Food and beverages, we don’t get very far without them; sustenance, in some form or another, is still a daily requirement for our continued existence. This is to say that life’s necessities can be translated into a money-making venture (a restaurant venture) — and in this case, that would involve the industry. That said, if you are planning to open a restaurant and get rich, you’re probably going to fail. In terms of difficulty, starting a restaurant is possibly one of the most stressful and difficult propositions the average entrepreneur (even the above average) can hope to take on. Going a step further, opening a restaurant and making it a financially viable long-term operation, that’s rare. Most restaurateurs are happy if they can pay the bills and take a little vacation once a year (—usually the latter half of January)
In the U.S., three out of every five restaurants close before they hit their 2 year mark (and the myth about 90% of independent restaurants closing in the first year is likely not true but considering the variety of eateries that are called “restaurants”, it’s possible that the number is higher than 60% in 2 years). Anyway, the point is this, if you think owning a restaurant would be fun, and you have a few million to throw around (and don’t plan on being directly involved in the operations) then you’re probably right, it can be fun. But if you plan on being the person who spends 18 hours a day, seven days a week, making sure that every detail is checked twice and helping manage every facet, until you’re comfortable letting the staff take over the day-to-day, then “fun” is probably not the word I would use. But it can be exhilarating.
Aside from the long hours, interactions with contractors (prior to opening… hopefully) who are always behind, customers, staff (who are people— and therefore occasionally sick, tired, crabby — all of which are frowned upon in a service job), and lack of the more normal social outings (because when you have a chance to get away from work, eventually, you’re always looking at what other eateries are doing and how they’re doing it), it’s really great, if you’re into that kind of thing.
As a former industry professional, I was involved in the successful opening of nine unique establishments, and beyond that worked in a couple handfuls of great eateries. My experiences run the gamut from fine dining to bar & grill joints, independent and corporate-owned & operated. A few of the places whose inception I assisted: The Wine Market Bistro; The Red Star; Chomp; McCormick & Schmick's - Kansas City; & M&S Grill - Baltimore. Four others have since closed: New Pointe Grill (Kansas City, MO); Up The Creek (Lexington, KY); Bella (Cincinnati, OH); & The Blue Sea Grill (Baltimore, MD).
Aside from learning as much as possible about this fickle field, and having the monetary side of it lined up, a couple of other things to think about: location, audience, location, target group, location, and… desired customer demographic. Does that make sense? Who are you catering to and where best will you situate yourself in order to satisfy that group? Because, while you want to draw from a diverse set of consumer groups, you need repeat business if you’re going to make it work (unless you are Talula’s Table, The French Laundry, Trois Mec, or some other place where reservations are impossible to score on short notice).
Once you know what kind of fare you want to focus on (and don’t try to emulate The Cheesecake Factory, 1,800 menu options is too many), you will be able to determine your target audience, more or less. Location, on the other hand, is more about what spaces are available and how much money you have to play with. As a rule of thumb, if you have to choose between starting small and growing a space (or opening a second) and starting big and hoping for the best—start small. If you are unsure about anything and you’re in a small space, you have room to err. Big spaces, with bigger costs, provide less room for failing; and if the restaurant business is built on anything, it’s failure. From failure to failure to failure we go until, Voilà, Success! Plus, when you look at the majority of places that are “hip“, “cool“, “hot“, “in“, and “it“, they are, by and large, not behemoth.
Last, and certainly not least, is the quality factor. Whether talking about the staff, the food, the feel (ambience & décor), or anything else, quality is essential. It is easy to think that having the most chic joint in the city will guarantee a steady business; but if you have a staff that hasn’t bought in and hasn’t been properly trained, food that comes out of cans and boxes, and dirty restrooms, you may as well purchase stock in a Siberian cat-milking conglomerate — the returns couldn’t be any worse and your reputation may withstand the deprecating remarks that will be lobbed at you for years to come. This goes for all manner of establishment: bar and grills, diners, dives, and fine dining at its finest. The price on a menu should never influence the caliber of the experience.
If you’re interested in starting a new food industry venture, and you don’t know where to begin, solidify your finances/backing first; then talk with a successful local restauranteur, read industry staples, figure out your niche, and make sure you aren’t opening up a burger joint across the street from a vegan commune, i.e. keep the drama to a minimum (you’ll have more than enough once you open).
And, if you’re looking for someone to help with the details, someone who’s been involved in more than a few restaurant ventures, drop me a note, maybe I can help…I’m Down.