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What Prepares You For Running a Restaurant? 

By Larry Buhl, special to CareerBuilder
Submitted courtesty of National Restaurant Association and  CareerBuilder

There’s a learning curve in every profession, and you have to make mistakes before you can learn the right and wrong ways to get the job done. No matter how smart you are, the best way to learn is experience, whether from your education or your work history. Seasoned restaurateurs told us their previous jobs helped them succeed, but a few lessons must be learned the hard way. Here are a few tips they learned before and after they entered the biz:

Staff must care about what they make and sell.
Ryan Lowder, a former chef who now owns Copper Onion and Plum Alley in Salt Lake City, looks for people who understand food and wine and care about both.

“When we hire for the back of the house, we ask what cookbooks they use and what they do in their spare time,” Lowder said. “In the front of the house we ask [the wait staff candidates] their opinions about wine. If you have someone out there selling wine, they should understand it and care about it.”

Don’t wing it.
James Sinclair, CEO of OnSite Consulting, brought a technical and business background to the restaurant business and suggests having a detailed plan before starting.

“If you and I wanted to start an insurance firm, we would go through the education and understand the metrics of success and the break-even points before even considering it. In restaurants, because it’s fun and the barriers are so low, people just dive in headfirst and normally drown. Treat a restaurant like you would any service- and product-based business.”

Fix only what’s broken.
Jeff Flancer, owner of Flancer's Restaurant in Gilbert and Mesa AZ, has learned the hard way over thirty years that you should follow customers suggestions – up to a point. “If I thought about fixing something, and I see that suggestion comment card from a customer, I know that I should make it happen. But now I don’t drive myself crazy making every change. A change should make things better for everyone, including yourself and staff.”

Hire the right people, and keep them.
Bert Smith opened his first restaurant, Plank Road Steakhouse in North Carolina three years ago. He says part of their success comes from bringing on the right people and doing everything possible to reduce turnover. He says they have not hired anyone new in the kitchen in two years, and most of the serving staff has been with them since the opening.
“We do try and be very selective about anyone we hire, and the majority are candidates come from personal references. We almost like an extended family. We do not ask anything of our employees that we would not or have not also done, and we try and find people who like people because you cannot teach those skills.”

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