Restaurant Series – What I’ve Learned

I don’t know if my situation is unique for the restaurant business, but I think it is. I mean, I don’t come from a culinary background of any kind. The closest thing I have to restaurant experience is working as a cashier at Chuck E. Cheese haha! When I went to go work for Ninong’s full time I had a LOT to learn, and that’s an understatement. I had to learn and adapt as I went, I thought about efficiency, the customer experience, scheduling, everything. And eventually I kind of got the hang of it! Though moving to a larger space is now a new ball game, I thought I’d share the top 10 things I’ve learned working and running our family restaurant.

This is going to be a list of the things that I just realized or came to terms with as my time in the restaurant business continued. The next post I have planned in a couple days will be a post that’s about what to expect when opening and running a restaurant. So, let’s dive in!

1. Whatever you do, do it well. This relates to the comment I made in my last post about having a signature product. Have a product that you will be known for, and do it really well. Start with 1 and the branch out into others. There’s that saying that you can do 2 things 100%, and it’s true to some degree. To get on the map, you’ve got to be known for 1 thing and branching out into other products after will be so much easier.

2. Keep your head down and do the work. I make this statement often to colleagues. Because if you don’t keep your head in your own game, comparison and copying start to creep in. Comparison is the enemy here. Believe in your ideas, creativity, ingenuity, and experience. It’s easy to wish for the success that you see others have, but what’s the point? Why do that to yourself? Even if you wished for that success and tried to copy someone else’s idea you’re still not going to ride the same wave of success that they are. Be known for something you came up with, it’ll be a way bigger accomplishment in the end.

3. Don’t be afraid to change as you try, test, and grow. I have such a hard time with these this point. I always think that when I put something out into the universe it’s finite and it can’t be changed. But I’m so wrong. Adapt, learn, grow, change – it’s all for the better! Tried something and it didn’t work? Replace it with your next idea! Layout of your space not working? Rearrange the furniture! Worried that it won’t work? Well, you won’t know until you try.

4. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. I’ve said it before: owning a business is hard. Running a restaurant is hard. When you’re an entrepreneur you do what you have to do to keep the car running. If that means pulling an all nighter, working 80 hours a week, putting in your own money to keep your business afloat, you do it! Why? I’m sure everyone has their own reasons. But for me, it’s because I love what I do. Which leads me to my next point…

5. You’ve got to have passion for it. If you don’t love what you do, you’re going to burn out fast. Imagine having to go through everything I’ve mentioned in #4. Would you do that if you didn’t have passion? Probably not. At some point it’ll probably get too hard, too expensive, or too tiring (or all of the above). But that passion in your heart for your business will push you through some of the most difficult experiences. Trust me, I’ve experienced all of the above and I would never trade those moments for the world.

6. Don’t shut out constructive criticism, it will only make you better. It’s easy to take the hate and bad reviews out there and just return hate back. The service industries are one of the toughest industries to work in. Everyone is a critic, everyone knows better than you. Those people that don’t care about your business and just want to spew their anger and hate on someone just let them be. But then there will be the ones that actually want to give you constructive criticism because they want to see you succeed. Don’t shut them out just because you think they don’t understand. Feedback and listening to feedback is extremely important. You can pick and choose your battles, of course, but don’t just stay stagnant. Think about their comments and try to see if it’s something you can fix. Your future self with thank you.

7. Do what works for you. People will tell you how to do things, and while it’s important to listen to advice, pick and choose your battles like I said before. You’re going to come across a lot of people telling you what you should make, what you should sell, what ingredients you should use, but if you don’t think that’s on brand or fits with your business don’t do it!

8. Don’t let money be the only driving reason. I mean let’s be real, it is the reason to start a business. To make money. But don’t let it be the only or the main reason why you want to start a business. Greed is never the right approach. Your motives will show and customers will see right through you. Yes, making money is important but you have the story, the passion, the drive to serve.

9. The customer isn’t always right, but you’re not either. I know this may seem like blasphemy to say, on both ends in fact. The motto the customer is always right isn’t always true. Sometimes they just don’t understand and that’s ok! But remember, you’re not always right either. Don’t make your business about your ego. Sometimes you’ll run into a customer that just absolutely hates everything you’re about or the experience they had. Some will even demand things of you that are unreasonable. We’ve seen them all. But at the same time, don’t let those people harden your heart and lose compassion for your customers. There are times where you’re going to make a mistake, you’re only human. Don’t be afraid to try to apologize and rectify your error. There’s no shame in making a mistake. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

10. You can’t please everyone, so just do you best every time. This coincides with #9, but one of the things I’ve learned the most is that I have a really “thin skin.” When people aren’t pleased with me I take it extremely personally. Even at my old retail jobs, when someone would want to return something that I sold them I would feel so guilty. But being an owner of a restaurant has taught me that I can’t take it personally every time. I can’t please everyone, and even though that kills me inside it’s the reality. So, the only solution is to do the best that I can every time. My best may not always be good enough, but at least I know it was the best I could do with the tools and knowledge I was given.

I hope this helps someone out there in internet land. No matter whether you’re opening a restaurant or any other business really, it’s hard but so worth it. These tips are useful for any industry, as I’ve applied them to my other businesses too!


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