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More than a menu required to open a restaurant

February 5, 2012
By ANITA HANABURGH , The Leader Herald

T.J. Maxx is coming to Johnstown. I'm excited; it's my favorite place for great bargains. I also hear there is a new restaurant opening in our area. I'm even more excited about that!

Who would ever be opening a new restaurant during these crazy times? It had better be someone who knows what they are doing! Or maybe it's someone who just wants a restaurant.

At some time or other each of us has thought of opening a restaurant. Be honest. Haven't you? Each of us has thought at one time or another that it would be an easy way to make our fortune. We think we have just the right idea to have a super successful eatery. We know we could really make a restaurant work. Let's think about it.

Why do you want to open a restaurant?

Money. The primary reason for opening a restaurant is to make money. One million dollars in sales can generate $100,000 in profit before taxes. This may sound appealing but remember that restaurants require a large initial investment in land, buildings, large equipment and inventory that often have to be paid up front, coming out of the profit. Most successful restaurant owners are not big winner or big losers - they just earn a living.

Food. I would want to open a restaurant to use some of my creative ideas in food preparation and service. A lot of people who love to cook open restaurants. People who love to eat open restaurants. While a great menu is a great base for a restaurant, loving to cook does not make you a good restaurant owner. Are cooks good managers of people, keepers of books and bills, good shoppers and purchasers, good marketers and sellers? Maybe, maybe not.

People. People who like people open restaurants. The social exchange meets our need for companionship and then some. There can be new friends and old friends arriving every day. It might be very important for the owner of a restaurant to be social but it helps if he/she has some business sense.

Challenge. A restaurant is never boring. There are always new ways to serve, to prepare food, to attract customers, to arrange the dcor, or to enhance the service. There are daily tests - too much food, too little staff, and too many customers - that challenge the capable owner. Some people love a challenge

Ego. We all think we have a better way, a better idea and a better concept for success. We are all experts on what an existing restaurant should be doing. The desire to own something of one's own can motivate one to buy a restaurant. Imagine seeing your name in lights Joe's, Smithies, Kelly's, Sam's, Leone's, Sebastian's, McDonald's. Imagine being Wendy.

Fun lifestyle. Many of us go out to dinner at a restaurant as a leisure time activity. Some of us eat out to avoid the kitchen work at home. The word restaurant means rest and relax. The idea of owning and working at a leisure-time activity is very appealing. Unfortunately, there is little leisure time while working there.

Habit. Some of us grew up in the restaurant business. It's what we do, so it's what we go into when we "grow up." Others of us start working at restaurants while in high school and just keep going.

OK, there are a lot of reasons for opening a restaurant then. So why don't you want to open a restaurant?

Fatigue. It's just plain hard work. There is a high burnout rate here and a high divorce rate in the industry. You are working when everyone else is resting could be early morning, or evenings or holidays. My husband, an ex-franchise owner, used to say he was in the restaurant business because he wanted to work half days 8 to 8!

Risk. A restaurant has a large amount of startup costs. Many restaurants fail because they did not have enough capital to start. Capital is needed to get a bank loan. Capital is needed to start proper business planning, buy good equipment, design dcor, buy enough inventory, train staff etc...

Well, should you open the restaurant? I used to tell my students the attributes for opening restaurants are as follows (and in this order).

Oh busboy, you gotta love it. Period.

You must be a hard worker. No getting around this. If you call stress a challenge, then you are on the right track.

You must get along with people. You must get along with customers, employees, vendors, inspectors, bankers, etc.

You must know what you are doing. Take college classes in accounting, hospitality, business and psychology. Work for a single-owner restaurant. Work for your competition. Work in the dish room on Christmas Eve.

When asked "How can you tell a successful restaurant?" I answer "One without a 'for sale' sign in front of it."

I said there is a new restaurant opening in the area and it is someone who knows what they are doing. I'll give you a hint: It's going to be called "Wine and Roses." I'll serve you more next time.

Restaurant watch: Check out all the variables it takes to run your favorite restaurant.

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