Service 101: Restaurant Openings

Restaurants are like movies. The restaurant business is a collaborative art form that requires talented people to transform an ethereal concept into something substantial and real. A script will only ever be a script until the vision and passion of a director, cinematographer, producers, cast, and crew transform the words on the page into a movie.  The same is true for restaurants. No matter how many dishes you’ve cooked or recipes you’ve sketched out on a notepad, a restaurant isn’t a restaurant until there are cooks in the kitchen, a staff on the floor, dishes on a table and a paying customer at the door.

Restaurants–like movies–become something different once life is breathed into them. How the whole thing turns out is really up to something bigger than just one person. It takes a village to make a restaurant.

I may have moved across the country to learn how to make movies, but over the years I’ve come to understand that what’s kept me in Los Angeles is my desire and passion to make restaurants. Sure, I still have plenty of filmic stories percolating in my mind—the magical coming of age story, the comedy about bloggers, and the redemptive love story–but it’s the bustle of dining room service that captures my attentions and creativity.

I love the thrill of making restaurants come to life and sustaining them through the long haul. I relish in the potential of restaurants, the personality of a dining room, and the feel of a kitchen as it pushes out plate after plate on a busy night.

Dining rooms are full of passion, drama, characters, and unexpected plot twists and turns. In the best of times– when I’m working in restaurants peopled by an army of talented people–I relish in the camaraderie. I love how a team of professionals can band together, problem solve better than MacGuyver ever did, and keep the whole process from going off track. Even in the worst of times, struggling restaurants have a kind of beauty to them. Success that can be found after a long bout of breakage, waste, inconsistent food, employee shortages, and financial woes are some of the most gratifying.

waiters setting up dining roomLike movies, when things get sticky, there are lightning fast decisions, company moves, and courageous leadership required. We restaurant folk rely on prop masters (designers), set designers (architects and designers), wardrobe assistants (managers), producers (investors), divas (chefs and front of house talent), deadlines, and casting issues (people don’t show up for work or don’t play nicely with each other).  Just like movies, some restaurants are easier to understand once you see them up an running. Or—in the worst of cases–appear better on the page than fully realized.

It’s been quite a year over for the business I’m in. I’ve opened two restaurants in less than twelve months, and may be opening another in just a few days. It’s been so busy, in fact, I haven’t had much time to write, let alone post a brief sentence or two here on the blog. I even missed my four year anniversary of the start of this blog. But anniversaries are something you can celebrate all month, right?

I enjoy restaurant openings, but I approach them with reverence and certain amount of caution. An opening isn’t something for the weak of spirit. The hours are long, there’s lots of heavy lifting, and the work requires patience and strategy. But when the construction crews go, the tarps are removed, the heavy blankets of dust are wiped away, and the staff stands ready to greet the first customers, it’s nearly impossible to remember any ache or pain.  By the time the restaurant doors open for the first night of service, the people who put it together are bonded by blood, sweat, tears, a lack of sleep, a near starvation diet, and aching feet.

And then the real work starts. Here’s to filling up my well of energy before the next job starts.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant consultant and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

10 Comments

  1. 11/30/2011
    Reply

    Brooke, I am having so much fun watching your script unfold. Watching all of your hard efforts and life ambitions bloom is wonderful! I love that show on the Food Network where chef Robert Irvine goes in to help rebuild failing restaurants. It does look like a lot of emotions, creativity, smarts and elbow grease to open those doors successfully! Glad to read a great BB blog post :) xo

  2. 11/30/2011
    Reply

    Welcome back Brooke! Congrats on another great job – hope the most recent restaurant is a hit at the box office.

  3. 11/30/2011
    Reply

    You are amazing, that is all:)

  4. jivata
    12/2/2011
    Reply

    best blogpost. ever. lovelove! xoj

  5. 12/5/2011
    Reply

    Brooke, I wish every server/waitress/cooks/dishwasher can read this post so they actually care about the restaurant they work in. Thank you for keeping my faith in believing people actually have a passion in this industry!

    • 12/8/2011
      Reply

      Thank you Denise! I’m happy this post help you keep faith in service!

  6. [...] work and then–just when you think you’ve got everything planned out–the undertow of the process takes hold of you and pulls you under. You never think a restaurant opening can be any harder than [...]

  7. [...] bother? Because when I focus on all the good that comes into my life because of what I do, the more happy I get. Making a gratitude list is a great daily practice and one that helps keep me [...]

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