Eating at a great restaurant is like encountering sirens at sea: though thoroughly beguiling, a magnificent dining experience can make you do foolish things. Legions of enthusiastic food lovers have crashed their budget on the rocks with an impossibly expensive bottle of esoteric wine or overspent on a tasting menu they couldn’t afford. Bewitching cooking methods have influenced kitchen renovations, spurred the rise in molecular gastronomy tool kits for amateurs and inflated the enrollment rates at culinary schools. Though risky, these are but mere dalliances with danger when compared to overnight restaurant openings and food truck roll outs.
The siren song of flawless service and impeccable food can lull the smartest of men and reasonable of women into a dream state where restaurant ownership seems like a good and easy choice. A well-run restaurant has the power to hypnotize mere mortals and make them empty their bank account and mortgage their home for the promise of serving their three favorite dishes in a well-designed dining room.
Listen to me very carefully. Resist the temptation. Ignore the symphony of wouldn’t it be wonderful and at my restaurant we’d do things like this, only better.
It takes a very special person—the kind of person who loves the roller coaster rush of not knowing what’s going to happen next, enjoys making very little money, loves people, is calm under pressure, thrives in chaos, thinks a twelve-hour workday six days a week is reasonable, and feels more comfortable taking care of others than themselves—to survive the life of a restaurant owner. You’ll have to do plenty of unexpected things–things like plunge a toilet, shop for vegetables at midnight, wash dishes in an expensive suit, bus tables, dust chandeliers at 2 in the morning, eat scraps from a cold plate of food because that’s all you have time for, and so many other things that will shock you. Someone will no show for work, something will break, customers will be disappointed (even if you’re doing a great job), and there will always be some kind of a personality conflict occurring—no matter how hard you try–somewhere between the front door of the dining room and the employee exit out the back of the kitchen.
Perhaps the siren song of restaurant ownership has made you fearless. Understood. Influential restaurants and great dining experiences can carry a powerful tune. But before you swim towards the cliffs of restaurant ownership, I suggest you follow this simple six-step plan to determine your fortitude as an owner/operator.