Sunday August 8, 2018 By: Alexandra Kinias
Pure coincidence led Engy Radwan to restaurant business. After her graduation from the American University in Cairo, she worked at Trianon Bakeries as Assistant Marketing Manager. Radwan had never envisioned herself working in restaurant business, yet she enjoyed the work immensely. When the company acquired the franchise for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, she was assigned head of the team traveling to Malaysia for training, at the head office in Kuala Lumpur.
Part of the extensive training they received was working as baristas for 5 weeks at the company outlets in Kuala Lumpur. This was a life changing experience for Radwan where she discovered her passion to continue working in this field. She also opened 2 restaurants, Wawshee, a fast food Hawawshee restaurant and Nourj, a seasonal breakfast joint.
Radwan has over 16 years of experience working with some of the renowned F&B and Restaurants brands in Egypt, creating, managing and developing restaurant and cafe concepts. In 2015, she started her company, Everything Restaurant, a Restaurant Consultancy and Management Services Company. Through her company, she offers her expertise to new and established restaurants and cafés in Egypt. She is one of the few women working in this field in Egypt.
Engy Radwan shared with Women of Egypt some tips, advice and secrets of the trade.
WOE: Can anyone open a restaurant?
ER: Financially, definitely. Professionally, this field is not for everyone. It looks exciting and fun on the outside. In reality, it requires a lot of commitment, patience and knowledge to run such a dynamic and complex business. Many people think it’s easy, but unless you are 100% committed to the business, a lot can go wrong and it could become very stressful and uncontrollable.
WOE: How can a restaurant be successful in today’s competitive market?
ER: Commitment. Commitment. Commitment. You need to give it your all and invest in the right team to help you manage and sustain the business. Many other factors play a huge role in the success of restaurant business; selecting the right location, investing in the right caliber of staff, keeping your customers engaged and maintaining good rapport with your suppliers.
WOE: What challenges people who want to open restaurant face?
ER: Lack of knowledge can be very harmful to anyone opening a restaurant. Owners should spend a lot of time learning about the field and talking to the experts; Be it other restaurant owners, top chefs, consultants or all of them. Before I opened my restaurant, I attended workshops for 6 months offered by the Egyptian Chefs Association. I talked to operation managers and chefs to learn more about the field.
Even though I had worked in the field for years, I still needed to dig deeper on the operational level; to know how things are done, job descriptions and roles, financial structure and management and so on.
WOE: What job challenges restaurant owners face after they open the business?
ER: Controlling the external factors can be tricky and frustrating at points. The market is unpredictable. Business owners need to keep up and plan ahead for any surprises or problems that will inevitably occur along the way. Prices change quickly now and you are obliged to sell at the same prices for a while. You can’t change prices every week, right? Also, staying aware of what’s happening in the market is important. You need to know who is selling what, for how much, how are you doing amongst competition and so on.
WOE: What are your top 3 tips for running a successful restaurant?
ER: Knowledge. Commitment and picking the right harmonious team to work with.
WOE: What has been your greatest professional success and biggest setback?
ER: My greatest success is opening my own restaurant in 2016. It has been one of my career goals. I opened many restaurants for others, consulted on many existing clients and it was time I opened my own place. Many colleagues urged me to start my own restaurant, encouraged me to take this very crucial step in my career. I never regretted it for a second.
Of course, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Nourj, my first restaurant, was a summer project. It showed me a completely different angle of the business that I wasn’t totally familiar with as a consultant. The real world. The daily bumps and hiccups and I was forced to put my serious hat on and jump in. It was an interesting and challenging project. It was far away from home, a totally new experience and I had to drag along and entertain my 2 kids at all times, for 2 and a half months.
This project may have not been financially rewarding and I might have lost some money, but I gained a lot of experience that actually helped me with my next project. It taught me a lot about dealing with day to day issues, handle staff and manage an entire operation of a restaurant.
WOE: At what point you know a restaurant is doomed to failure?
ER: When owners start losing momentum. Once you lose interest in whatever you are doing, nothing that will keep a business afloat. The momentum has to be always there and nourished with bigger targets, shooting for higher sales, opening a new branch or simply expanding your current business. Another important factor behind failures is not investing the right amount of time in the business. Daily. Joggling several jobs or projects can be very self-boosting at times and we all believe we can do it all, but we actually can’t. I admit being that person at some point, but with some reality check, I learned to let go of things. One of the balls will definitely fall and mess up the entire formula. So, lack of devotion and commitment can definitely harm the business.
WOE: In a culture where people believe they don’t need an expert’s opinion because they can do it on their own, how do you convince them that they do in fact need one?
ER: (Laughingly) story of my life! I have worked with several clients who think that way and I actually declined clients who stick to their way of doing things without listening to experts in the field. It takes effort, several meetings and sometimes some wasted money, to convince clients to listen to experts to avoid losing more money or actually ending up shutting down altogether. As you mentioned, it’s a culture thing. Many people believe they know everything about everything but unfortunately they end up losing their business simply because they did not invest in hiring the good team to help them do it right. This happens all the time, unfortunately.
WOE: What continues to motivate or inspire you in this industry?
ER: Every project is unique. I like the rush of starting something from scratch and see it come through. The process itself from finding the right location, to building the interior, to developing a new menu ( a lot of menu tasting, which is always nice) hiring the new staff and building relationships, the whole process to the opening day. All this keeps me inspired to see how this business will do and how the new brand will make it through the market.
WOE: Why did you choose to open a fast food and a breakfast restaurant?
ER: From experience, fast food restaurants are more successful than fancy or casual diners. We need quick meals to eat along our busy days. Operational cost is definitely lower in fast food concepts, so that’s one thing to consider these days. Prices are crazy and to make money, you need to save money as much as possible.
Nouja’s was a different story. It came from the fact that most restaurants serving breakfast in Egypt only serve breakfast till 12:00 pm max. Egyptians are not early risers. We take our time, especially on weekends. People who wake up late don’t stand a chance to eat eggs or pancakes anywhere at 2:00-3:00 pm. I wanted to accommodate everyone’s waking/working hours at my diner. One other personal reason behind breakfast diner is I am breakfast guru! A proud mama who takes her family breakfast seriously. So, I wanted to take this legacy to everyone else.
WOE: Do you have plans to open more restaurants? If yes, what style of food would you pick?
ER: Definitely! Probably a coffee place since I am a coffee addict and enthusiast.
WOE: How do you keep your menus exciting?
ER: People like to see new items on the menu. We add and remove items from the menu every couple of months. So, adding an item or simply changing the recipe of another can help keep the menu exciting. Also, offers and promotions keep the customers happy with the savings.
WOE: We all know service is key. How do you motivate your staff to keep a constant service ethic?
ER: This part could be tricky and it took me years to understand. Balancing your relationship with your staff is not easy. You need to keep changing hats with them all the time. You wear the friendly, easygoing hat at points, but many times you need to switch to the bad-ass boss hat. You need to get involved in their personal lives, comfort them at sad times, be generous at happy times and so on. Communication is also key here. Keep an open line of communication with staff, but through the appropriate professional channels. They have to know you are available and reachable, but at the same time keep boss-staff boundaries. It can be challenging and tricky of course for female bosses, because our culture has its own man-woman boundaries, but I managed to draw the line where it’s necessary.
WOE: What’s your secret to keeping customers coming in?
ER: Good food, reasonable prices, diverse menu and keeping your buzz all the time.
WOE: As a restaurant owner, how important is it to have actual experience in every aspect of the business, as you have?
ER: Being knowledgeable about the business is important. However, in reality, many things are learnt along the way, especially if the owner of the new business doesn’t have any culinary or hospitality experiences. This is why I always recommend starting with a good operational team, to help you start the business right, teach you how things are supposed to be done and help you develop your business. If I knew 60% of how to run a business from my career, those remaining 40% were learnt on the job. I need to actually see it happen to know how to do it on my own.
WOE: How can the reality of restaurant management as a career differ from typical expectations?
ER: It’s pretty different. Many people see the restaurant business as fun, fluffy and easy. It’s not. It is very time-consuming, full of surprises and, in Egypt, anything could and will happen. This doesn’t mean it’s not a good industry to work in. On the contrary, it is still challenging and exciting and fun, but the behind-the-scenes part is very serious.
WOE: As an employer, what kinds of degrees, certifications and experience do you look for in new hires?
ER: I wish I could say degrees and certificates matter in our country, as unfortunately, most of the people working in this field don’t come from culinary or hospitality backgrounds. I have come across lawyers, pharmaceutical reps and an eye doctor working as restaurant staff. The few ones who studied at tourism and hotel schools prefer to work at hotels not restaurants. Hotels mainly hire such caliber and require certification to guarantee quality and knowledge of the industry. I try to hire a good mix of staff; experienced ones in higher positions to lead the way and younger less experienced ones to learn on the job and become better over time. This keeps the dynamics of the restaurant balanced and makes room for job promotions and keeps the staff job cycle going smooth.
WOE: What advice can you give to those who would like to open a restaurant of their own?
ER: Spend some time and money educating yourself about the business. Take your time planning. There is no rush to open a business, invest money and then lose it in a short time. Also, I advise them to seek as much advice as possible from the experts in the field to know as much as possible about this industry.
Check out Engy Radwan’s full profile on LinkedIn here