The Accidental Restaurateur

how one woman found herself owning a restaurant without really wanting to

Are you sure you want to own a restaurant?

After 2 1/2 years of construction, we finally opened this new restaurant and it was gangbusters right out the door: massive traffic, great revues and happy staff.

Then the mean spirited-ness began by people who think they’re food critics because they go to a lot of new “hot” restaurants. Meanwhile they don’t know the difference between broccoli and broccolini.

The staff began falling apart. The “executive chef” who I consider to be nothing more than a lead line cook asked for a $10,000/year raise. He was already the highest paid employee in the joint! The bartenders, knowing that we were short staffed walked out 10 days before Valentine’s Day because they didn’t agree with how I was running my own restaurant.

The servers, who all more or less had cohesively worked together at the prior location of the restaurant, followed the lead of the new bartenders and suddenly began getting greedy and refusing to pay their portion of their tips which they shared with the support staff. The poor support staff – baristas, bussers and runners  who did the brunt of the work, didn’t know what hit them. Suddenly they were making less money then the day before because their friends had restructured the formula. I don’t think they fully understood what they were agreeing to, they just wanted to support their friends. There was nothing I could do to protect them because the LAW very clearly states that they must decide how the tips are shared.

All this happened within 4 weeks of opening. Congratulations to me!!

Who knew I would look back on this time with nostalgia, jealous of the relatively easy problems I was dealing with.

Now, six months after opening, business has slowed to a CRAWL. Some nights there’s more staff than customers inside the place. All the “star fuckers” – the ones who troll food websites looking for the newest restaurant opening, have all but disappeared. All extraneous staff has been let go. Vendors, having gone unpaid for months, refuse to deliver. The last of the contractors still needs to be paid and they call weekly to try to collect on their final invoices. Bills keep piling up, the bank still expects to get their money every month along with the landlord. Insurance, workman’s comp and utilities cannot be avoided. My mortgage and credit card bills, maxed out during the course of the construction of the project, have fallen by the wayside and my kids did not get new shoes to start their school year. I have incurred so many overdrawn bank fees that I believe I pay for my branch manager’s salary.

But payroll must be met like clockwork every two weeks. God forbid you ask them to wait a day or two before cashing them. Somehow that makes them want to go to the bank even faster – AND with an attitude. Really??

But why worry about staff? Why bother learning their names even? In my entire 30 year work history and managing others has NEVER exposed me to the cavalier attitude displayed by restaurant staff. Waitressing or bartending is something they do in between other more “important” things. Hello… this my livelihood. You make $40 an hour while I don’t have enough money to put gas in my car. They treat the job like a personal ATM, they care about me or the welfare of the restaurant as long as they are making their proper amount of tips. They ask for days off as if it was their right. In fact they don’t even ask, they simply inform. Bartenders act like prima donnas and waiters act like divas. If you remotely try to discipline them, they simply quit. They take and leave jobs like the average person changes shoes. Are there exceptions? Of course, but not enough to stem the tide.

So what is to be done? Anybody? I really would love an answer because I’m at my breaking point.

After willingly borrowing over $1.5M and spending it to lovingly build a restaurant to be proud of, I’M DONE. There’s three breaths left in me and I may use it to jump over a bridge.

tamark • September 3, 2016

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