Be or not to be a Restaurateur

To be a restaurateur

Chef School, Oxford

VICENZA, Italy — It is Monday, 4:30 pm. You had the worst start of the week ever, and you have been toying with a dream that has been going around your head for quite some time: tomorrow you are going to hand in your resignation and open your own restaurant – to add the extra kick, smack on a tropical beach.

Well, it is time for a hard reality check.

My friends tell me I can cook really really well!

And most likely you did not miss a single episode of Master Chef. Cooking professionally is a different league and it has nothing to do with having ten friends over in your gadget-infested kitchen. Restaurants are all about people, being your customers and your staff. The clientèle are demanding, they tend to come and order all at once and a quarter of them are dysfunctional adults that will treat you like a servant. Your staff is not any easier – even the smallest operation has more people to manage that you ever dealt with. And they are not exactly the choicest lot. Most of your employees will have a drinking problem and they will try to steal everything they get their hands on.

I planned my restaurant down to the tiniest details.

Another common mistake, if I can add. While it is important to come up with a place that is not a clash of styles and concepts, too much planning will kill it. Plenty of people concentrate on getting the kind of crowd they want and feeding them when they want. Remember, be flexible. The rule of any outlet should be: build it and they will come. Another important point to keep in mind is that you do not have to be the best. You have to set yourself apart from the others. You can easily be successful with average cuisine but outstanding service and a great location. Conversely, you can cover your weaknesses on the floor with good value-for-money.

It is going to be so much fun!

No, it will not! You are going to be working the most unsocial hours you can image, and, while you are going to meet plenty of new people, you will end up hanging out only with fellow restaurateurs. Forget holidays, family time, Saturday shopping and so on. Actually, not that bad, if you are a misanthrope as I am.

Then I will do something simple, maybe a small place on the beach.

Island life ah? Think twice. Life on an island is insular by definition. You are never going to see the same customers twice, and you will have to repeat the same story over and over again: “Yes, I left eight years ago; no, have not being back much; oh yes, it is lovely with the beach, sun and sand and all.” Add the fact that most places have a limited peak season with long stretches of no customers at all, and usually coupled with monsoon or even worse typhoons.

I changed my mind…

You should not. While it is a line of business that has one of the highest percentage of failures in the first year, if you get it right it is going to be one of the coolest, craziest and most satisfactory career path you can start, no matter how late in life.

Dino Pozzato About the author

Having a very reputable but conversation killing day job, he has spent the last ten years scouting for and reviewing restaurants, food and recipes. A watch and car collector, he enjoys the finer things in life and shares his tastes with us.