Opening a restaurant will be one of the most thrilling and gratifying experiences of your life — but it also takes hard work a little bit of luck! At the end of the day, running a restaurant can be a pretty unglamorous job (talk to us after you’ve just emptied an overdue grease trap on a commercial fryer during a busy night of service).
When restaurants strike the right balance of location, service, and delicious food, the effect is nothing short of miraculous! Finding that sweet spot is hard, sure, but it’s worth it when all your hard work pays off.
And it doesn’t happen by chance — doing your research can pave the way, buffering you against those little “first-timer surprises” that can really throw you for a loop. If you’ve been dreaming about opening a restaurant, here are five things you should know to prepare yourself right from day one.
1. Focus on the practical for now
It would be nice if we could say, “Do X thing, and you’ll guarantee restaurant success,” but unfortunately, that’s just not the case. The first few years of a restaurant’s life are crucial to your success. Now’s the time to lay your groundwork, buffering yourself against the forces that dictate restaurant success.
The best thing you can do to survive and thrive is to come up with a focused, stripped-down menu and concept — while still keeping eyes on the practical details of running your restaurant. For instance, many new owners let whimsical notions about cookery and cuisine cloud their judgment when it comes to actual food costs and profits. The goal for the first few months should be to get out of the red, then to make culinary history.
2. Owning a restaurant takes work
If you’ve never worked in the restaurant industry before, make sure you have your elbow grease ready! The days here are a lot longer than in your standard nine-to-five. From the first early morning bakery delivery to closing cash at night, it takes a lot of labor to make a restaurant run.
You can’t do it all by yourself, of course, which is why it’s vital to hire trustworthy, experienced managers to rule the roost when you can’t be on site. Most restaurateurs promote a talented candidate from within, but unfortunately, when you open a new spot from scratch, you don’t have the benefit of choosing from a built-in pool of servers and bartenders.
If you don’t have contacts from previous restaurant jobs, you’ll have to find candidates the old-fashioned way: by reviewing resumes. Look for someone with at least two years of prior management experience in a small, individually owned restaurant. And give extra weight to candidates who’ve helped opened restaurants before. If you’re a first-timer, that experience could prove invaluable!
3. You must expect the unexpected
Every successful restaurant worker has honed their ability to improvise — and for a good reason! You never know when you’ll have to retool a special or accommodate a last-minute catered lunch.
Regardless of how carefully you do your research, there are aspects of your food and service that will change over time. In fact, most restaurateurs find that improvements are an ongoing project — they’re always working to fine-tune the customer experience. No menu or concept is immune to a little bit of tinkering, so plan on making small changes as you learn what works. You may even find you develop a knack for thinking on your feet!
4. There may be some costs you haven’t thought of
When you open a restaurant, there are tons of small (and not-so-small) costs that catch a lot newbie owners by surprise. There’ll be licensing fees, insurance deposits, and utility costs. You’ll have to pay for rights to play music overhead, hire a graphic designer to create your logos and menus, and engage a promotion or marketing consultant to get the word out.
Then there’s the cost of construction, redesign, and chef requests — not to mention that one inventory item you somehow forgot about until it made its absence pressingly clear. All in all, it’s a good idea to give yourself some extra capital (or a generous line of credit) to provide a little cushion for unexpected expenses.
5. You’ll be surprised by how much fun you have
Sure, restaurant employees work hard, but we know how to have fun, too! Opening a restaurant is a highly gratifying experience: watching your dreams take shape, in reality, is highly rewarding.
And there are also some unexpected pleasures: for instance, you probably never knew how funny your cook staff could be until you’ve seen them pull doubles on a slammed night. Or realized how much difference a restaurant could make in its patron’s lives until you’ve watched a family celebrate its achievements there. You may even find some lifelong friends in your patrons and regulars, and discover that you’ve made a real difference in your community’s culture and flavor.
Opening a restaurant takes a lot of hard work and loads of audacity, but unlike other new owners, you at least know what you’re in for. And in the restaurant industry, knowing is half the battle!