The Insanity of Opening a Restaurant
May 22, 2019
(Updated from April 15, 2018)
If I were starting out in life again, I would become a psychologist instead of a writer.
I would specialize in the peculiar mental derangement that causes people to open a restaurant.
Approximately 60% of restaurants fail within three years. And no wonder. There are tons of restaurants competing for business.
Indeed, restaurants compete with everyone who has a kitchen and a cookbook, which is almost everyone.
When I consider the cost of food, equipment, furnishings, rent, advertising, labor, taxes, utilities, etc. I can't understand how restaurants survive. When I eat out, I am conscious that the owner's profit is the difference between what I pay and all of these items. No wonder I often feel ripped off in terms of quality and quantity. Many restaurants are rip-offs, plain and simple.
For me, opening a restaurant would be like renting, furnishing and staffing a reading room where people buy my books and then sit down and enjoy them. I would go broke.
Never sell anything that can't be mass produced. Once I've finished a book, it's done. But a restaurant must manufacture its product anew every time, to exacting standards or face the indignation of the customer and a scathing online review.
Did I mention the hard work and long hours? The city health inspectors? How just one bad review can spoil your business? How food goes bad? Imagine if someone gets food poisoning?
My sister owns a successful restaurant. The margin is 5%. You must do a lot of business for that to pay. My brother-in-law says it's like preparing to give a concert every night, and not knowing if anyone will show up.
What inspires people to get into this labor of love?
Comment from PJ:
Comment from AQ:
I wish I had read this article 15 years ago. I went to cooking school with hopes to one day open my own restaurant, if only I had known what I was getting myself into. Needless to say, I never opened a restaurant. Little did I realize that here in Ottawa to open a simple restaurant with 20 seats or so would cost around $250,000 and no bank will give you a loan because of the excessively high risk. Unless you or your business partners have the money you will need to find private investors, which is not easy at all.
Most people who open a restaurant are motivated by the fact that they "like cooking" and think it will be "fun". Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant can tell you that there is very little about it that is fun or to be liked. I enjoy cooking at home, but a restaurant environment is something completely different. When it's busy, you are under constant stress. When it's not busy, you are either stuck scraping some grease in the corner or you are going home. It's a business in which employee's rights are rarely recognized - no overtime pay, no holiday pay, no breaks (even though they deduct money for them), no chance to eat even though you are working with food all day long.
On a side note, I try to avoid eating from restaurants as much as possible. After seeing what goes on in there I don't want to take the risk. "What? There's no time to wash your hands!", "Just pick it up off the floor, we can't throw out steaks", "No need to wash the lettuce, there's black pepper in the salad dressing, nobody will know the difference". These are not imaginary stories. Speaking of lettuce, most restaurants I have worked in use the same sink to wash lettuce (the ones that actually do) and dump the water from the mop bucket. Is salad really a healthy option? If you are hungry and don't have time to cook you are better grabbing a burger at McDonald's or something like that, it's greasy and doesn't taste so great but you won't spend the night on the toilet. If you are worried about your weight then skip the fries and soft drink, eat some fruit when you get home instead.
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Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at