The real question is: “Is it ever a good time to become a restaurateur?”  The underlying answer stems from one simple word: “uncertainty”.  Entering the restaurant business has always been like a non-swimmer jumping in the deep end of the pool and hoping that he or she will float.  But now we can’t even be certain that there will be water in the pool. 

Before you turn and run away or write me off as unaware of how you have the perfect formula for success, just hear me out.  Since those early days of the restaurant business (I have always felt that the restaurant business in America only began the day that Prohibition was repealed in 1933) there has been a number of truths:

  1. People who enter the restaurant business do so because they truly love to serve others and create an environment where people can converse, meet with friends and family, raise a glass, let their struggles sit on the shelf for a time, and laugh with reckless abandon.  Most certainly restaurateurs want to earn a decent living in the process, but few have serious aspirations of becoming rich.
  • Those who think they are entering the restaurant business with visions of wealth and prosperity are more often than not setting themselves up for disappointment.
  • People who enter the restaurant business are typically individuals with a number of experiences working in other restaurants in positions from entry level to management.  This is rarely a business for the novice – regardless of how big their bank account might be.
  • Those who try to become restaurateurs without this breadth of experience are in for a rude awakening.
  • Those people who choose to become successful restaurateurs must have a strong background in finance and financial management.  They know where their money comes from, are able to analyze data, and understand how to control their pennies.
  • Those who do not bring a strong financial background to the table are destined to fail at some point in time.
  • Those who are successful restaurateurs believe in, implement, and stay focused on systems, standards, and process.  In a business where profit runs between 5-7% as long as they stay in control, these systems are essential.
  • Those who fail to understand this need and/or do not have the background in systems implementation and analysis will likely scramble to stay afloat.
  • Successful restaurateurs are ones who understand the power of people marketing, of keeping the name of the restaurant in the public eye and communicating effectively with existing and potential customers.
  1. Those who do not understand marketing are playing a guessing game.
  1. Those who are successful in the restaurant business live and breathe service and hospitality.  They are gregarious, generous, kind, and always happy to go the extra mile for internal (employees) and external (paying guests) customers.
  1. If you do not fit into this profile of natural hospitality, then this is absolutely the wrong business for you.
  1. Finally, those who are successful tend to be visionary, creative, and flexible.  Successful operators are able to bob and weave, problem solve, and always adjust to the unpredictable climate that surrounds the restaurant business.  If you are rigid and unable to change then prepare yourself for rough times.

Now these points have been universally proven true for decades.  When we add an unprecedented pandemic on top of this then all bets are off.  Who knows what the climate for restaurants will be like in six months or five years?  We do know it will be different and the Baker’s Dozen list in this article will be only the start for those who think they are ready to take the leap.

So, are you ready to push aside the emotional tug of “owning your own” and approaching this as a pragmatic businessperson would?  Are you willing to take the leap and dive into the deep end of the pool and are you equipped with proper floatation to ensure that you don’t sink to the bottom?  Do your homework, seek advice from smart and experienced people, run through every scenario possible, make sure you have the right amount of financing and available funds to weather the storm, hire and train the right people, and set yourself up with a better chance of succeeding than failing.  This is the only way that the restaurant business makes sense today.

Restaurants will be different moving forward, they must evolve.  People need to visit restaurants and they will always find joy in breaking bread with friends and enjoying great tasting and beautiful looking food of all types.  The opportunity is there, make sure you are ready to do it right.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC  BLOG

CAFÉ Talks Podcast