The Five Worst Reasons to Open a Restaurant

Oh, the fun you'll have!

Every second and fourth Wednesday night of the month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau hosts Dinner with Dave at Memphis at the Santora, where he treats drinkers to a free meal and live music as the evening progresses. To remind ustedes of this great night, Dave treats us every Wednesday morning that he's on to a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

Let's make one thing perfectly clear. Owning a restaurant is a lot like owning a car or a house. You're gonna say you own it, but in fact, you're probably just making the payments. More importantly, at least at the outset, your shop will own you just as much as you supposedly own it. That is a fact.

The funny thing about the following list is that these reasons are also some of the best to get in The Biz, thus spins the schizophrenic nature of our industry.

1. Because You Like to Cook


This may or may not be an automatic death sentence, but it's a lousy way to start off. Lots of folks like cooking in the quiet confines of their residential kitchens, building some fun finger-foody stuff or grilling for friends and/or family. But the reality of life in a commercial setting can be a real slap in the face for those that are unprepared. Just the pressure of opening day can break even the hardiest of souls, much less the never-ending grind of prepping, ordering, supervising your crew and wrapping things up at the end of the night.

The good news is that in recent years most good chefs still enjoy cooking at home, using it as an extension of their own shop for development and personal expression. I remember 20 years ago I could count on one hand the number of restaurateurs I knew who really enjoyed a bit of home chefery but thankfully this trend seems to have swung the other way.

2. Because You Like People
All photos by Dave Mau, if you already haven't got the drift...

Now, I'm not saying you're going to start to hate everyone but believe me: after a stretch, you are going to really start to appreciate a quiet evening at home cocktailing it with just a few of your closest friends. In some ways being in The Biz is akin to being a stripper or car salesman, but hopefully slightly less disingenuous. To a certain extent you are there to glad handle folks, tell them things they want to hear and take their money. Not in a bad, skeezy sense but people go out to be social and that is just your job, like it or not. There is a reason they call it the "hospitality" industry: we get paid to be hospitable. Part of that is answering lots of rhetorical questions like "How ya' doing?" and not letting on when your dog died, house is in foreclosure or you just lost your lead guy/gal on the line.

3. Because You Think it Will be Fun


The good news is our industry is brimming with frivolity. The employee demographic is generally young and hip, which makes for fun in itself. Also people want to go out, have a good time and rarely do they show up hell-bent on intentionally acting like self-entitled jerks (except in Corona Del Mar). You will also share amazing moments hosting your friends/family members for birthdays, weddings and all the other events that make our lives so special. But all that mirth is paid for (quite literally) with an endless stream of blood, sweat and tears. Just keep the happy moments in the front of your mind and it will seem like you are having considerably more fun than you actually are.

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Tony Bourdain says there are only two reasons you should work in a restaurant - either you really really love cooking and aren't happy doing anything else, or you're too much of a screwup to do anything else.

Running a restaurant offers you all of those benefits, plus the fun of dealing with a city government to get permits for everything imaginable, and all the financial risks and knowing that 90% of restaurants, like most small businesses, don't last more than two years, and you can work any 16 hours a day you want but don't get overtime like the other employees do.


Grumpy Cat is my hero.

If I had a restaurant don't dare ever complain to me.

"Food tastes horrible, Sir?  Good"

Americans are spoiled anyway.

May a famine descend upon the USA so the spoiled scum will shout with glee when finding a moldy crust of bread in the dumpster.


As an accountant that has provided services to many restaurants, the worst reason I see people enter that particular type of business is for ego. People think its going to be glamorous and they are just going to be walking around greeting friends and acquaintances with big glasses of wine in their hands. I have seen many people lose their life savings and retirement accounts because of their egos and the additional fact that they have zero experience in the hospitality industry. You want to own and run a restaurant? Go get a job in the business first then your eyes may be opened up.


So you're saying there's a chance...

Lon Hall
Lon Hall

Over the years I have been asked by many friends why I have never opened a restaurant. My standard response is "Too much work. Too little reward."

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