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Should you open a restaurant?

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Question:

I love to cook. My family and friends think I'm pretty good at it. I'd like to think they're correct. I want to start my own business, a small fast-food joint focusing on gourmet burgers and hotdogs. However, I've never been in a professional busy kitchen. I'd like to learn about commercial food equipment to keep up with demand. Any idea where can take up a class or training? Thanks very much.

– Nestor, FA Manager, Bank of America, Garland, Texas

Answer:

In my role as a hospitality educator, this is one of our most frequently asked questions: “I’m a good cook/baker/mixologist, my friends love my stuff, how do I learn to open a restaurant?” And that’s great. But your question is too narrow—we can discuss equipment for hours, but if you don’t know how to use it in a successful business, it’s a waste of money.

Most operators will tell you that the cooking is the easy part of owning and operating a restaurant. Many are consumed by concerns around real estate, finance, human resources, guest relations, maintenance and marketing. My own experience as a chef reinforced that the cooking was by far the easiest and most enjoyable part of the job—it’s the other stuff that really caused my hair to fall out.

My advice is, if you’re serious about owning and operating, then invest a few years in a multipart strategy to prepare yourself to do it right:

  • Culinary arts. There is a difference between being a good cook and being good at food production. Making something tasty is easy. Making something tasty consistently, efficiently, cost-effectively, safely and profitably is a different challenge. Take formal culinary, food production and food safety classes supplemented with stages and internships. Regarding your equipment question, this will give you the hands-on comfort with various pieces.
  • Business. Coming from the banking industry, you already have a leg up on the Achilles heel for most good cooks who want to open restaurants: understanding money. But understanding money in banking is different from the realities of small business ownership and cash flow management. Work with a local Small Business Development Center, SCORE or other organization to get some training and support here.
  • Work. Take a pay cut and pay your dues in the industry. Make mistakes on someone else’s dime. Learn to do every job in the operation better than anyone else. Then, when you feel confident that you could run a better operation than the owner, you are ready to make a move.

Finally, think about your goals related to starting your business. Is your plan to start a brand around your products and grow that concept? Is your plan to own and operate a QSR, in which case franchising may be an appealing path? Or should you focus on the cooking and work for someone else?

More on preparing for ownership here

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