A waiter brings plates of burgers and fries to a table of three in a restaurant. The waiter is a man weraing a blue-and-white plaid shirt under a dark blue apron. He is setting one plate of food down on the table and balancing the other two plates on his arm. The three people at the table are two women sitting on the left side of the table and one man across from them on the right. One of the women and the man are reaching for fries on the plate being lowered in front of them. The other woman looks up at the waiter with a smile.
Food is important at a restaurant, but so is atmosphere. Semih Ayhan, Owner of Med Box Grill, suggests paying attention to elements like lighting that can create an inviting space. — Getty Images/Drazen Zigic

If you could create your own fantasy board of directors, who would be on it? CO— connects you with thought leaders from across the business spectrum and asks them to help solve your biggest business challenges. In this edition, we ask an expert about affordable ways to show employee appreciation.

In this edition of “Ask the Board,” we’re pleased to feature Semih Ayhan, Owner of Med Box Grill, an award-winning Mediterranean restaurant in Chanhassen, Minnesota, featuring wraps, kebabs, falafel, and other Mediterranean delicacies. He shares tips on how restaurateurs can stand out in the industry.

There’s no denying that the restaurant industry is incredibly competitive. That’s why it’s essential for restaurant owners to think outside of the box and do whatever they can to differentiate their establishments. Below, Semih Ayhan provides valuable insights on how your restaurant can stand out from the competition and succeed.

Use quality ingredients

Customers will notice if you’re not using quality ingredients so it’s a good idea to prioritize them. At Med Box Grill, we keep our menu basic and simple but make everything from scratch with top-quality ingredients. If your restaurant offers fresh, high-quality food, people will not only travel to you but also spread the word.

Keep prices reasonable

Med Box Grill keeps prices reasonable. Here’s why: We believe that gaining regular customers is better than charging too much for food and never seeing customers again. This mentality can lead to powerful word-of-mouth marketing for your business. If customers are happy with your food and what they paid for it, the first thing they’ll do is to tell their friends, families, and neighbors about your restaurant. It is very important to satisfy customers with food and value.

Pay attention to your atmosphere

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to create a great atmosphere. Based on the type of restaurant you own, try to make simple changes to your decor. Lighting, for example, is more important than many people think. After all, no one wants to dine at a cold, soulless restaurant. Make sure your ambiance is inviting and warm with proper lighting.

If anyone is thinking about going into restaurant business, they need to be in love with it.

Semih Ayhan, Owner of Med Box Grill

Provide exceptional service from start to finish

We offer a casual dining experience. Our service does not end when we take customer's orders at the register. You’ll see myself (the owner) and my business partner walking around and talking to our guests about their experience. Our humble personalities and welcoming attitude contribute to their experience in a positive way.

Treat employees like family

We also treat our employees like family. This leads them to genuinely be invested in our restaurant. We employ a lot of local high school students and oftentimes, Med Box Grill is their first job. We treat these students with the utmost respect and create a fun environment for them to come and express themselves and learn about work life for the very first time. Customers do notice happy employees and this also improves their vision of the restaurant along with their experience.

Be passionate as the owner

Restaurants are like babies. You have to tend to them and care for them, and hopefully one day they can grow and take care of you. If anyone is thinking about going into restaurant business, they need to be in love with it. Restaurants do go under when the owner is burnt out and he/she hires a manager to run things for them. This is often effective in the short term but in the long term, it results in getting financial debt and eventually closing. If you are not giving 50 to 60 hours of your week to your work, you are bound to fail.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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