Every so often I’ll make dinner for people who have never tasted my cooking and hear, “You’re such a good cook. You should open a restaurant.”
Uh, not just no, but hell no.
First off, I’m Italian and I cook every day. Most paisans can cook pretty well since we are a culture obsessed with food, and in my old neighborhood you could throw a stone and hit 10 great Italian cooks. So I’m not unusual by Italian standards. I also have eight years working in my Dad’s delicatessen where we made meatballs, sauce, stuffed shells, lasagna, eggplant parm, you name it. All from scratch. When I graduated from college my father offered me the keys to the deli, and I said thanks, but no thanks. I’d had enough of the long hours on my feet, incredibly hard work, and customer complaints. Plus we were open every day but Christmas.
These days I watch restaurants come and go with amazing regularity. You’ve heard of the five stages of grief? There seem to be seven stages when it comes to restaurants run by people who have never worked in the food business:
-Restaurant announces future opening, buzz ensues
-Restaurant opens to huge crowds
-After two weeks, novelty wears off and the crowds die down to a normal level
-A few months later, sign appears in window: “Help wanted”
-Restaurant goes through staffing shortage and supply chain issues: “No chicken dishes today”
-Permanent menu has a note paperclipped to the top: “Due to increased costs, all entrees have $2 surcharge”
So, why is it so hard? There are numerous issues.
-Health department regulations: Back in the day we never wore plastic gloves and hairnets making sandwiches. There were no rules. No “scores” on the wall. We simply washed our hands a lot and kept things spotless. Now the process of constantly putting on and taking off gloves, especially for sandwich makers, is not only a pain but costly and time consuming. (And men wearing hairnets look ridiculous.)
-Unless you have a big family or people you can really trust to work in your restaurant, you will be stolen blind. Steaks will magically grow legs and walk out the back door. Five-finger discounts for friends and family will leave you wondering how all the supplies are gone but the cash register isn’t full. And the honest members of your wait staff will have tips vanish.
-Unreliable employees. How many times have you gone into a restaurant, seen half the tables empty and told there was a 30-minute wait because of a staffing shortage? I’ve seen it many times. These days we can go to one of our favorite restaurants and never see the same waiter or waitress twice. Turnover is huge. You’ll be spending a lot of time hiring.
-Incompetent kitchen staff. A friend recently told me he went into an Italian restaurant and was told they were… wait for it… out of pasta. Seriously? It’s not like pasta spoils. Apparently no one thought to run across the street to the grocery store to get a few boxes of Ronzoni.
-Finally, it’s really hard work. People don’t realize there’s more to running a restaurant than cooking and waiting tables.
So the next time someone compliments your cooking and you hear, “You should open a restaurant…”
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow, and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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