Owner of Forti Grill and Bar, Fortunato Mazzone at his restaurant at Time Square Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency/ANA

The 4th annual Wine & Food Tourism Conference took place at Spier in Stellenbosch this year and the speakers gave inspiring and practical advice too industry role players.

On the speaker's list was Fortunato Mazzone the owner of the award winning restaurant Forti Grill and Bar in Pretoria.

His no-holds-barred talk was entitled "Starting a new restaurant in tough times" but his advice was insightful for anyone in the restaurant business.

Mazzone offers these tips for anyone at the helm of a restaurant in SA and especially when operating in tough economic times.

Speak to your landlord

"We have a problem with greedy landlords," says Mazzone. "It's a major problem - the beauty of this period of time allows you as a restaurateur to start seriously negotiating with landlords and to not be scared. Move in and negotiate - take a good lawyer with you - because a lease is a major expense."

Don't trip yourself up

Mazzone advises that restaurateurs shouldn't haggle to hard with suppliers, trying to cut operating costs: "Your supplier is your biggest ally or worst enemy. Treat them with respect and honesty and don't sit there and haggle for the cheapest price all the time."

He also advises that you not discount your food: "Never sell yourself cheap. Do not put your food on sale, do not offer specials for winter - why are you screwing your clients in summer then. Offering of specials is the prologue to the failure of your business."

Invest wisely

It's common to hear of people reaching retirement and then plugging their life savings into their dream of opening and owning a restaurant. Mazzone says this is a big mistake: "Do not go into this business if you looking for a place to invest your pension or the last few rands to your name."

He says that potential restaurateurs need to have 18 months of operating money in the bank just to open a restaurant - because in that time you might not earn a penny.

Stay confident

Mazzone advises that you hire the best possible people for front-of-house and in the kitchen. He told delegates that his staff have all been with him for 20 - 25 years and he's invested in their training and success. 

Investing in your staff is sure sign to them that you're a confident business person and in it for the long run, a high staff turnover is neither a good thing for a business owner or the people coming and going on the staff roster.