared task lists – they all help.

It's forgetting to upsell and offer more

During our one hour wait for service, we were considering more wine and perhaps a dessert. But alas, by the time we got anyone's attention, we weren't really in the mood.

Never miss an opportunity to sell your client more. Upsell whenever possible. If you design or build websites, offer web hosting. If you write content for people's blogs, show them that you can also manage social media. And so on.

If you work on a project basis, remind your existing clients that you exist. That's whether through a regular newsletter, "limited time" discounts or social media updates. Be proud of what you're doing and shout about it. Keep on people's radar to win repeat business.