How the restaurant business works


When I was a little kid, I loved going to restaurants. Actually, scratch that: I still love going to restaurants! It’s not just the food — the whole idea of a restaurant, with people coming together and professionals creating the perfect atmosphere, really excites me. For a long time, I’ve wanted to run a restaurant for a living. But now, in college, I feel like I have kind of let that dream go. I don’t know anything about how restaurants are run! Is it too late for me to learn? How can I get into the business?

The restaurant business can be immensely rewarding — but, as any restaurateur will tell you, it’s not easy work! There’s a lot to know and a lot to do when you run a restaurant. On top of that, running a restaurant can be financially risky: it’s a tough business to turn a profit in, and an even tougher one to survive for a whole career in. Still, it’s not too late for you to try to break into the business, and there are plenty of things that you can do to increase your odds of succeeding in the restaurant business.

You probably think of a few specific things when you think about running a restaurant. They’re probably the customer-facing things: the food, the atmosphere, the service, and so on. But don’t forget that a restaurant is a business! To succeed in the restaurant business, you’ll have to turn a profit, manage your inventory and supplies, pay employees and taxes, protect yourself legally, advertise and promote, and more. Experts say that the best restaurant owners need to be multi-talented and good at multitasking — and good at handling stress, too!

Fortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do all of these things yourself. Restaurants can outsource payroll services and hire marketing consultants. They deal with other companies in other industries. Suppliers are particularly important, say hospitality supply pros at Making sure that your restaurant is well-stocked with the right plates, forks, knives, and so on is key, and you’ll need affordable suppliers in order to stay profitable. The same, of course, goes for the ingredients and food!

But you won’t learn all of this from our answer to your letter. You’ll learn in school and in the real world! If you’re serious about running a restaurant, now is the time to look into undergraduate and graduate options for gaining a degree related to the hospitality business. Some majors make more sense than other for future restaurateurs, and there are graduate schools that focus on training professionals for the hospitality industry. As an undergraduate, consider majors like business, culinary arts, and hospitality. For graduate school, look for degrees in the same fields or specifically in restaurant management. There are not strict educational requirements for working in many restaurants, and there are none for starting your own, but being well-trained will help you as you compete for jobs and clear the strict hurdles that do exist, like certifications, permits, and licenses.

You should also try your hand at working in a restaurant. Whether you’re cooking, cleaning, or waiting tables, a job in a restaurant will give you a close-up view of the business that you want to make your living in. It will help you be sure of your decision and can give you a sense of what sorts of skills you’ll need to meet the challenges you’ll face.

The restaurant business is a tough one, no doubt about it. But if you seek out the proper training, gain a background in restaurants, and make smart decisions about outsourcing and suppliers, you could end up running a wonderful and successful business. We wish you all the luck in the world.

“Every restaurant needs to have a point of view.”  — Danny Meyer

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