I’m taking a day off to catch up on work… Anyone in this industry will understand that. Most of us small restaurant owners/operators were not blessed with an office. In my case I’m running a restaurant out of what 100 years ago was a bank building. The whole damn building was office, but now it serves as a dining room, two bars, and a kitchen. The only “small rooms” have toilets in them. I may be desperate, but I refuse to eat my lunch on the toilet. Well, never say never. There may actually be a day when even the solitude of the bathroom could be a welcomed refuge. I know our employee bathroom serves as headquarters for many of my crew’s Clash of Clans battles… just gross. I mean playing video games as an adult. Everyone poops.
Working in a restaurant is really what I would call a hands on job. (There really wasn’t enough space placed between the poop reference and the hands on food statement that followed. Sorry for that!) Of course, in this job there are many tasks that need to be done that are probably best done in a quiet sitting position, like menu costing, marketing, web design, scheduling, catering forms to fill out, bookkeeping, industry updates, on and on all the way to tshirt designs and equipment research. But that all too often gets put on the back burner. And so, once every blue moon, we take a day off from our regular scheduled activities to force ourselves to sit in a chair and do grown up work. Now keep in mind, we chose this career because we’re bad at grown up stuff. We prefer to run around loud rooms with sharp objects, not sit at a desk and God forbid, focus on one thing. Ugh. Shiver. For me, today is that day though. Now, having made the choice long ago to go against the grain of adulthood, I (and probably most of my colleagues) do adulthood my own way. First, I start with coffee. Now yes, that is typical grown up process, but while many people choose to put on pants with real buttons and zippers, I opted for elastic pants… very, very old, barely hanging on, long past their death, yoga pants. I did put on a bra, but only because I’m going to sit on my porch and I genuinely care about the health and well-being of my neighbors. These fun bags are dangerous when released naturally to the elements. Next, I brushed my teeth. I know, whoa, Wall Street, here I come. I had a quick breakfast with my husband and child, off to work the man goes, off to the babysitter’s the child goes. It’s just me, the dog, strong coffee, and a computer topped with a stack of papers. The time has arrived. I make my way outside to my porch. It’s nice out today so I feel like a gentle breeze and sunshine will drive me on my way to productivity. It also kind of feels more like a real day off, so at least I can keep the woe is me, pity party at a low roar in my head. Today I am revamping our website, creating a new page for our new banquet room that we’ve been managing for almost two years, it’s “new” because then I don’t have to feel guilty for not having created a website or even proper signage for it yet. That reminds me, I need to work on signage for my new banquet room. Right now it’s more of a in the know secret kind of place. Mystery, what every customer service business depends on. Sexy. After that I’m going to work on a few new tshirt ideas I’ve been stewing. Then I need to advertise a stove I have for sale- sooner that’s sold the quicker I can pay back my personal credit card which I used to buy the new equipment we replaced said stove with. Ya, your own personal credit will be subjected to abuse in order to keep the wheels on your fancy restaurant. Like run down crappy houses you pass with fancy cars in the driveway, most restaurant owners have shiny eateries with sparkly stainless steel bells and whistles, while at home we cook on archaic pots and pans and drink from the carton. After stove marketing, I’m going to create a flyer and information sheet for a community event that I in a tequila induced craze decided to volunteer for. After that, I need to start work on my own community fundraiser that I host every fall. Time permitting, I really need to spend some time fixing the kinks and marketing our new oyster bar that we launched a couple months ago. It was a trial by fire that has worked fine, but it’s time to perfect the area and the system.
All that to do, and yet here I am blogging… I’m settling my brain. I’m focusing my energy. I’m stalling…
Here’s what I’m really thinking about and what I really want to talk about… ACCOUNTABILITY.
What happened to being held accountable for your own actions? What happened to holding others accountable? What happened to make us think that any of our issues once were not issues, and why do we automatically assume something had to have happened to have changed that? Maybe we are and always have been Screwed Up! Oddly, I find comfort in that.
Back to complaining about how young people fucked everything up…
I’m going to say what I know every successful restaurant owner in the world thinks but is Not Allowed to say… most failed restaurants are not a victim of the economy, or a victim of any troubles in their small towns, or traffic, or taxes, or blah, blah, blah. You know about excuses, they’re like orifices we all got. I get so tired of hearing people make excuses for ultimately what is their own damn fault. Let me please explain. No really, I Really need to get this off of my chest. I spend an enormous amount of time learning. I am not so naïve as to think that once I graduated college I was done exploring new answers. Not even that, that I was done exploring new questions. Far from it. The second I walked across the stage to receive my diploma I embraced the responsibility that not only would the learning not stop, but I felt the pressure to realize that now it was actually my own responsibility to figure out what it was that I still needed to learn. Real life does not come with professors and a syllabus. It’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you don’t know you don’t know. That is the first lesson that every new restaurateur, and probably any new business owner of any kind, needs to remind themselves. That should be your mantra. Find out what I need to know, then find out what I need to know about that. If you do that, then you will not be a victim of anything… well, theft. You could be a victim of theft, and rudeness, and exhaustion, and bad nutrition, and poor sleep habits…. but your business should still be open if you’ve got good insurance and enough caffeine. For those of us that take the boring and excruciating time to research every aspect of our restaurant, others that just think they make good soup and have a pile of cash and scoff at how hard can it really be KILL US. If one restaurant with zero concept of food and menu costing arbitrarily prices their menu, usually too low, then those of us with sensible and correct prices will hear about it. “I can get a similar sandwich down the street at who gives a shit’s for half the price.” Now what I’d like to say is, well ya better get as many as you can eat now because they are going to close soon. But I can’t say that. The undamaged, still optimistic, goody two shoes side of me wants to go offer my advice to that new restaurant owner, but I can’t do that either. Because every time I’ve tried to help in the past I’ve either been burned or my help has not been received well. Oh that Mo, she just thinks she knows everything. No, I don’t. I don’t know shit about mufflers, or electric poles, or sail boats. And what I know about court rooms and hospitals I learned from Law & Order and Grey’s Anatomy. But I do know restaurants. I don’t know everything, but I know a whole helluva lot. And what I don’t know I am willing and able to learn, because there is most certainly a right and a very wrong way to run a restaurant. Keeping consistent hours based on your labor costs and extensive research of the most profitable hours in your community is the right way. Opening and closing randomly based on when you feel like it or when you think more people may possibly show up is the wrong way. You will probably only cost yourself more in the long run. Pricing a menu based on actual food costs and expenses is the right way. Putting everything on super sale in order to attract new customers is the wrong way. You will definitely cost yourself more in the long run. I’m not going to give a detailed list of the dos and don’ts of running a restaurant. It’s taken me 20 years to learn what I know and it will take me the rest of my life to learn what I don’t know. In the end this would become a life long commitment to writing a book. As it is, I’m doing good to carve out this 20 minutes to vent. Additionally, I have commitment issues and 20 minutes is really all I can offer of myself to you without possibly pushing you away or developing an unhealthy and unreasonable attachment to you. So let’s keep this platonic and light.
It’s not you, it’s me.
While we’re venting, I also have a bone to pick with the look, they’re doing it, so how hard can it be, people. You have a huge pile of money that you can throw on a whim so you think you’re obviously going to succeed even though you’ve literally never worked one second in a restaurant, or maybe you hosted at an Applebee’s in high school. It’s okay, you can’t really remember because you’re high off the ink from all of your money. But you know with your superior intelligence and impressive bank account that you’re easily going to put all of us pathetic burger flippers out of business and dominate the food and beverage scene on your block with artisan snacks and pretentious cocktails… Actually, you guys go ahead and do it. I’ll enjoy a cheap beer at your expense when you come to me to sell all of your barely used equipment at discounted prices because you’ve realized this job’s financial reward does not equal the work required to stay open and you’re desperate to stop hemorrhaging your beloved dollars into a business that you have zero attachment to or passion for.
What I’m really getting at is this. If you think opening a restaurant is a great idea You Are Wrong. It’s an insane idea. It’s a terrible idea. It’s pretty much social suicide and, well, you’re going to kill your body so it may be physical suicide. Oh and you are definitely going to run out of money so it’s financial suicide too.
YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.
Did I scare you? Are you still willing to give it a try, despite knowing now that you will have no time, energy or money for any kind of social life? Yes? Okay, now that we’ve weeded out the trendy cravings from the truly hungry, let’s get serious. Raise your left hand, place your other hand over your tattered and worn copy of Kitchen Confidential, and repeat after me, “ I vow to work beyond emotional and physical exhaustion. I promise to sacrifice myself for the greater good of my business. I will take full responsibility for the possible failure of my restaurant. I also understand that I may take little to no credit for the success of my business because I appreciate the effort of a staff that I will spend the rest of my life finding and training. I respect my tiny role in a giant industry and understand that together we succeed when we play by the rules and do our jobs correctly. I respect the importance of serving as a community center, event venue, benefit platform, town example and role model, youth center, parent escape, and basically everything for everyone else to the point that the place will not even feel like yours anymore, until everyone leaves and you will have to clean up the mess, which you happily and proudly will do because inevitably you feel useful and full of purpose knowing that in some way you helped make a positive difference. I will not serve a burger dip. Seriously tho, that’s not a thing. Stop it, it’s weird and gross. I will do dishes. I will do dishes. I will do dishes. I will clean toilets. I will dig through trash to find lost silverware and kid’s slimy retainers. I will do dishes. I will swallow my pride and let wrong customers win, a lot. I will do all of this for very little pay, very little recognition, and my dedication to this business will ruin many personal relationships and eventually consume me. I will do all of this and more because I cannot imagine doing anything else. This is why I was put on this planet, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.”
Now, go buy a highlighter. You’re gonna need it when you start digging through the piles of city codes and ordinances you are going to have to familiarize yourself with to get permitted to open your restaurant. Oh, you didn’t think you were going to be cooking, did you?
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. It is my true belief that we make the world a better place and our experience in it richer if we share our experience together. I do that through food at my restaurant, Smoking Mo’s in Shelton, Washington, and through my story telling here. I deeply thank you for joining me on this adventure, and for giving me the love and encouragement to keep moving forward.