Why opening a restaurant is a horrible, horrible, great idea
For those outside the industry, running a restaurant seems like an all-you-can-eat buffet of wealth and social status. And if it's not successful, the worst that can happen is Gordon Ramsay screams at you a little on TV. But for every Gordon Ramsay swimming in piles of money while eating duck confit, there are hundreds just scraping by on staff meals and low profit margins without any time for skiing or golf or a healthy marriage.
So to give an accurate view into this oft romanticized industry, we asked a group of esteemed restaurant and bar owners from across the country to vent about the difficulties they face and sacrifices they make every day to give you the luxury of not cooking at home. If you're dead set on opening your own place/ruining your marriage, you can find some tips right here, but first be sure to read the following words of warning... and be ready to clean feces out of urinals on your birthday.
YOUR SOCIAL LIFE WILL BE OVER
"I find many people want to open a restaurant because they want to be everything, to everybody. But it's hardly fun and games in the social arena. If you are not prepared to never see your family, never have a holiday, never play golf, then you are not prepared to be in the restaurant business. You have to have a clear vision of your brand, and come hell or high water, you have to stick to it despite losing almost every ounce of your social life." - Cory Bahr, Restaurant Cotton& Nonna (Monroe, LA)
NO, SERIOUSLY, THIS JOB WILL CONSUME YOU
"The outside world doesn't understand our job. I ask people, 'What do you want to do 5-10 years from now?' Whenever anyone says 'I want to open a restaurant', I tell them to go back to law school, go get your PhD. You can go out to eat later. Go study hard and then you can enjoy what you enjoy. That's what I say to everyone.
The business, it sucks. It's hard. There's expectations at all times that are set. The guest always expects you to be at your restaurant. You want to be at the restaurant, but it's really taxing. I want to go out to dinner with my kids. I want to have a weekend off. We work different hours, long hours. Yesterday, I worked an 18 hour day. On a Wednesday.
We talk about being a strong athlete, and use athletic terms because you have to have the mindset and the physical energy. It's physically demanding. You have to be on your feet and mentally engaged to make the guest happy. It's the hardest job in the world. We have 30 people on staff tonight. 30 different personalities. Everyone either had a good day, an okay day, or a sh*tty day. We're about to open up the doors and say hello to 200-250 people all in the same boat. It's show business every day. It's playoffs that never end. It never ends. It's the Super Bowl every day. It keeps coming, day in or day out. People don't get that. It's a lot to manage. You get tired, and you get bad days. Sometimes I don't want to go to work. I'm human too. There's a lot of downsides. But at the end of the day, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'm also crazy. Anyone who does it, really loves it. It's a different breed." - Bryan Dayton, OAK at Fourteenth & Acorn (Denver, CO)
YOU WILL DO ALL THE DIRTY WORK
"I always like to use the example of when someone takes a dump in the urinal... on your birthday... and you're working on it... after working every day for the last two months... will you clean it out? If you clean it out yourself and somehow manage to regroup and not be bitter, you have a chance. If you don’t clean it up -- you have no chance. And then even if you clean it up, regroup, and give great service and experience, sometimes it just won’t work and the restaurant will fail. But you have to be willing to clean out that urinal to even find out. I always clean the urinal to make a point that nothing is below anybody." - Shawn Cirkiel, parkside (Austin, TX)
YOUR SALARY WILL START AT $0
"The restaurant business is a very challenging business with many moving parts. As a restauranteur, you must be prepared to handle every position in the restaurant. You must learn to wear all the hats -- especially at the early stages of the game. One day you are mopping floors, unclogging toilets, and washing dishes, and the next you are preparing cocktails and food.
If you do not know how to work hard for free, then I would suggest you do not get involved in this business. You can forget about your personal life for the first 5-10 years. The business will consume every waking moment you have. You, as the owner, have to be the first one in and the last one out, otherwise you can say goodbye to your profit margins." - Peter Gevrekis, Desnuda (New York, NY)
YOU WILL BE EMOTIONALLY (AND PHYSICALLY) DRAINED
"As much as people would like to think the restaurant industry is glamorous, it is more than anything a hardworking business. Beyond providing great food, wine, and service, your job is to make someone you don't even know happy.
Despite how you feel or what's going on outside of the job, once you walk through the doors, you have only one appointment: to make people feel welcome. As a broker, your objective is to earn money for your clients; in the case of a restaurant, your job is to ensure your guests' happiness. While this is an incredibly rewarding aspect of the job, it is equally emotionally and physically taxing day in and day out." - Donnie Madia, Blackbird (Chicago, IL)
YOU WILL GO HUNGRY
"1. You will probably fail.
2. You won't have time to eat food." - Yuji Haraguchi, Yuji Ramen (New York, NY)
YOU WILL BE HASSLED. BY EVERYONE.
"Don't open a restaurant unless you really know what you're doing, because every 'elite' Yelper will fill you in on exactly how to run your restaurant based on their expertise of once upon a time in high school they worked as a busser at Denny's for two months, and now they're reliving their glory days by Instagramming sh*tty waffle photos.
Don't open a restaurant unless you're totally into being harassed 24/7 by phone calls, texts, emails, unexpected drop ins, and the occasional pigeon carrier by people trying to sell you a whole bunch of stuff you don't want.
And don't open a restaurant if you have a bigger ego than your chef." - Scott Weiner, The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group (Homestead On The Roof, The Berkshire Room, Roots Handmade Pizza, West Town Bakery, The Fifty/50) (Chicago, IL)
YOU'RE WORKING AGAINST ALL ODDS
"When someone asks for advice on opening a restaurant, my answer is always 'don't'. You must be totally passionate, fearless, and willing to lose all of your money. Otherwise, don't do it. Regulatory delays could eat up all of your money before you've even opened. How many restaurants of Eater NYC's Best Restaurants of 2010 are still open? Especially in NYC, there is ruinous competition.
Any s.o.b. with money can come in, rent the best location, hire the best chefs/GMs/architects, and not care if six months later the place shuts down. Better chefs than me have opened and failed miserably. Bankruptcy and divorce ye may face if you open a restaurant.
And just when you're feeling successful, you realize the only way to keep up the energy is to hire more people. If everything goes well, you'll have all the talent, energy, and success to open on time and make it through the first two years. Most chefs are not good business people and have a hard time dealing with financial decisions. Many restaurant owners, if they do make it to year three, should sell and get out while the takings are good. No guarantees it will ever get any better, and so many factors conspire against you -- natural disasters, a downturn in the economy, death in the family.
In July I'll be celebrating my 20th anniversary of owning my restaurants. I've opened five, closed four. Of those, only one lasted six years, and my current restaurant may make it to nine years." - Jimmy Carbone, Jimmy's No. 43 (New York, NY)
YOU WILL HAVE TO MARRY A SAINT
"The biggest set back is the hours! No doubt about it. Most people do not realize that open to close does NOT mean 11am 'til 10pm. There are plenty of hours before and after you unlock the doors! I hope you have an understanding and patient spouse!" - Jack MacDonald, Jack Mac's Swill & Grill (Dallas, TX)
YOU WILL HAVE TO LIVE WITHOUT SYMPATHY
"The job requires long, long, long hours sacrificing personal time and relationships in order to be prepared to entertain the masses at their leisure. You have to always be on, there is no sympathy for the everyday struggles of life outside the nightly 'show', your smile and warmth is part of the ambiance. The customer is always right, even when they're not... it's a damn shame that I love it so damn much." - C.K. Chin, Swift's Attic (Austin, TX)
YOU WILL BE EXPECTED TO GIVE AND GIVE AND GIVE
"You're always on call. Doesn't matter if it's Christmas, your birthday, or if your wife is having a baby. There's never a point that you can say 'It's done!'. You start over every day as if it's your first.
And it's not as sexy as most people think. It often looks like owning a restaurant consists of shaking hands and buying drinks for people. Every time a newcomer talks about opening a restaurant, I want to show them a picture of me with my hand jammed down a floor sink clogged with potato peels.
Lastly, phone calls from friends and acquaintances are almost always about getting them a reservation or a donation to their charity. When you open a restaurant, it's like you put on a shirt that says 'Ask me for a favor that you'll never repay'." - Chris Cusack, Downhouse (Houston, TX)
YOU WILL MAYBE FIND IT'S ALL WORTH IT
"I have learned to keep your fears to yourself and to only share your courage. Opening a restaurant is easy. Keeping it going is hard.
Only open a restaurant if you're ready to give up all personal time, personal space, and personal sanity. Be ready to start calling out orders and names in your sleep. It is hard for me to give anyone a reason not to pursue their own dream. If you don't have a dream, you don't have much.
At the end of the day, there is only one type of success, and that is to be able to live your life your own way on your own terms. One cannot think in terms of the monetary. One must think in terms of the pursuit of happiness."- Paul Abrahamian, Sticky's Finger Joint(New York, NY)
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food/drink team and would like to open a restaurant of his own, but isn't willing to put his golf career on hold. Follow him to glory at @Dannosphere.