One of the biggest reasons people don’t stay in the restaurant business is that they don’t have realistic expectations of what the job is like.
The other heavy hitters are that it’s really exhausting, time-consuming, unappreciated … but we digress.
Let’s dispel some of the most common myths about running a restaurant while keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t scare you away.
Running a Restaurant Is Easy
A typical chef’s or restaurant manager’s morning (we’re talking before 11:00 a.m. here) may include all these activities:
- Getting in at 5:00 a.m. to inspect and accept deliveries.
- Starting soups and sauces at 6:00 a.m.
- Calling in last-minute orders for tonight’s party of 50 that booked yesterday evening.
- Calling the equipment service technician about the steamer that went down in the middle of last night’s shift.
- Creating a prep list.
- Supervising the staff.
- Finding replacement staff to fill in for late employees, call-offs, and no-shows.
- Ensuring that the dining room is ready to go before the restaurant opens.
- Performing a line check to confirm that all food is ready to go before the restaurant opens.
- Creating specials, such as a soup of the day and salad/sandwich combo.
- Fending off the persistent salesperson who has to talk to you this minute about the new glow-in-the-dark chicken tenders.
That’s quite a to-do list to complete before 11:00 a.m., but that’s not all. Then you push the paper to track sales, forecast revenue, and pay bills. If the liquor authority wants to know where you got a case of vodka, you have to be able to produce the receipt.
If the health department is investigating a foodborne illness outbreak related to oysters, you better have the tags for your shellfish on file.
If the state unemployment office needs confirmation that an employee quit and wasn’t terminated, you need accurate employee files.
If you’re building a new business or want to move beyond maintaining an existing one, you spend even more time developing marketing and PR strategies, looking for the best deals from your vendors while preserving the quality of your products, and recruiting a top-notch staff.
I’ll Have a Place to Hang Out
Lots of people use this myth as one of the top reasons they should start a restaurant. They picture themselves hanging out and chatting with people at the bar or walking through a kitchen abuzz with cooks. They imagine getting paid while watching the World Series in a bar full of their friends.
Whatever the specifics of your vision, if you’re looking to own a place where you can hang out, you better be willing to pay other people to do the hard work.
It’s essential for anyone running a restaurant, whether as the owner, chef, or manager, to be in the restaurant and watch what’s actually happening.
If you’re hanging out, you’re not seeing what’s going on in the supply room, at Table 42, or out in the parking lot.
Plus, hanging out socially in the restaurant can be a drain on your bottom line, especially if you’re buying the drinks.
I Can Trust My Brother-in-Law
The dilemma over whether to include relatives in your business isn’t unique to the restaurant business.
Our general advice is “Don’t get involved in business with your family because it’s hard to get out of business with your family.”
Many companies implement rules against hiring family members because it creates unnecessary complications.
The Neighbors Will Love Me
For reasons you may never know, your neighbors may have preconceived ideas of what you and your business are like. They may have had a bad experience with your predecessor. Maybe the place was a noisy bar, or maybe the previous tenant didn’t maintain the exterior well.
Other people are nasty as a way of entertaining themselves. Get to know your neighborhood. People may already have allegiances that could be hurdles to your success. If there’s already a favorite breakfast joint, winning people’s loyalty to your pancake house may be hard.
You need to know that going in and to make your point of difference clear.
I’ve Been to Culinary School, So I’m Ready to Run the Show
Attending culinary school is a great start, but it’s just that — a start. Most schools accept students from all educational backgrounds, including recent high school graduates and people with advanced degrees in other subjects.
But remember, graduation from culinary school marks the beginning of your restaurant career, not a shortcut to the top. Most kids fresh out of school have never hired or fired employees, negotiated with salespeople, placed orders, dealt with unions, or fixed equipment in the middle of a shift.
You don’t learn to deal with the controlled chaos of a restaurant in a classroom, not even one that looks like a restaurant.
I’m Going to Be a Celebrity Chef
The popular media has elevated many restaurant chefs to celebrity status. The work of celebrity chefs has gone a long way to shaping the culinary scene in this country and in the rest of the world.
Having talked to many of these chefs, we’ve found that they think the idea of newfound fame is humorous, in the sense that for years they drove a stove for a living. Their careers haven’t been all book signings, TV shows, and speaking engagements.
People don’t see the grueling hours they spent cleaning grease traps, being screamed at by pan-wielding European chefs of the previous generation, and mopping out coolers. These celebrities didn’t attain their status overnight.
My Chili Rocks, So I Should Open a Place
Just because you’re good at making chili (or anything else, for that matter) for two, four, or six people as a hobby, don’t assume that you can turn it into a job. Running a restaurant is so much more than cooking well. It involves being a salesperson, host, purchasing agent, human resources manager, accountant, and efficiency expert all rolled into one.
And few places succeed based on the power of a single dish, so it’s a little risky to put all your beans in a single chili bowl. But with this warning in mind, remember that all is not lost for your dream of opening that little chili joint.
Coffee bars, ice cream parlors, and hot dog carts can all do well, especially with a large population to draw from. Variety isn’t always the spice of life. You may get lucky.
I Can Cut the Advertising Budget
In any business when sales are down, owners and managers naturally begin looking at places to cut the budget. All too often the advertising and marketing budgets are among the first to go.
But when sales are down, you need more people coming in the door, and you need the people who are coming in the door to spend more money. Effective advertising can accomplish this goal and more than pay for itself.
Wraps Are Here to Stay
Trends, by definition, don’t last. They’re white-hot ideas, entrees, presentations, or whatever that capture the public’s interest and then fade into the distance.
Think wraps, frozen yogurt, merlot, and the $40 hamburger. All still have their place in the hearts of the dining public (except maybe the $40 burger), but they’ve settled into their proper places on menus everywhere.
Wraps gave way to bowls. Frozen yogurt lost ground to its grandfather, frozen custard. Merlot at best shares the stage with red zinfandel, pinot noir, and Shiraz. The list goes on. Don’t invest yourself too much in the food equivalent of a one-hit wonder.
It’s great to get in at the beginning and ride the wave of a trend, but maintain your flexibility and be ready with Plan B when the bottom falls out — because it will.
I’ll Be Home for the Holidays
Many restaurants, especially those close to retail areas, rely on the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to turn in their biggest revenue. So if your wife’s birthday falls on December 15, you can pretty much forget about taking the day off.
You’ll likely be working a banquet, catering an office party, or trying to keep the kitchen from crashing at the expo station. Not only will you be working, but many of your key people likely won’t be, so you’ll be working even harder.
Many of the folks whom you depend on throughout the year request time off during these busy times. You can’t expect people to do what you’re not willing to do yourself. And if several of your key people are missing, you need to be there to watch for disasters.