second and fourth Wednesday night of the month, legendary
bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau hosts Dinner with Dave at
Memphis at the Santora, where he treats drinkers to a free meal and live
music as the evening progresses. To remind ustedes of this great
night, Dave treats us every Wednesday morning that he's on to a random
OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
Let's make one thing perfectly clear. Owning a restaurant is a lot like owning a car or a house. You're gonna say you own it, but in fact, you're probably just making the payments. More importantly, at least at the outset, your shop will own you just as much as you supposedly own it. That is a fact.
The funny thing about the following list is that these reasons are also some of the best to get in The Biz, thus spins the schizophrenic nature of our industry.
1. Because You Like to Cook
This may or may not be an automatic death sentence, but it's a lousy way
to start off. Lots of folks like cooking in the quiet confines of their
residential kitchens, building some fun finger-foody stuff or grilling
for friends and/or family. But the reality of life in a commercial
setting can be a real slap in the face for those that are unprepared.
Just the pressure of opening day can break even the hardiest of souls,
much less the never-ending grind of prepping, ordering, supervising your
crew and wrapping things up at the end of the night.
The good news is that in recent years most good chefs still enjoy
cooking at home, using it as an extension of their own shop for
development and personal expression. I remember 20 years ago I could
count on one hand the number of restaurateurs I knew who really enjoyed a
bit of home chefery but thankfully this trend seems to have swung the
2. Because You Like People
Now, I'm not saying you're going to start to hate everyone but believe
me: after a stretch, you are going to really start to appreciate a quiet
evening at home cocktailing it with just a few of your closest friends.
In some ways being in The Biz is akin to being a stripper or car
salesman, but hopefully slightly less disingenuous. To a certain extent
you are there to glad handle folks, tell them things they want to hear
and take their money. Not in a bad, skeezy sense but people go out to be
social and that is just your job, like it or not. There is a reason
they call it the "hospitality" industry: we get paid to be hospitable.
Part of that is answering lots of rhetorical questions like "How ya'
doing?" and not letting on when your dog died, house is in foreclosure
or you just lost your lead guy/gal on the line.
3. Because You Think it Will be Fun
The good news is our industry is brimming with frivolity. The employee
demographic is generally young and hip, which makes for fun in itself.
Also people want to go out, have a good time and rarely do they show up
hell-bent on intentionally acting like self-entitled jerks (except in
Corona Del Mar). You will also share amazing moments hosting your
friends/family members for birthdays, weddings and all the other events
that make our lives so special. But all that mirth is paid for (quite
literally) with an endless stream of blood, sweat and tears. Just keep
the happy moments in the front of your mind and it will seem like you
are having considerably more fun than you actually are.
4. Because You Think You Will Have a Flexible Schedule
Oh, you're gonna have a flexible schedule alright! The flexibility of
your schedule will vary between working the line, handling your staff,
getting your conditional use permit modified, dealing with vendors,
scheduling your fire suppression system inspection, keeping your eyes
open for the health department, updating your POS terminals and on and
on and on. The first restaurant I ever opened I specifically remember
walking in the back door the afternoon of our hard open and consciously
resigning myself to the fact that I wouldn't see the light of day for a
year. It turned out to be largely true. It's gotten even worse in the
past ten years with access to more technology. And heaven forbid you
live close to the shop 'cuz, even if you are lucky enough to break away
for a moment, you're gonna be headed back to solve some otherwise
5. Because You Think You'll Make a Fortune
Big secret–a really properly run restaurant runs on a 10% profit
margin, although there is some debate and it might be even lower. No
joke. That is why people from the real estate and banking worlds
sometimes don't last as investors (especially in small shops)–they are
used to a much higher return. They might hang on for a while if they are
looking to find a place to slam some money away from the IRS (better
taking a loss than giving it to them), but they generally aren't around
for very long. It's even worse if you have multiple primary partners,
and then that 10 percent starts looking more like 5 or 3 percent
depending on the break.
Don't even get me started on if you have
some douche bag investor(s) leaning on you to get their monthly nut
(and possibly showing up with a bunch of buddies expecting to get
everything comped). And whatever capitol your think you might need,
forget it. You're going to need twice as much and plan on spending twice
as long as you think to open. Now, this isn't always true (I've seen
some truly startling exceptions!) but I've also seen a tragic amount of
potential restaurateurs who were unprepared for the fiscal realities and
bled out all their operating capitol trying to open up. It's like
watching someone with a gambling addiction: they are always hoping for a
positive turn of events to swing them into the black and, sadly, it
oftentimes gets beyond the point of no return.
If I sound like I'm slamming The Biz or being negative or discouraging I
apologize, it's not my intention. I say it all the time and I'll say it
again: our industry is a magical one, one that's vibrant, exciting,
truly one of a kind. It's way better than living the
Dilbert/cubicle-dweller lifestyle and once you get it in your bones you
are done for, nothing else will ever, ever do. Period. What I am trying
to do here is give some realistic expectations about what's going to
happen and how to deal with it. Opening your own joint is definitely a
"hope for the best/plan for the worst" situation and, much like the best
laid of wartime battle plans, I guarantee what you think is going to
happen won't and what you think won't, in fact, will. Prepare yourself:
you have been warned.
www.dinnerwithdave.com for the latest!