When you spend a decade handicapping restaurants, trying to pick out the ones that are going to win before they do, some patterns emerge. Here, I present a highly-unscientific and debateable list of leading indictors of any restaurant’s ultimate fate.

  1. The restaurants that work are selling something extremely straightforward. Chicken, steak, good times, carbs, umami, social cred, nostalgia? Great. If your best offer is amazing tripe, good luck. #thesell
  2. If rent is more than a few days worth of gross receipts, the economics are going to be very tough and it’s probably not going to work. Exception: hotel restaurants. #coststructure
  3. Also very tough in New York: if break even means attracting people from outside a five square block radius. #traffic
  4. For restaurants with less than 120* seats to win, prices need to be higher than they appear or you need to be feeling crowded in or you need to be getting price-creeped. #scale
  5. Look at the china. If the restaurant is paying more than a few bucks per plate and the place isn’t jam-packed, they’re assuming you’re ok with a 3x wine mark-up. #budgeting
  6. If the bill takes more than 180 seconds to land after you’ve asked for it, no bueno. #ops
  7. Branding. What’s the place named? Trendy names never work. Ever. For example, you better really know what you’re doing if there’s an ampersand in your restaurant name in 2015. Related, all other things being equal, restaurants named after people, ideally relatives, and streets fare better than those that named after french ingredients and moods. #branding
  8. 25 seats too many are catastrophically worse than 25 seats too few.
  9. Chef-driven + 3-plus stars = ok. Chef-driven + less-than-3 = closing.

Like I said, highly debatable. And, I’m sure restaurateurs will take umbrage with various items, certainly the big-boy restaurateurs, like Stephen Starr and Jean-Georges, who can afford to break these rules from time to time. Sometimes they do it on purpose to get an edge.

But I’m pretty good at picking winners and losers. So, if you don’t know, now you know.

*This is a New York number. It’ll vary elsewhere. But there’s always a number below which the scale won’t work.

Other habits? Feedback? Think I’m off the mark? Please join the conversation!

The 21st Century Restaurant

Thinking on the (dis)connection between technology and eating.

Ben Leventhal

Written by

Co-founder and CEO of @Resy. Co-founder of @Eater. Food, tech, coffee, baseball.

The 21st Century Restaurant

Thinking on the (dis)connection between technology and eating.

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