For many, owning a restaurant is a dream job. Cooking fantastic food for your community, mixing beautiful drinks, working in a high-energy setting, tasting wine & food all day... sounds awesome! And owning a restaurant really IS awesome... but like any business, the inside view is very different from what it may seem from an outsider's point-of-view. As a diner, it might seem nearly effortless to run a restaurant. However, if you have ever had a great experience in any restaurant, rest assured that a LOT was going on behind the scenes to ensure that you could relax & enjoy your meal!
1.) The restaurant becomes your family's living space.
Our kids do their homework here. Almost all of our meals are eaten here. We don't have cable at home, because nobody is ever there to watch TV. Our family members regularly get put to work if they are standing still long enough. Wanna hang out with us? Please come see us here, because we don't have many "normal" times off. The upside is that we get to see many of the people we love here all the time. The downside is that without a lot of prior planning, we are unable to have much of a social life outside of these walls.
2.) Your staff becomes your extended family members.
We work with most of our coworkers into the wee hours of the morning. We stress together, celebrate great nights together, commiserate over abusive tables together, laugh together, have ridiculous in-jokes together, share the same friend groups, travel together, party together, grow together, learn together. We are very, very picky about who we hire, because one bad apple can make everybody's job and life harder. We are always seeking out great, motivated, and friendly folks with true servant hearts, and a real passion to take care of guests and each other.
3.) THE WEEDS can be as terrifying as they are exhilarating.
Every restaurant has that moment... the kitchen is cruising along at a nice pace, all is going well, everyone is happy. Then suddenly, the tickets are printing off the printer so fast we cannot even grab them before the next one pops up. Every eye on the gas stove is occupied, every inch of the flat top is filled, the salad guy is making salads as fast as his hands can go and it's still not fast enough. We're in the weeds. The weeds are a restaurant's proving grounds. We never want a table waiting for their food, we always want everything coming out perfectly, so the weeds throw everyone into overdrive, from dishwashers to cooks to wait staff. On a good night, the weeds provide a surge of adrenaline and a new sense of teamwork. On a bad night, the weeds leave everybody in the kitchen feeling beat up and the waitresses feeling hung out to dry. Of course, we only want those "good night weeds," so we constantly train and reevaluate our methods to be as efficient and nimble as possible.
4.) Your regulars become your community.
We know about break-ups and make-ups and kids graduating high school and babies being born and folks losing jobs and/or getting raises. We know who likes their served tea half-n-half, who should really only have one glass of wine, who likes their "i" scratched off their beer bottles, who likes their burgers without buns, who wants extra crackers, and who always wants to try the feature, because they like something new all the time. We laugh with them, we mourn their losses, we cheer their accomplishments. We LOVE our regulars, because they have become more than just guests, they are friends now. They are our support system, and seeing them walk in the door makes our jobs happier. Some of our "regulars" actually live hours away, and we only get to see them a few times per year, while many of our regulars see us a few times a week. Regardless, they are one of the best parts of our day.
5.) Hand-washing is a constant habit.
Anybody who handles food and drinks should wash their hands often; but for restaurant folks, hand-washing becomes a compulsion. Pick up a dirty dish from a table? Wash your hands before & after. Carving a steak? Wash your hands before & after. Taking a dish to a table? Wash your hands before & after. Making a salad? Wear gloves and still wash your hands before & after. We go through an insane amount of hand soap and paper napkins keeping our hands clean. And moisturizing lotion at the end of the day is not an optional luxury... all that washing can really dry out a restaurant worker's hands!
6.) Eating a full meal is a rare treat.
If you're preparing and cooking food all day, you are tasting and adjusting the flavors for hours on end. It might sound like a dream job, but by the end of the day, the last thing you want is to sit down and eat a big hearty meal. Now, of course, our little tastes throughout the day are delectable! But, in order to enjoy an actual, full meal, it usually has to be on a day off, at a place a looooong way from our own kitchen. (And even then, restaurant-brain kicks in, mentally dissecting each plate of food, absentmindedly analyzing the lighting, the seating, the waitstaff, etc...)
7.) Our delivery drivers are our heroes.
If we could through a party every time one of our fantastic delivery driver showed up, we would. Last week at The Square, we had a delivery driver drive three hours on his weekend off to deliver two boxes of wine that accidentally didn't make it onto his truck earlier in the week. That might sound incredible, but we have found that delivery drivers are some of the hardest working, most caring and helpful members of this industry. Drivers work hard, long hours, frequently lifting heavy boxes, performing the parking equivalent of a contortionist, and delivering to a variety of non-ideal locations.
8.) Tips matter, reviews matter.
If you have never worked in a sit-down restaurant setting, you might not give tipping much of a second thought. Who cares whether you leave a 14% tip or a 24% tip? It might only be a few dollars difference, after all. Aside from the fact that servers depend on tipping for their livelihoods, most waiters and bartenders are people pleasers. Tipping is the most clear way to tell them that they did a great job. Every restaurant manager or owner has seen a waiter do a fantastic job for a table, only to be emotionally deflated by an insultingly low or zero tip. Waiters all look to their tip percentages at the end of the night as feedback for whether they are doing good work.
Fun fact: Adding a heads-up penny on the table to your tip is a traditional way of telling your server they did an exemplary job!
Along the same lines, restaurant owners & managers live and die by reviews. Whether it's an in-person conversation or a Trip Advisor, Yelp, Urbanspoon, or Google review, guests' opinions help restauranteurs steer the ship of our businesses. A negative review can keep a manager up at night, while a glowing review can have the whole staff floating on air.
9.) Long days & late nights are our normal days & nights.
The restaurant industry is different from almost any other industry. Any good restaurant spends a large number of hours before we open each day preparing fresh food from scratch. We work exhaustive, late hours, cleaning and re-setting long after the last table has paid their bills and left. Often, we gather at the bar or out back at the end of the night to go over how the evening went, catch up with each other, and unwind before heading home. Here at The Square, the first person arrives at around 8am, and the last person usually cuts the lights off between 1am-3am.
10.) Decisions are non-stop.
When you are running a business with as many moving parts as a restaurant, there are constantly choices to make. Which variety of apple will taste best in that pie? Should we buy our beef locally or have it imported? Is it time to hire a new dish washer? Should the steaks be cut to 10 ounces or 12 ounces? Can we afford to advertise this month? Should this beer be on draft or in bottles? Should the thermostat be set to 68 or 72? What music will our diners enjoy the most? How heavy should our pint glasses be? Does that waitresses need retraining? Is it time to cut that cook for the evening? (And on and on and on....)
Decision making becomes a balancing act between instinct, experience, calculation, and training. The choices never end, because our continual goal is to provide the very best experience possible to our guests.
In the end, restauranteurs choose this path because we love it. Next time you go out to eat, look around and see if you can some of the gears grinding all around you to keep the place ticking long. Owning a restaurant is a constant challenge; but we wouldn't exchange it for any other career in the world!