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Recently I had a discussion with Ken Haigh, PeopleMatter's COO, about the dangers of reaching into the monkey trap. Not familiar with the term? The concept is based on placing an item, say a banana, in a container with an opening that allows the monkey to reach in and grab it, but not big enough to pull the item out.

Foodservice businesses often get caught in this trap.

When you open a new restaurant you're free to innovate. Finding an area that is underserved, or an idea that is original and sets you apart from competitors is critical when breaking into an industry as crowded as foodservice. Success takes pushing boundaries. New restaurateurs can risk it all because they're starting with little or nothing to lose.

These same owners get caught in the monkey trap when their restaurant begins to accrue value. Once you've built your identity and developed a brand, it's harder to put everything on the line. Like the monkey with a banana, you're too busy holding on to what you have. It's difficult to view success as a trap, but fear of losing ground can put your business in a holding pattern. The more you achieve, the harder it is to let go of the banana.

With information easily accessed online and through social media outlets, restaurants face more pressure than ever to not make mistakes. Sites such as Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor put increased levels of scrutiny on the foodservice industry. Consumer-written reviews and ratings allow diners to criticize or praise restaurants to large audiences, with minimal control or input from the restaurant. It's enough to strike a little fear in any business owner. But if you're afraid to let go, your business can't move forward and grow.

As a restaurateur, you must be willing and smart enough to risk letting go of the banana in order to continue innovating and maintain a competitive edge. You have to think outside the box, or outside the banana jar as it may be.

Look at successful trends in the past. Wendy's was one of the quick service leaders in adding appealing healthy options to their menu. Their Garden Sensations salad line rolled out nationally in 2002 backed by the biggest ad campaign in company history. This was two years before the film, Super Size Me, pushed others down the same path.

Another trend we've seen in the last couple years is quick-service and fast casual restaurants investing in food trucks. The movement started around 2008, and has certainly found traction in the foodservice industry. Many restaurants have even moved to multiple-truck concepts. According to a 2011 National Restaurant Association survey, six out of 10 consumers are now likely to visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered one. This is up from 47 percent the previous year.

To meet today's consumer demands and economic restrictions, restaurateurs must be flexible, tech-savvy and always on the lookout for ways to innovate. From switching out the restaurant décor to updating your technology or discovering the next big trend, it's about taking chances and keeping your business fresh. Don't "get stuck" holding on to the status quo.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Don Spruell
    We are located in a small town, pop. less than 3,000!. We have a traditional mixed menu,ie burgers tacos pizza seafood steaks!. We think we need to add BarBQ, we already have all the equipment (small scale) any thoughts?.
  • Sriram Kuchimanchi
    It's a great article, Nate. Restaurants, like any other business have to constantly look ahead and find their USP and differentiate themselves from the pack.

    One such opportunity, still untapped, is adopting Sustainability. The cloud of mis-information is now dissipating - that eco-friendly options are unfriendly to pocket. On the contrary, it is now well noted that adopting Sustainable business practices not only helps bring down operational expenses, but, in many areas in the country, it bolsters business!

    We, at 500Gallons, have recognized this and our free online tool helps any restaurant adopt Sustainability at their own pace and comfort level.
  • TEST 10:43 am Scofield
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Nate DaPore
Nate DaPore, PeopleMatter President and Chief Executive Officer As the spirited leader of PeopleMatter, Nate is passionate about providing team members, including his own, with a rewarding workplace experience that values creativity and innovation.
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