Tommy Banks: 'Hats off to people who open restaurant after restaurant, it's a serious amount of work'

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th August 2019

When Tommy Banks set out to open Roots, he thought he had planned things thoroughly. “But until you actually get open, you don't realise what you've forgotten,” he laughed. 

This feature appeared as part of a series about how to open your own restaurant.

Other chefs include

Pip Lacey , Hicce

Emily Roux, Caractère

Scott Smith, Fhior

Tommy Heaney, Heaney's

Richard Johns, The Hovingham Inn 

Michel Roux Jr, Le Gavroche

Simon Bonwick, The Crown

Sat Bains, Restaurant Sat Bains 

It's no secret that opening a restaurant is a big undertaking, but the chef found obstacles in the most unexpected of places. 

Sound testing

Too busy getting everything ready, from the food, the service and getting all the equipment in place, it was only when they opened that they realised the acoustics were "deafening." 

“We were like 'Oh God, this is not actually a nice place to sit because it's so loud.”

Accept that plans might change 

Whereas “an unbelievable amount of things can go wrong in those first weeks," the chef said, as long as you can keep on top of them, "you've just got to roll with it and get things right.”

AHW ROOTS JULY EXTERIORS 5

What's more, flexibility and a willingness to rethink things was what landed them their dream location: " a great big beautiful old Victorian building - like really beautiful but absolutely massive,  available as a freehold."

This meant twice as many covers – and twice as many staff.

"A lot of people would decide the concept and then find the ideal place for it, but we adapted because it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”

3) Use your contacts - and let people help you

Out of concern that he would start hearing from the press before he'd made any firm decisions, the chef wanted to keep his property search on the low-down. 

Thankfully, things didn't go to plan - and word got around. 

"The good thing that came out of that was that people started offering us their restaurants, their sites or their properties that might not have necessarily been on the market.”

Fix a deadline – and stick to it

Whilst in an ideal world, the chef said,  you would take your time and spend a long time over soft openings and getting it right, "sometimes you have to put a deadline on it," because every day you're not open is money spent you're not making back. 

Prepare for a long to-do list 

From speaking to the council, to suppliers, organising insurance and recruiting his team of forty-plus, the chef said: "The tick list we had was just ridiculous." 

In the first few days, the chef said he can't remember finishing before 3am - or starting after 6am. 

"After about four nights of doing it I was sat outside - in fact I was  laid down on the street outside the restaurant - looking up and thinking: ' what have we done.'"

Having one restaurant helps to get a second one

Though you might expect that it would make things more stressful, Tommy said having The Black Swan came in handy, as it meant they could employ most of the staff for Roots and train them up. 

“I think we doubled the population of Oldstead - it's only a tiny village - we had so many staff it was like ridiculous," he laughed.

Invest in your people

Whereas most restaurants tend to turn over a lot of staff within the first months of opening, Tommy is a firm believer in giving new recruits a fair crack of the whip.

"I think it's just as hard for the staff when you open your restaurant as it is for you,” he said. 

"Certainly there's a few times I was like 'oh God, I just don't know, I think we've bitten off more than we can chew' and you haven't, you just need to get yourself established." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th August 2019

Tommy Banks: 'Hats off to people who open restaurant after restaurant, it's a serious amount of work'