Everyone has sat around with friends or family at one point or another and thought about how much fun it would be to open your own bar or restaurant. Think about it: you’d have all your friends come hang out with you when you’re at work, access to a massive bar to whip up cocktails at your leisure, the opportunity to get creative with concept and cuisine, and people ready to fill your pockets with money to do it all.
The reality, though, is a much different story. The behind-the-scenes problems are endless, and the rewards might not be what you’d thought. The Daily Beast talked to restaurateurs all over the country to find out what you should know before deciding to open up your own place.
It’s Work, Not Play
Are you opening up a restaurant because you think it’ll be a fun place to eat and drink with your friends?
That’s exactly the wrong reason.
“The big mistake is when people treat their food & beverage business like an extension of their living room,” says Joaquín Simó, of cocktail bar Pouring Ribbons, in New York City. “It shouldn't be a place for you and your friends to hang out and drink and eat for free.”
Not only that, but drinking through your bar or literally eating your way through your profits is good way to go out of business.
“Margins are pretty tight, even with excellent management, so being the main revenue drain will ensure your place will never actually be profitable,” says Simó.
Everything Is Your Job
Being a restaurateur isn’t all picking menus and chatting with patrons. Every single aspect of your business is your responsibility, even the things you don’t think of. Brian Poe owns three restaurants in the Boston area (Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, The Tip Tap Room, and Bukowski Tavern Cambridge), and he says he can’t emphasize this point enough.
“Genuinely know that everything is now your responsibility,” says Poe. “Paper towels or toilet paper out in the ladies room? Your fault for not putting systems in place. Pipe bursts one block down the street draining two feet of ice water into the basement? Your responsibility. Delivery truck scratches neighbors car? Your job to assist in rectifying the issue.”
This Will Become Your Whole Life
Owning a restaurant is a non-stop job, and it becomes all-consuming.
“Consider if [you] are ready to be working or at work for at least twelve hours a day, because that is what it takes as a small business owner,” says Valeria Taylor of Loba Pastry + Coffee in Chicago. “Work goes beyond business hours with marketing and ordering, managing, etc.”
With so much time devoted to keeping your business going, it leaves little for much else.
Taylor says to ask yourself, “How much time are [you] willing to sacrifice from [your] personal life? Maintaining your social life becomes very difficult when people with traditional work hours have to adjust to your schedule.”
Things Will Go Wrong, So Be Ready
Nothing will run smoothly, and you need to be in a financial position to be ready for the problems that will arise.
“If someone on your staff is injured and you have to pay extra overtime, or if the price of the liquor in your most popular drink shoots up by 30%, or a refrigerator goes down and needs to be replaced… These things happen all the time,” says St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance, in Brooklyn.
So, get ready.
Hire The Right People
One of the most important things you need to have are the right partners and staff to support you. Nicholas Starr of Las Vegas owns three establishments—The Martini, The Pint, and Bad Beat Brewing & Taproom—and tried and do it all himself.
That didn’t last.
“The importance of great coworkers and the ability to delegate is the most important thing I have learned,” says Starr. “When we first opened, I wanted to do everything. I was stubborn and going to burn myself out. With the properties being open 24 hours, it’s great and very reassuring knowing that my coworkers take pride in their job and operate as if I was onsite.”
Don’t Do It for the Money, Do It for the Passion
You’re not going to be rolling in dough as a restaurateur, and with all the other stresses, you just have to love it.
“Make sure you have absolute passion for the work, or else you won’t make it,” says Robert Kronfli, who co-owns several properties in the Los Angeles area (Bacaro, Bacari PDR, and Natures Brew Coffee). “Especially with the first location, there will be long hours and a very high level of commitment. The only way to work through it is if you have passion for the job.”