24 Things Restaurant Owners Wish They Could Tell You
Restaurant owners are in charge of quite a bit when it comes to owning a restaurant.
We already have the inside scoop on what servers won’t tell you and the secrets that restaurant chefs keep under wraps, but what about the owner behind it all? Restaurant owners have a lot on their minds, too—but that doesn’t mean they’ll always speak up about it. Here are some things restaurant owners probably won’t tell you—but wish you knew.
We don’t like online coupons
Groupons and restaurant.com coupons are not a restaurant owner’s friends. They might bring in customers initially, but that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do—bring in customers once to help them decide if they want to come back. “If diners start coming in regularly and only use Groupons or restaurant.com coupons, over time, that ends up hurting the restaurant financially. It’s supposed to be something that introduces diners to a restaurant for the first time,” says Frank Lombardi, owner of Lombardi’s Trattoria in Redding, CT. (By the way, this is the ONLY time it’s OK to use a restaurant bathroom without being a customer.)
You’re paying for more than just the food
Not all restaurant owners are trying to rip you off—they need to pay their bills, too. If your steak seems to be a ridiculous price, keep in mind that you’re paying for more than just your food. Those tablecloths, the napkins, the silverware, the condiments—everything adds up. “People who complain about the prices that restaurants charge don’t understand the dynamics of the business of running a restaurant and the costs associated with such. Restaurants operate on very small margins and if they are not run efficiently with proper cost structures, it’s the reason why many fail,” says Jay Silver, chef/owner of EJ’s Luncheonette and a partner/consultant of Stone Bridge Pizza & Salad.
We have played every role in the restaurant
Restaurant owners are responsible for so much more than customers might realize—and if there’s any slack, it’ll fall back on them. “Whenever an employee calls in sick, it’s the owner that winds up doing the work,” says Franco Francese, owner of Mattone Restaurant and Bar located just outside of Chicago, IL. “There is no backup plan and it’s not easy. The owner is already the plumber, the electrician, the go-to person to deal with everything. If a server or dishwasher calls off, I’ll be serving or dishwashing that night.” (This incredible restaurant is set to open in 2019–and it’s underwater.)
Owning a restaurant is a 24/7 job
“Owning a restaurant is a 24/7 job. There’s so much to consider—from finance, purchasing, facilities, maintenance, marketing, human resources, training employees, employee retention—the list goes on!” says D’Anton. Not to mention, even if a restaurant owner isn’t physically on location, there’s a good chance they’re doing something restaurant-related anyway. Days off might be spent periodically checking the restaurant cameras, attending food expos, or shopping for new appliances. “Restaurant work is very demanding for an owner and you need to put in a lot of hours. The more you’re there the better it is,” says Lombardi.
We don’t like the weatherman
Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock
Let’s be honest, the weatherman isn’t always right. And when they’re not, restaurant owners and employees take a bigger hit than you’d think. “They often scare guests into staying home with grand stories of the snowstorm of the century or flooding rains,” says Steven Goldberg, president of Stage Deli in West Bloomfield, MI. “Often what results is a mere blip on the weather radar and servers who make their living on tips go home empty-handed.” (Make sure you NEVER order these fish dishes when you go out to dinner.)
Please don’t keep us after closing hours
Typically, restaurant owners are at work several hours before opening and several hours after closing. In other words, they work way more than 40 hours a week. “We absolutely want our customers to enjoy our food and drink and each other’s company,” says Lombardi. “But as it starts to get late and all our other patrons are leaving, be aware that the staff has had a very long day and deserve to get home to their families, too.”
We always prefer cash
Most of the time, if servers are tipped in cash they take it home that night (as opposed to waiting for a paycheck). But paying in cash is preferred by the owners, too. “Guests (just like all of us) love their free points. Except, there is no such thing,” says Goldberg. “The better a card’s rewards, the higher fee Visa/MC charges the restaurant to process.” (Be sure to steer clear of these restaurant foods next time you go out to eat.)
We wish more of our customers took the time to know our history
That slam-packed restaurant that there’s a two-hour wait for? Chances are, it wasn’t always like that. Restaurant owners take pride in where they came from and it’s always nice for customers, or at least regulars, to take the time to ask about it. “Jose [Meirelles] wishes that more of the diners at his French Kosher Steakhouse, Le Marais [in New York, NY], knew the history of the establishment that they frequent so loyally,” says Michael Kosowski, spokesperson for Le Marais.
We make less than you think
Behind every successful restauranteur, there’s a hardworking team—and they need to be paid. “For every dollar in sales, the owner is lucky to collect 5-7 cents on that dollar,” says Denise Stavros, general manager of Primavera Ristorante in Coronado, CA. “Nearly 65-70 percent of the expenses are labor costs, payroll taxes, and the cost of food and beverages; the remaining amount goes to other expenses, such as direct operating expenses, rent, property tax, etc.” This is especially true if a restaurant is just starting out. “Time and money are always short when you own a restaurant, especially at the beginning, but you are still dependent on others to provide the items you need to run your business,” says Nino Barbalace, owner and executive chef of Zia Gianna Caffè in Boston, MA. (These are the unhealthiest meals you can order in restaurants—and one of them has 2,820 calories!)