Owning a restaurant is a labor of love, and most restaurateurs work long hours. When her establishment is open only for dinner, the restaurateur usually starts her day in the late morning. She has a number of daily tasks to complete before the staff arrives. First, she checks “the book,” which contains reports from managers about whatever happens in the restaurant each night. The owner keeps tabs on things like items to be ordered, customer complaints, and staff scheduling conflicts, all of which are recorded in the book. She studies the accounting records daily and stays on top of the restaurant’s financial situation. She may also take on duties like confirming reservations. Usually, she will also find time to glance through wine and food industry papers and read the restaurant review section in the newspaper.
When the doors open, the restaurant owner must be dressed and ready to socialize until the last customer leaves. It is extremely important that a restaurant owner have exceptional name and face recollection. The most successful owners report that the majority of their clientele are regular customers. The easiest way to gain repeat business is by offering seemingly special treatment, and remembering a customer’s name or favorite table is always impressive. The restaurateur acts as a host, chatting with his customers and making sure they are satisfied. Approaching customers while they are dining helps the owner check on his staff. While this may seem intrusive when done by waiters, restaurant patrons usually love to have the owner inquire about the food and service.
Restaurateurs come from many walks of life, but mostly they have experience within the industry. A restaurant owner can be either a “backer” or an active owner. Backers provide funding to the active owners and entrust them to run the place. Very few people back restaurants as their primary occupation, since the sole job requirement is having access to large amounts of cash. The financial rewards of backing a restaurant can be great, as backers are the first to receive profits. For hands-on owners a good place to start is a college or school that offers a restaurant and hotel management program, but in fact most owners don’t follow this formal educational route. Instead, most have paid their dues as waiters, bartenders, and managers, and it’s always a plus if they have experience with bookkeeping and accounting, too.
Before opening, the restaurant owner spends some time scouting a location. If he is interested in a space that didn’t previously hold a restaurant, the owner has to determine whether the building can be affordably converted to restaurant use. Other market studies are usually done to determine what type of restaurant would work best in that particular community and location. When all of this has been figured out, the restaurateur must obtain financing, either through a backer or a bank. The owner then usually hires all the founding staff, seeks out wholesalers and establishes relations with them; and oversees the design of the restaurant, from decor to menu. Then comes the stressful task of procuring a liquor license. Most towns and cities allot only a specified number of licenses, and often the potential owner must negotiate a price from a business that is closing. When the doors open the owner’s work is far from finished. Failure rates for new restaurants are high, and an owner must make sure that his establishment keeps pace with the times and consistently operates at a high level.
Many careers can satisfy food lovers who don’t want to commit their time and bank accounts to owning a restaurant. Waiters, bartenders, busboys, and hosts ensure that the front of the house is running smoothly. The majority of these jobs rely on tips instead of salaries, and so earnings are influenced by the season and night of the week. A restaurant manager runs the front of the house and acts on behalf of the owner in her absence. Chefs, sous-chefs and bakers need formal training at a culinary institute in order to be taken seriously in the food community. The chef is usually the heart of the restaurant. He not only prepares food-he also schedules the kitchen staff, creates and continually updates the menu, and often shops for finer ingredients himself. The wine steward is another important position in upscale restaurants, where she uses an extensive knowledge of wine to select the restaurant’s wine list. Wine stewards will also sometimes host wine-tasting dinners to introduce their clientele to new labels. Catering is another venue for food experts who want more variety and a less complicated operation. Franchise owners can open a restaurant without having to worry about any decision-making, such as designing the menu or decorating the establishment. Other aspiring owners open bars or nightclubs.