Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Restaurant Hates Me

My daughter and I own a restaurant.  Or rather, it owns us. 
It's not fancy.  Probably more akin to a "greasy spoon" diner.  

My father managed restaurants, my mother was a bartender.  I remember growing up I thought having my own restaurant would be marvelous.  Creating exciting flavors, and serving them on pretty plates.  Having the happiest customers ever.

I'm just about over that now.

My daughter and I own the restaurant my parents bought in 1984.  We have inherited it.  We have a love/hate relationship with it.  Some days?  A lot of hate.

Owning a restaurant means you are on call 24/7.  The phone ringing at 3:30am is a given.  We are not only restaurant owners, we are cooks, dishwashers, servers, cashiers, bookkeepers, maintenance men, and social workers.

If someone calls in sick, we are very likely the ones to cover that shift.  If a piece of equipment breaks down, we try to troubleshoot it ourselves rather than call the real (overpriced cause you have to have it) repair services.  We do most of our own bookkeeping to keep down the cost of having an accountant to do everything.  We mediate differences between employees,  between customers. between employees and customers.

Some employees feel as long as they show up and clock in, they have earned pay.  Honestly?  Standing around watching the clock is not what I pay people to do.

Some feel that it is our job to arrange around their family life, social life, and appointments.  We try to be flexible.  We are at the bottom of the food chain is the retail world.  Minimum wage.  So flexible schedule is about the only "perk" we can offer.  But, really?  If one only works 3 days a week, can one not schedule their dental cleaning on one of the days they have off?

Some employees think employee meal is taking enough food home to feed the family.  Some think the coffee sale they put in their pocket instead of the cash register isn't going to hurt anything.  Some think we are making a fortune. Hah!

Some customers seem to think we acquire the food we serve for a reduced price or even for free.  They don't understand why we want to charge for extras.  I want to go to a hardware store, buy a hammer and ask why the nails don't come with it. 

Some customers think that if they eat 3/4 of a meal and decide they don't like it, they don't have to pay for it.  Why would someone eat most of a meal they didn't like?

I have listened to the medical woes of customers.  The marital problems of employees.  Tried to help out employees that are short on cash before payday.  Refereed the spats between servers.  Assured customers that to the best of our knowledge the eggs don't have salmonella.  Explained to customers and employees we HAVE called the soft drink machine people 5 times and they keep saying it's fixed every time and I can't FIX THE DAMN MACHINE MYSELF!!

I have explained to customers, more times than I can count that replacing hash browns with corned beef hash on the breakfast special for the same price just cannot be done.  That we use lemon juice packets, we are not upscale enough to keep real lemon slices on hand as I would throw out more than I served.  That we are a little bitty place without the space or equipment to do things like the high class place down the street does.  That's why our dinners are less that $6.00 a plate.

This business is not for the weak hearted.  It eats you alive.  Even for owners the pays sucks.  I'd make more money at Wally World.

Yet, in the end.  I'm still here.  Cause it's what I do.  And really?

Because I love it.


  1. Here's what I want to know Renee, is it your passion?

  2. Kristin, honestly? I'm not as passionate about it as I used to be. Partly because the business has struggled the last couple years due to economy and mandates on the fed and local levels. Partly because I need a break.

    I'm starting to feel very passionate about retirement. ;)

  3. I love your response to Kristin!

    I always wanted to have my own restaurant, but after reading this, I think I'll pass....

  4. Natalie, unless you have a real love for the work and people, it's something I would say to avoid. I started working in food when I was 14. It's all I know. I've worked in a chain operation also. Hated that.
    It's not all bad. Most days I really do love it.

  5. I'm a caterer, and I love working with people, parties, and food.

    It's wonderful, but hours are's 1:30 in the a.m., and I just got home.

    You have to love it...

  6. @The Empress, Catering is one of the hardest sides of foodservice. We've done large party orders, customer picks up, and they are stressful.

    At heart, I'm an old-fashioned short order grill cook. That's what I love. The bookkeeping and employees are the most mentally challenging part of the business. At least for me.

    Thanks for stopping by, and don't forget to rest ;)

  7. awesome that I just found this. I myself own a small restaurant. It is hard work but it is worth it. I look forward to reading more about your day to day.. I am trying to write about my experiences but feel they are mundane and no one will want to read it. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Lydia, glad you found this. Actually I try not to write about work very often. This had been a rough day. So I vented. Most of my writing is mundane and/or whiny. I'm just learning this bloggy thing.

    I have lots of good examples to follow.

  9. Renee: I've always been in awe of people who own restaurants. It requires a certain amount of patience and persistence. But at least you are your own boss.

  10. @Rudri And that is a big plus. I may not always make the right decisions, they are my decisions.

  11. I applaud you, Renee. The restaurant business is so tough -- & in these hard economic times, it must be like gritting your teeth and squeaking by on a prayer sometimes. It's not the most lucrative of businesses to begin with, I know, and the hours of owner/operators can be unbelievable.

    I worked as a waitress in college to make it, and decades later my husband won approval from me while we were dating by always giving extra-large tips. ;)

  12. Meredith,Thank you for reading. I complain a lot, but I enjoy the challenges. Mostly.
    Your husband would quickly become a favorite customer ;)

  13. It's so true, running your own business isn't really about how well you manage the "business", it's how well you manage the people. It sounds like you need a refresher, any holiday plans on the horizon?

  14. Christina, thanks for reading! Yep, the big joke is, this job would be great but for the employees and customers. Only half kidding.
    And holidays? I'll go to work Thanksgiving at 4am. Feed breakfast to mostly men escaping their wives kitchens. We'll lock it up at 11am.
    Then I'll go start dinner for my family. My siblings, niece and nephew, daughter and hubby. And grandson.
    I am crazy.

  15. I worked in the restaurant industry for a while as a waitress and I can totally relate to how hard the work is because of my time serving. My sister was manager of the place and I could see just how hard even she had to work to keep things going and she wasn't even the owner. It's a tough biz, and you gotta love it to be able to put in the time and energy.

  16. And one more thing. I really hated people when I worked as a waitress. People can be so terrible to servers. (Of course I also had some awesome regulars who I loved as well. They were the ones that made it fun. And worth it.)