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A Day in the Life of a Restaurateur

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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

The restaurant as we think of it today did not exist until 1765, when A. Boulanger opened a restaurant in Paris. For about a century after that, restaurants tended to be expensive and mainly catered to the social elite. With the growth of the travel industry at the end of the nineteenth century, restaurants became accessible to almost everyone. Today, 40 percent of our allotted food budget is spent in eating and drinking establishments. The restaurant industry will continue to grow, although it will still be an extremely risky business. Recently, the number of both successful and failed restaurants have climbed each year.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

More than three-quarters of new restaurants fail in the first seven months, primarily due to poor cash flow management. Those owners who survive report feeling very stressed-every review brings tears of either joy or pain. At this time, restaurants are usually not showing big profits but are just remaining afloat. In these first years owners are working long into the night, and still anxiously awaiting the possibility of taking some time off.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Most restaurateurs who’ve made it through the first two years are still working away. They begin to show profits at this time and have usually completely paid off their loans. A few look forward to buying out backers. Mostly, they are happy to be down to working only six ten-hour-days per week.

TEN YEARS OUT

A decade into the business, restaurateurs spend much less time in the house. They have learned to entrust the late hours to general managers. The most successful ones pay surprise visits to the restaurant to safeguard the high standards of the kitchen. As always, they keep an eye on the books. The owners who flourish tend to hire the most inventive chefs and pay close attention to trends happening in the big cities.