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Inexperienced Owners

Inexperienced Owners

Restaurant: Impossible fan Austin asks about the chances of restaurant success with little prior experience.

Austin asks:

Love your show, restaurant impossible. I’ve seen people on it trying to go into the restaurant business and fail epically because they know nothing about it. There is a local restaurant with an owner about to retire and my parents were thinking about buying the restaurant once she does. We know nothing about the restaurant business so in an attempt to never be on your show, I was hoping you could refer us to someone or somewhere to get reliable info.

So many of the restaurants that arrive at needing the help of Restaurant: Impossible have gotten there because of well-meaning people who have great culinary skills, but do not have the “real world” restaurant experience that is required to see a business in this industry succeed. If your passions tell you that you should open a restaurant, it would be strongly advised that you not do so unless you have the assistance of someone with considerable experience running one.  Try finding a local chef/restaurateur in your area who you admire, and ask their advice on whom to choose locally.  While a restaurant consultant may be able to get you open and running, owners with no experience whatsoever should seriously consider having someone in a managerial position that can guide you. If not, you can find yourself in a serious “sink or swim” scenario that more-often-than-not leads to sinking.

This, of course, brings in the issue of cost. You mentioned yourself and your parents contributing to this restaurant. If you have to bring in an outside professional then you have just added the cost of that person to the business’ expenses. Restaurant managers get paid very well depending on the local economy.  Most restaurants’ chances of initial financial success come from having the fewest people in high-paid managerial or profit sharing positions. That’s why restaurants with a chef who is also the owner do well (not as many people tapping the start-up’s monetary resources). You have to ask what each person involved is contributing. Sometimes that means holding a mirror up to yourself and asking, “what can I, an untrained and inexperienced restaurant owner, do to save money for the business?” You just may find yourself learning the business from the ground up with a bus tub or dish rag in your hand. Not a bad start.

I’m certain that you, and your family, are adept and perfectly capable of running a business, but a restaurant is a completely different beast requiring a set of skills and knowledge that only comes from having a bit of fryer grease under your nails.

Good luck in your endeavors. Let us know how everything works out!


  1. Buy from Sysco and they will help you for free provided you buy your groceries from them. They have chefs and business consultants on staff to help independent restaurants.

  2. Robert, I’m watching a Restaurant Impossible 50 something show. I have to say how much I admire you, Robert. Your knowledge and compassion and grits peek volumes of the kind of caring person you are. Thank you. It’s a great show!!

  3. I wonder if you would ever do a show on helping someone start a place out right instead of waiting until they need bailing out.
    I am yet another person with a deep desire to give folks a pleasant and tasty dining experience for a decent price. I do have basic training through the US Navy Mess Management school and several years working my way through college in every position in a restaurant except management.
    I have a BA and 20 years’ experience in Technical Communications, and want out. I’m 49 and am at the point in life where I want to use my standards, vision, and cooking skills to enjoy life while I’m earning a living.
    Cleanliness, fresh in-house food using local farms and butchers, and trained staff – I know. Food costing, scheduling, and overall management stuff I know that I don’t know enough.

    Would you consider helping someone like me to get started with a very small diner?

    If not, could you perhaps do more episodes on things like food costing? I am getting a great free education by watching your show and others.
    Thanks much

    • Sorry but the show’s focus is on saving restaurants from failure. Ideally if your are truly ready to open an own a restaurant you won’t need my help because you will already know everything and have all the skills!

    • That’s what Chef Robert did on his recent TV show called Restaurant: Express, taking 9 finalists and in the end placing one in their very own restaurant. I am wondering, will there be another Restaurant: Express? Does any one know? That was my all time favorite Food Network show! Bravo!

    • Hi April Mills,
      Chef Irvine has actually demonstrated in several of his Restaurant: Impossible shows how to calculate pricing.

      Can you be specific as far as whether or not you want Food Formula Percentage (aka inventory), or how to calculate your prices?

  4. Robert hi need you help for main restaurant is italian is Roanoke Rapids Nc.

    • please understand that Chef Robert has no knowledge of, nor input into, the restaurants that are chosen for Restaurant: Impossible. To apply for the show the owner of the restaurant must fill out the forms at

  5. Austin, have your parents make an offer on the restaurant. In the contract, require the original owners to give your parents anywhere from 2-6 months training before they turn it over. It’s not too much to ask and if the restaurant is doing well, they can give your folks some hands-on, real world experience. Good luck!

  6. I too cook and have toyed with the idea to open a small comfort style diner. But I realized that I have ZERO restaurant experience as as the business side of running one. Put it this way , I can use a band-aid probably better than anyone else, but it doesnt make me doctor.

  7. Do the more successful restaurateurs have formal business education as well as culinary training? Do they depend a great deal on their managers? Or have some succeeded on a “knack” for business?

    • There’s no magical mix of business vs. culinary training that guarantees restaurant success. To be honest… a lot of the most amazing owners in the industry became so without ANY traditional education. There is an amazing “School of Hard Knocks” that is offered to anyone who wants to work in a restaurant for long enough (from busboy to General Manager).

  8. Jon Pulicicchio


    Once you offered your formula on pricing a meal. Could you please share it again? I unfortunately walked in during the episode at the tail end of it. I occasionally cater weddings and it would be a great help. Many thanks.

  9. Richard Larrabee

    thanks for the reply. I understand. I plan on hiring a Good Chef. I can cook and and make drinks. I got do this like your show. I’ll let you know how I make out. I’ll keep watching your show. And look for what not to do. Chef us Cisboy say. You can lead a horse to water it you can’t .make them drink

  10. Ever been to Saint Augustine mate? Manchester lad, 30 years old with 17 years in the industry. Open a restaurant here and have me help you run it! Place is crying for top quality restaurants. I work at one of the best around.

    Love all you do and my mum and I are planning on attending your Jacksonville show.

    • St. Augustine is a great place but I’m certainly not short on restaurant opportunities right now ;-). See you in JAX!

  11. I would highly suggest your parents read Anthony Bourdain’s book ” Kitchen Confidential “, it has a great section on the different types of owners and all the trouble they can get into. It also has a chapter called ” Bigfoot ” which highlights what an owner needs to do to run things right.

    Nothing of course beats actual restaurant experience. While someone may be able to be a successful owner, will they actually enjoy running a restaurant or will it be something they absolutely hate? That’s why most top chefs recommend to beginners to get a job or volunteer in the best regarded local restaurant they can. You need to find out if this is a business you really like or really hate before you make any major commitments to it.

    Also watch every episode of Restaurant Impossible you can and see what owners do right and what they do wrong.

  12. In this case, I recomend you what I do, look for a mentor and learn everything from it.

    I love the show and I’ve learned a lot,

  13. Stanley said it best, jump into some one else’s ship and test the waters. The restaurant business is highly detailed oriented and labor intensive. There is always something to be done and a situation that needs resolving asap. I’m not attempting to discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams of opening a restaurant I’m simply stating a realistic view of the challenges restaurantuers face daily. You begin well before opening and stay past closing. I requires trustworthy steadfast associates and takes everything you’ve got to operate on all cylinders. I’ve been doing. This since I was 17 and at almost 30 I’m still reluctant to branch out on my own. A successful restaurant is true servitude in every aspect of its definition. Every body that you employ must have the disposition and willingness to meet the customers needs within reason and at times when it’s not. I’ve met too many owners that want to setup a place, hire the people, and sit on their ass. That’s a perfect recipe for disaster. Start by getting into an already operational kitchen, learn to work under pressure with efficacy, become more apt to communicating clearly in a hot and busy kitchen, understand your craft to its most minute element. And when your shift has come to an end repeat the process all over again. Consistent steadfastness is the key to success in this business, that means pushing through even when you’re spent and ready to throw in the towel; believe me we have all had those days.

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