So, you’re dreaming of opening your own restaurant someday? Chances are, you probably are already working at one or are planning to, and that’s a great start! Here are all the tips, tricks and common pitfalls that you should know to work your way up from a server or dishwasher to a restaurant owner.


The first step to getting to the point of owning a restaurant is to get experience in the industry. Interviews are the first impression you are going to give to a (hopefully) future employer. Before going in for an interview make sure that the company believes in hiring from within and leaves room for growth. During your interview, ask the interview how they got to where they are, where did they start, how long did it take them to get there. Make sure you understand what it takes to go from a server to a shift lead, to a manager, and so on so you know what you need to do to progress. During your interview process make sure that this is a place where it is safe to ask questions. Sure, Friday night during a rush isn’t the time to do it, but if you write it down and come back after your shift or when it’s appropriate, you want to be in a place that will help you understand the process.

Set Goals

Have a clear idea of what positions you want to hold and the timeline you have for doing so. If you are starting out as a server and want to move up to be a bartender, start learning drinks, go out with the bartender after work and ask them questions like, “What is the hardest part of your job? How did you get here? What is your advice for someone who wants to start? Where did you take bartending classes?” Get as much knowledge as you can and any opportunity you get to show your skills, offer them. By competently demonstrating your knowledge, if a situation arises where your boss might need to ask for help, they will feel confident in asking you. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.  This type of goal would be “I want to work 50% of my shifts as a bartender by summer.”

Another important element of goal setting is to let your superiors know your goals. If they don’t know, they won’t help you. However, if they know you want to be working as a bartender by summer, they may give you more opportunities to move toward making that happen.


Podcasts, blogs, books, talking to people, whatever it is, make sure you are arming yourself with information, so you can start teaching yourself what you need to know. There are tons of free avenues out there that can give you all the information you need without a four-year degree, take advantage of them. QSR, Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Business, these are all great places to get information.

Another critical part of this education is to get a mentor, whether it is your shift lead or your boss, make a chance to sit down and talk to them, ask them if you can shadow them one day to see what they do. This person should be doing something similar to what you want to and should be good at it.

Steps you Need to Take to Progress

So, you’ve learned the ins and outs, what now?

Gut Check

The most important thing to remember when planning to open your own restaurant is that it takes a lot of hard work, time and sacrifice. It is countless long hours, time spent bettering yourself instead of doing something fun and having dozens of people relying on you to support themselves and maybe their families. It is a lot of pressure and a lot of time and effort. So, check in, is this really something you want?

Make a Business Plan

Lay out a detailed plan. What does your capitalization need to look like, how much will it cost, what are the staffing requirements, what kind of restaurant do you want to open, what size, what will rent be, what capital will you need for supplies and to get started? Make sure you understand your demographic, your area and what you are providing. Google business plans for restaurants and download some and fill them out. Talk to people that invest in restaurants. This should take a few months and a ton of research, but you will be better off for it.

Ways to Get Capital

So, you know you need $200,000 to open, plus $150,000 for the first few months. How do you get that money? Many people start out by asking friends and family and that is a decent way to start. Also, consider looking into your Small Business Administration for a loan, some people take out a second mortgage on your house (do a major gut check on that). There are a lot of options to get the money, it’s up to you to figure out what’s right for your business.

There are so many ways to get started in the restaurant industry, find the path that works for you and just remember to never lose sight of your goal and to take every opportunity you have to learn and grow. When opening up your own business of any kind the most important thing to keep in mind is to be patient and when things don’t go according to plan, change the plan but never the goal.

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