Being a Restaurateur in 2017

I have read countless articles predicting the restaurant trends that will affect our industry over the coming year. These pieces run alongside equally prophetic articles that try to chart the performance of the entire sector over the next 12 months. Some see doom and gloom whereas others see bright spots that can be navigated to realize great success.

With all this prognostication, it’s impossible not to get lost in the commentary about industry bubbles and headwinds. The uncertainty of the coming Trump presidency has created a fog that clouds even the most well-thought predictions.

With so many unknowns, it’s an incredibly difficult time to be a business owner.

The truth is, that it’s always a difficult time to be a restaurant owner and operator. We work in one of the most competitive industries. We are always challenged to find great staff members. We ride the ever-changing currents of consumer tastes.

Just when you think you have made it, with full dining rooms on a nightly basis, a new concept can open down the street, threatening your entire business. Our food costs are always variable. Our staffing needs and overall pool of talented workers is constantly shifting.

We must stay abreast of new technologies that are being deployed across restaurants of all sizes. From farm-to-table to gluten-free requirements, experiential dining, and zero waste concepts, we are in an ongoing battle to lift our restaurants above the break-even line.

With razor thin margins, even the most subtle change in consumer tastes, food costs, and employee turnover, can dramatically shift an entire balance sheet. With this picture, one might question why we do it? We work nights, weekends, deal with an array of personalities across our staffs, and have to navigate the fine line of online reviews.

We are more often met with customer complaints than congratulations.

A great Yelp review can easily be overshadowed by one filled with vitriol because an entitled guest’s server failed to fill his water glass every five minutes. We walk a tightrope every single day. A massive snow storm could affect an entire week or month of sales projections. A failed promotion or limited-time offer could turn a rosy financial outlook into one that begets doom and gloom.

Our staff are overworked, tired, and, in some cases, are addicted to drugs and alcohol. We must fight against the changing tastes of our customers, rising rents, and unforeseen costs that can peek out from everywhere.

At every turn, there are people who question why we wanted to go into the restaurant business in the first place. Even the people who have restaurant experience, question our sanity. But, it’s what we love to do.

Being a part of people’s lives is a natural element of who we are.

We strive to deliver experiences and meals that delight our guests. The average restaurateur doesn’t choose this life because of fame or fortune; it’s a minority of us who ever rise to that level.

You opened a restaurant because it felt like the most natural thing to do. Maybe you love to cook and are one of many chef/owners that we count amongst our ranks. Maybe you grew up in the industry, with a family member who owned a restaurant, learning each job from hostess to server, bartender, and then manager. Working in a restaurant has become a part of your personal makeup. You love the people, the diverse personalities, and the ever-changing days which are as unique as the next.

We all have different reasons and motivations for running our restaurants. At the end of the day, we are all people trying to deliver a great experience, trying to put food on people’s plates that brings them joy in an uncertain world.

I don’t presume to know whether kale will be as popular this year as it was last, or whether 2017 will finally be the year of mobile payments. What I do know is that the restaurant industry will change. It will change for the better and for the worse. Restaurants that have been around for decades will close. Brand new restaurants, designed to take advantage of the latest and greatest culinary fads, will pop up across the country.

Some of these will meet the expectation of their fanfare and others will close seemingly as quickly as they opened.

I welcome the change.

Change can be both terrifying and exciting at the same time. Would we wake up every day and step into our dining rooms if we didn’t welcome uncertainty? Each day could bring a guest who can’t stop espousing how great his meal was, or a difficult staffing environment that requires you to fire one of your veteran chefs.

It’s a turbulent world that we live in, one that’s full of incredible highs and the lowest of lows. Many of us will see our restaurants close at some point, either by necessity or choice; seeing the fruits of our labor and passion darkened by the shadows of mistakes and missed opportunities. And, just around the corner, will be an opportunity to do it all again. That’s who we are. We are restaurateurs.

We are restaurant and bar operators, managers, bartenders, servers, hostesses, dishwashers, and all the other people that make up the unique cast of characters that fill our locations. We are in every entrée, every appetizer, and every drink that our staff serves. We live and die by the fork.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.