10 Things I Wished Someone Had Told Me About Restaurants

Restaurant marketing can happen inside the restaurant as well as outside. Skeeze via Pixabay

I was in my early twenties when I found myself a partner in a restaurant, and to say it was a steep learning curve is an understatement. Even though I had previously worked in the restaurant industry, I quickly found that working in a restaurant and owning a restaurant were two different things.  I think that is true for many new restaurant owners, no matter their age.  Here are 10 things I wish I’d known before going into business for myself.

  1. The Devil is in the Details.  This is certainly true of the restaurant industry.  When we were opening our second restaurant it wasn’t until a customer ordered a ribeye that we realized we didn’t have steak knives. Anywhere. In the rush to open our new restaurant we had totally forgotten to order steak knives. Duh.  I wish that I had had a restaurant equipment list to check off, to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
  2. My College Degree Was Pretty Much Useless.  To be fair, a BA in History is pretty useless in general, but definitely so in the business world. And a restaurant is first and foremost a business. I wish I had taken some business classes in college. I henpecked my way through excel spreadsheets and quickbooks, but was never very good at either. If you don’t have a business background, you may want to consider taking a few business classes to learn the basics.
  3. You Gain, Like, a Million Pounds Owning a Restaurant. Well, I did anyways.  Being a consultant for menu items and daily specials meant trying all kinds of delicious foods, a few times a day.  Having a deep fryer and unlimited cheese readily available didn’t help either. Add to that left over desserts from catered functions, a bread warmer filled with crostini and dinner rolls and…well, you get the idea.
  1. Being the Boss Isn’t All That Fun. Some restaurant owner somewhere just rolled their eyes at me. Yes, this is kind of obvious. But still, it is a big adjustment from being an employee to being an owner.  Again, some general management classes would have been helpful, though really, I think effective managing is just something you learn to do over time.
  1. People Steal [insert sad face]. We had a fair amount of employee theft over the years, some small, some not so small.  Sometimes we caught the person stealing, other times we only had suspicions. It’s just a sad fact of life that some people will steal, if they think they can get away with it. Booze was often the item of choice, which we quickly learned to keep locked up and tightly inventoried. There are many proactive ways to prevent employee theft. 
  2. Your Marriage is Pretty Much Over.  Now, lots of couples run successful businesses together. BUT…unless your marriage is rock solid and you are excellent at communicating with your spouse and you are both okay with one of you (the restaurant owner) being at work most of the time, I would highly advise against opening your own restaurant if you like being married. But that’s just me.
  3. There’s Lots of Drama.  Forget about Big Brother or Keeping Up With the Kardashians.  I am waiting for TLC to release a restaurant reality show. Unlike some reality TV fakery (looking at you, Duggars) a restaurant reality show would really be FULL of drama. Everyone dates everyone else, it’s gossipy, there’s a fair amount of substance abuse, and just enough dysfunction to make it a fun place to work.  But also kind of exhausting to manage.
  1. It Helps to Be a People Person. I am not a people person. And I found this out by owning a restaurant. I always considered myself friendly (I still do) but that does not mean I am people person in the way a restaurant owner/ manager needs to be, especially when dealing with customer complaints.  If people aren’t your thing, there is plenty of stuff to in the back-of-the-house, just make sure whoever is representing the front-of-the-house is a people person.
  2. Catering is the Bomb. Find out why.  
  3. Know When to Say Goodbye. All good things must come to an end. With a few exceptions, all restaurants close eventually.  Whether you plan to be open for the rest of your working career or you want to open a new restaurant and sell it in a few years, plan an exit strategy first. This will help keep you from acquiring too much debt, and if you decide you want to exit a little sooner than anticipated, you will know which direction to move next.