Service 101: Opening a Restaurant

Opening a restaurant is grueling.  You think you know the depths of hard 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 the last one you did, and yet…here you are struggling to keep afloat.

There’s no time to think about how many hours you’ve been working when you’re in the process of getting a restaurant ready for the public. Things go wrong. People drop away. Plans change. Equipment doesn’t show up. Things get hard. Then, everything starts to go great. And just when you think you’re about to catch your breath, something unexpected occurs. The doo-doo hits the fan and you’re challenged to push yourself even harder than before.

But when restaurants are your life, you can’t help but enjoy the dare. Can you go another hour without a meal? Is it possible to get one hour less sleep so you can do that one more task? In the big test of opening, the days end with meals that are barely chewed (inhaled, really), clothes are left in a hump at the end of the bed, and your face–covered in a thin veil of construction zone dust–gets a pillow case compress rather than a good washing because you can barely keep your eyes open. Your mind spins through through dreams in order to work out the last unconscious detail.

Yes, restaurant openings are demanding.  But they’re also damn sexy.

The work builds camaraderie and professional growth. The work is so consuming, you can survive on almost no sleep or food–making restaurant openings a whole new kind of diet that helps you lose a few pounds while allowing you to eat whatever little tiny bit of decadent food you can wrap your mitts around.

Do enough restaurant openings, and you begin to realize you can do and learn more than you ever thought you could. You stumble upon little discoveries, like the way you short-cut a problem with a novel approach or great idea, or uncover a way to save the business a bunch of money by thinking outside of the box. Or find a deep well of kindness, rather than frustration.

When the dust is wiped down, the ovens are fired up, and the doors open, time spins in a whole new way. The pain of the work subsides and the glory of doing what you love takes over.  The restaurant comes alive as more of you is absorbed. You and the restaurant become one.

Weeks later, when the paint is finally dried and customers get to know you by name, the sting of those opening weeks start to fade. The kitchen hums. Service gets dialed in. The place that was once a construction zone has a personality and smells and tastes like a whole new thing.

Then, almost suddenly, that restaurant opening you struggled through starts to seem a whole lot more agreeable. Given enough time (and a sufficient number of showers and warm meals eaten while sitting) the restaurant opening starts to look downright sexy.

I have to admit, even though I’m knee deep in another restaurant opening, this video of the making of Ra Pour Restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga made me nostalgic for the entire process.  This video shows me doing what I love, with people I respect, in a place that couldn’t be more sexy and contemporary. Yes, opening a restaurant is arduous work. But the truth of the matter is–no matter how hard the demands are–every moment is worth the effort. It’s beautiful, stimulating work that makes me feel plugged in and alive.

Now if you wouldn’t mind pardoning me. I need to catch up on my sleep.

10 comments

  1. Neel | Food Photography Blog

    Amazing post. The business side of this process has always interested me and to be honest have found a little thrilling :) Thank you for sharing the post and specially the video… Behind the scenes videos are always every interesting.

    Thanks again.

  2. Karim Webb

    As much as this post will resonate with anyone that has shared the responsibility of opening a restaurant, it is testament of the passion The Food Woolf brought to the project referenced. As the person who hired her to consult on this project, I’d like to offer my testimony. Brooke Burton is the “ish” !!! nuff said.

  3. Martha

    Loved the video! And love watching Brooke in her element! As a restaurant owner and former co-worker of Brooke’s, I can confidently say that This resto is in great hands and off to a beautiful start! Well done! It’s gorgeous! I’m hungry! ;)

  4. Lucrecia Luttmann

    Brooke,
    I know your tenacity and love for food you are amaizing and the restaurant is lucky to have YOU!
    great place and great work!

    Congratulations once more!

    Love,
    L.L.

  5. Marla

    Are you kidding! Girl you were made for the big screen. So pretty, smart and engaging. Congrats on the HUGE success of opening this restaurant. I wish it was in my town. I would live there, looks wonderful.
    You shoot amazing video…did you edit this too?

  6. Pingback: Is your home kitchen safe?

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