Restaurant Reality-Checks You Must Face

Restaurant Reality-Checks You Must Face

If you want to start a successful restaurant, first you need to face the facts. Take an honest look at the reality of restaurant ownership. Tackling challenges head-on will spare you wasted time and financial hardship.

Don’t let your dream of starting a restaurant become a nightmare. Take a hard look in the mirror. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Get prepared.

Starting and running a restaurant long term will probably be the hardest-won accomplishment of your life.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

Soak Up Experience

If you have little or no restaurant management experience, it’s going to be hard to understand what restaurant staff and management actually do, day to day.

Running a restaurant is a lot different than running other businesses. And it takes a lot more than good cooking skills and a dogged will to make your restaurant successful.

It’s a good idea to first take a job in the type of restaurant you imagine opening. Even if it means a pay cut with an entry level position, the amount of experience you will gain from on the job training is priceless.

Learn how everything works first hand by really doing it. This is by far the best way to understand what really goes on in a restaurant.

Tell the owner you’re looking to open a restaurant someday. You’ll get a school of hard knocks education from those who have lived real restaurant management and ownership.

Think Small Before You Go Big

If you’ve never run a brick and mortar restaurant business before, gain valuable experience by running a small food vending operation first.

Start small to prove your salt in the restaurant business:

  • Popup restaurant
  • Mobile food cart
  • Food truck
  • Lunch kiosk
  • Catering company

These ventures will accomplish much to pave your road to success:

  • Learn business skills
  • Gain restaurant bookkeeping familiarity
  • Check out time management skills
  • Deal with less paperwork and regulations
  • Test your menu and your cooking skills
  • Learn about your target market
  • Develop your restaurant concept
  • Learn menu engineering
  • Discover creative ways to cut costs
  • Learn to negotiate with suppliers
  • Hire and fire employees
  • Do payroll

Think of your small restaurant venture as the first step to a larger venture and enjoy the learning process. It will be invaluable when you eventually open your actual location.

Raising capital through a successful food cart or catering business before you invest in a restaurant means you have more control when seeking loans or outside investors.

Read More: 30 Keys to Restaurant Success

Serve the Local Community

A passion for a unique restaurant concept may drive you, but it should not blind you. Remember that your primary goal should be to create amazing guest experiences.

That means defining a target customer within the local community that can support your restaurant’s success. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to choose a concept that is too niche.

Understanding your target customer means giving them what they want. Not “what you want them to want." 80 percent of your restaurant’s guests will come from the immediate area around your restaurant — 10 miles or less.

If your concept is only about your passion but isn’t firmly rooted in the reality of your target customers’ lifestyle and preferences you won’t have the customer base needed to sustain your business.

This is one of the coldest truths; it doesn’t matter how great a job you’re doing or how creative and amazing your food is. If people in your neighborhood don’t want it or understand it, you’re simply not going to have enough sales to keep operating.

Do your market research carefully and choose your location wisely. It is critical to your success to meet the needs and expectations of the locals.

Read More: Choosing a Restaurant Business Structure

Be a Leader

A leader gets out in front of a problem and drives solutions. Leaders have a personal standard of greatness and high expectations for themselves and others. Restaurant leaders have a strong work ethic that inspires others by example.

Being open to new learning and personal growth is important too. Leaders aren’t so stubborn that they miss the important details that could come back and bite them.

Key leadership skills of successful restaurant owners are:

  • An outgoing personality
  • The ability to negotiate fairly
  • Paying attention to the numbers
  • A systems-oriented thinking ability

Leaders are grounded in reality. They pay attention to their accounts. They develop processes and policies and are consistent in their enforcement.

You can learn the characteristics of a good leader through training and personal growth. Consider taking courses in business management, accounting and organizational leadership.

You can find these courses at local colleges and online. The time spend honing your business leadership skills will be well worth the effort when you encounter life’s challenges.

Owning a Restaurant is Challenging

Owning a restaurant can be incredibly rewarding, but don’t dismiss or downplay the challenges or you’ll be slapped with a rude awakening when it’s probably too late.

The primary challenge of running a successful restaurant is that it’s highly competitive. There are so many restaurant choices for diners; it’s a constant battle for hungry mouths. To stay relevant you have to constantly work at bringing in new guests and cultivating regulars.

And margins are thin. You’re constantly trying to find ways to save cash. Labor is expensive. Food is expensive. Rent is expensive. Your customers expect excellent service, a good price and quality food. Meeting all these demands while turning a profit is a daily battle.

Also, restaurant work is fast-paced, high stress and labor-intensive. Restaurants employ many low-paid, under-skilled workers. Their reputation for flakiness is well earned. Finding the good, reliable people you need for your team can be difficult.

The reality of owning a restaurant is that nothing is constant. The battlefield is ever-changing:

  • Staff call in at the last moment
  • Expensive equipment malfunctions
  • Vendors change prices
  • Rent goes up
  • It’s always something!

Nothing is stable for long in a restaurant. To survive, you have to embrace the dynamic of change. Train yourself to keep calm and creatively pivot when the landscape suddenly alters.

If you don’t deal well with a lifestyle that constantly throws new problems your way, perhaps restaurant ownership is not for you. However, if you thrive in a challenging environment with a clear head, you can succeed in the restaurant business.

“To survive, you have to embrace the dynamic of change and be able to creatively pivot when the landscape suddenly alters.”

Read More: 30 Keys to Restaurant Success

Get Expert Help

When you get to know other restaurant owners you’ll find by and large they are gracious open people willing to share their hard-fought wisdom with those who are willing to listen.

Keep an open mind when talking to fellow restaurant owners who have come before you. Learn from the mistakes of others and avoid an “it can’t happen to me” attitude.

If you’re not actively seeking advice and mentorship from those who have come before you, you’ll miss a huge piece of the puzzle. Nothing takes the place of experience.

Join state and local restaurant organizations and business groups. Meeting the other restaurant owners in your immediate area will go a long way to helping you stay up to date on current events and changes in the community.

Participate in national hospitality trade organizations. Attend at least one restaurant trade show every year. The NRA (National Restaurant Association) has many valuable resources for restaurant owners and an annual trade show.

And trade shows will help keep you in the loop on new industry developments. Staying up to date on new trends and technology will help you stay more competitive.

But filtering through it all on your own can be difficult when you already have a lot of things on your plate. Rezku can help. Contact us now for a free restaurant management technology consultation. Our experts will help you understand the ever changing dynamics of restaurant technology and get you up to speed, without wasting your time.

Read More: 30 Keys to Restaurant Success


Owning a restaurant can be incredibly fulfilling and extremely rewarding. But as a budding restaurant entrepreneur, don’t let your head get stuck in the clouds.

Expecting things to work out on their own isn’t how to run a restaurant business. You must be a leader and a grounded pragmatist.

Take stock of yourself, your resources and your environment. To run a successful restaurant startup embrace change and be realistic about the challenges you'll face.

This guide to successfully starting a restaurant is part of a free series presented by Rezku. For more articles like this visit our library homepage. Rezku is a leading-edge restaurant technology innovator, providing real world solutions for restaurant entrepreneurs like you. Find out more about Rezku on our homepage. Book a free restaurant management consultation with an expert by contacting us.

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