After reading John R. Walker’s intro, and perusing Audrey’s notes in the margin, I feel like I have some insight into the book. Not a critique, so much as a different take. I’ve been a part of a few restaurant launches (and some re-launches), but I am as much an expert on restaurants, as I am an expert on rocket surgery or unicorn colons.
The restaurateurs interviewed for this textbook list, “finding the right staff,” as one of their challenges. Audrey didn’t highlight this, but from what I’ve seen this will be the hardest part of any restaurant, new or old, and probably the most important.
Don’t get me wrong, construction is a huge issue: I’ve seen grease trap explosions, roof leaks, fires, hood breakage, gas leaks, power failure, broken ovens, POS outages and more. But if you have “the right staff,” you can sometimes survive all that — and more.
I worked at two different, beautiful, restaurants with lots of money and very few construction issues. These same restaurants had significant staff issues. Both failed, and both closed permanently.
What’s the most common issue I’ve seen in new restaurants? Figuring how to get people to walk through the front door, and I don’t mean drumming up business. For whatever reason, getting people to come in through the door closest to the host stand is always an issue. Not a significant one, but an oddly persistent one.
People come in through the side. People come through the back. People come through anywhere, except for through the door restaurant owners and restaurant designers intend to be the “front” entrance.
I’ve seen otherwise reasonable people tug tearfully on locked doors, attempt to walk through oversized flower pots, hop through windows, and set off fire alarms, all in attempts to come in through the door they considered the “right” one.
At one restaurant we had the opposite problem. There, as people exited, I repeatedly watched them walk into glass walls at full speed.
The Belgian restaurant owners from the intro claim their most embarrassing moment during opening was realizing that they’d forgotten to buy coffee. That feels like bullshit.
Whatever the most embarrassing problem was I doubt they would put it in a textbook, so they came up with a soft lie. Either that or they had an opening staff that can keep a secret from them, and if their staff can keep a secret, they did a spectacular job on the first point, “finding the right staff.”
According to the book, the restaurant profiled here opened, “three weeks prior to the interview.” Doing some sleuthing, it seems that the place is still open about ten years on. That’s fantastic.
POSTSCRIPT: In working on this piece I randomly came up with a link to the “Worst Restaurants in Toronto, ON” and I am now deadly curious.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: The most insightful story about opening a restaurant I’ve ever read is: “A Restaurant Ruined My Life” by Robert Maxwell. As such I will post this link on the bottom of each post about opening restaurants because restaurants are never for the faint of heart.