Starting a Restaurant? Here Are The 5 Biggest Mistakes

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Jeff and Laura Ambrose in one of their restaurants.

By Jeff and Laura Ambrose

With 600,000 restaurants across the U.S., it should come as no surprise that many small food businesses shutter within the first 6 months of opening.

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Our nearly 40-year-old restaurant business, Woodstock’s Pizza, has thrived as we learned from our mistakes. Here’s a list of the top five — and how we learned to fix them.

Mistake No. 1 — I love to cook, so I’ll love owning my own restaurant. You like to cook for one hundred people at once, every day, all day long? The novelty wears off quickly, so plan to hire others to do the cooking for you.

Mistake No. 2 — No one else can do the job as well as I can. This is a sure prescription for burnout. You simply can’t do it all, which means that it’s imperative to set up systems where you can turn your bac, walk away and trust that your business will be run well. Consider sharing ownership with your management team.

Mistake No. 3 — If you build it they will come. Not without a lot of advance marketing they won’t! You need to budget for advertising, social media, banners, promotional flyers and public relations.

Mistake No. 4 — If we can just get the doors open, we’ll be rolling in the cash. Opening a restaurant takes cash for a lease, equipment, supplies, computer systems, insurance, utilities, hiring and training employees — all before you even open the doors. You’re not going to make money the first several months. You’re still trying to pay off all the pre-opening expenses. Make sure your budget includes a cushion.

Mistake No. 5 — If we plan things out, everything will run smoothly opening day. About a million possible things can go wrong! Roll with it. Our opening day is an invitation-only event, and we give every invitee play money to place their orders. We know our new employees are going to screw up, our new cooks are going to mess up, the equipment won’t all work right, and service is going to be s-l-o-w! So we let our guests know that we’re practicing on them. With any luck, they will forgive the early mistakes and still have a good time.

A restaurant can be a fulfilling and lucrative business, but make sure you know what you’re getting into and try to learn for ours and others’ mistakes.


Jeff and Laura Ambrose are the owners of Woodstock’s Pizza, which has grown since 1977 from one restaurant in Corvalis, OR, to an independent chain of six restaurants on the West Coast.

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