Want to Be the Restaurant Owner? Know What to Expect.

You are making the jump, steadfast in knowing you can make your venue staggeringly successful. Perhaps there is an inner voice of creativity that is begging to be heard. Perhaps the time is right to snatch that piece of property that is simply begging to be occupied. Or you have had enough of ass-grabbing, penny-pinching, quality-deficient tyrannical bosses keeping you down. For whatever reason, now is the time.

Marketing, location, product — lest we forget, service is part of the product — are considered the keys to a profitable venture. But what about daily operations? Where is time best invested and money most relevant?

This isn’t about social media, menu design, or even finding the perfect location — as if that exists. Rather, this is about those next steps that take place once the ink dries; honest to goodness operational considerations.

Have more working capital than you thought. Way more.
Tapping the remnants of your savings account is never a sound idea. Have a source of funding that will ensure cash flow for the first several months. Opening food orders, a new oven, walk-in cooler repairs, plates, wrecked ingredients, and floor mats will make quick work of a few thousand in savings. Count on no real income for the first several months. Why? You have no idea who is coming through the doors and with what frequency.

Josh Gaskey, chef at The Salty Dog Cafe, acknowledges that for opening “You need a million dollars [to cover] expenses. You won’t make money as the owner for at least a year.”

Matthew Wayland adds, “Know that you will always go over your budget.” The Canyon of the Eagles chef goes on, “When the money starts rolling in, put it back into your business for the first few years.”

Sticking to your genes has to be part of the plan.
Everybody knows restaurants fail. But, why? Poor management? Dangling debt? Or did they fail to stick to their original concept? If that original idea birthed your cajun restaurant, don’t serve wraps, tacos and Pho. Don’t resurrect that dreaded seven-page diner menu that tries to be everything to everybody while simultaneously being nothing special to anyone. Have a mission and stick to it.

Get ready to get dirty.
Fixing an oven door, making smart buys and cleaning your own windows will save you money and, in the balance, be the saving grace from bouncing paychecks or not. Know how to work in your business as well as on it. Lead by example to embed problem solving. “Show your staff that you’re willing and able to help and that you’re not above bussing a table, cleaning a bathroom or washing dishes,” professes Deluxe’s chef/owner, Chad Ferry. Waiting for an issue to become a crisis will be costly and can encumber the profit of a good week, as well. Fix that goddamned leaky pipe before the floor tile rots.

Know thine Enemy… and your enemy is not the competition.
In Joe Bastianich’s Restaurant Man, Mario Batali makes clear, “Everybody pays!” Friends and family are your sworn enemy once the doors fly open. You are expected to give your business away. And that is what it is: your business. No free rides on the Midnight Moocher Express. It isn’t greed or frugality. It is practical to not give away product upon which your income is dependent. Thank Aunt Suzie for coming in by making a fuss at her arrival. Suggest a few dishes and dash over to your other customers. If that freeloader expects freebies, remind her of the time she forgot your birthday. “Your true friends won’t ask for a discount; your acquaintances will always ask for a break,” adds Ferry.

Don’t mess with the money.
Pay taxes. Make payroll. Take care of your vendors. Without fail. Working with a former restaurant owner, he mentioned that the first few months were so trying that he resorted to putting payroll on his credit card. Why? People really are the strength that will support the operation, especially until it supports itself. Burn the people, burn the operation. Same goes for produce, grocery, meat and seafood vendors. Pay the bills and don’t even think of pulling from the drawer; that’s the proverbial stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

The restaurant business isn’t hard – it’s just hard work. When you get to own a restaurant, just go in knowing the restaurant owns you rather than you owning it. Business flow dictates your free time, pop-up issues determine travel plans, employee issues direct headache levels. But you are ready to juggle chainsaws. That are running. On fire. While standing on one leg. Balancing on a slightly dry pile of dog excrement that is waiting to go squish. This is what you signed up for.


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