CAN YOU DO IT ALL?
WHY GREAT CHEFS OFTEN FAIL AS RESTAURANT MANAGERS
By Francis Bennett
Why do great chefs often fail when they try to fill both the role of Manager and Head Chef in their own restaurants?
26.2% of all independent restaurants close after one year. By year two, 45.4% have either closed or changed hands. In the third year, fully 59.7% have gone out of business. To evaluate these statistics as either good or bad is meaningless. Suffice it to say that trying to fill both key positions in your own restaurant will likely include you in the statistics.
What is it about the requirements of the manager’s job and the chef’s job that makes combining them almost impossible? We asked this question of twenty professional chefs and restaurant owners over a period of five years. Here’s what they had to say.
TALENT ISN’T ENOUGH: Management skills are not natural and common to all intelligent people. The skills it takes to run a successful small business are learned from professionals over years of experience. Marketing, finance, leadership, planning, legal knowledge, accounting, cost control, and human resource management are complex disciplines that need to be studied and absorbed. Having great talent makes you a great cook, not a great manager.
YOUR LOVE OF YOUR FOOD WON’T FILL YOUR WALLET: Your creativity is overrated. You need to gain a deep understanding of why restaurants succeed, and why they fail, from a disciplined business perspective. This expertise trumps your passion for your art every time. You must go well beyond your emotions and become an intelligent, well-informed business executive.
LOCATION-LOCATION-LOCATION: Too many chefs think their food creations will draw customers to their uncle’s vacant, strip mall location. “Cook it and they will come” works only in a few cases. Successful restaurants cook and serve what the customers in their neighborhood want to eat. Serving your mother’s legendary recipe of ‘corned beef and cabbage’ in New York’s Chinatown will put you out of business before the cabbage wilts.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A GOOD ‘CHEF MANAGER’: Because restaurants are something we do rather than something we own, you cannot own a restaurant. You must do it. You cannot do it all. It is impossible to bi-locate and to work 24/7. If you have the talent and training to be a great manager, get yourself a good chef. If you’re the only chef who can make your restaurant a success, get yourself a good manager. If you try to do both, you will end up with neither.
CHEFS AREN’T MILLIONAIRES: Unless, of course, they are. All things being equal, however, most millionaires don’t go on to be working chefs. Because banks believe that 90% of independent restaurants fail in the first year, (this is a widely quoted but nevertheless erroneous statistic— the correct statistic is above) they are reluctant to lend restaurants sufficient start-up capital. Get yourself a partner who has plenty of capital. You be the chef and let him/her be the manager.
COCKY WON’T CUT IT: Chefs are notoriously independent. Great chefs can be impossible. Restaurants are a team effort that requires professional team members who are loyal to a true leader. If you think you can do it better than anyone else, you will not attract loyal team members. When the world raves about your food, give the credit to your team.
All of the respondents to our survey agreed that the six personal risk factors above are the primary reasons that great chefs often fail as managers. Their advice to fellow chefs can be summed up in one sentence.
“…talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.”
Learn more about Francis Bennett at www.francisbennettcreative.com.