I want to open a restaurant but I lack knowledge about it. How do I start?
– Diana Ypangalilingan, via Facebook
You started the best way, by acknowledging there is more to learn. I spend a lot of my time talking with people who have plans to open restaurants—some are ready and most aren’t. In a way, it’s a bit like having a first child—you’ll know you’re ready when you’re ready and you’ll never be 100 percent ready. Like having a child, you’ll never have enough time, money, or expertise to be 100 percent confident but you’ll be reasonably sure you can make it work.
To be sure, people succeed as restaurateurs from every imaginable background—some worked their way up, some are entirely self-taught, some went to a hospitality school and some had business success in other fields and transferred that expertise to restaurants. There is no single way but I always recommend a diversity of approach in three parts:
- Work. A lot and a lot of different places. And in different positions. Every restaurant—even different locations of the same concept—is different. They have a different feel, culture, management style, facilities and location quirks and clientele. Work and pay attention until you get to a point where you naturally say, “If this were my restaurant, here’s what I’d do to improve things,” every day.
- Study. While many will argue that the best way to learn is on the job, a good hospitality program can lessen the learning curve, though it will never be a substitute for work. Restaurants are busy places so no one has time to take you aside to teach you everything they know. You will learn how to do your job, but tasks outside of your job such as purchasing, payroll, social media, financial analysis, hiring and so on you may never even see. A good hospitality program will give you a foundation in all of these areas and a network of classmates and professors who can support you as you move forward.
- Intern. The difference between an internship and a job is one of purpose. The goal of work is to provide services (labor) for money; the goal of the internship is to learn. Intern at a restaurant you admire—ideally not a future competitor—where you can find a manager who will take you under her or his wing to give you an inside view. Ask questions and learn all you can.
At the end of all of that, you won’t be ready to open a restaurant but will be ready to enter the next steps of developing your concept and business plan, seeking locations and raising capital. If you’ve not been discouraged in the years spent working, studying and interning, and your passion has grown and not abated, you may have a shot at this!