As an entrepreneur, I often find myself needing to make decisions that I have never made before. Personal experience is a great teacher, but sometimes comes with a price tag.  To learn from your own mistakes can cost time, money and headache.  Seeking out advice from others who have been down the road you are on is useful, but finding those who can answer your questions can become a challenge in itself.

Today I share some random lessons I’ve learned about opening and running a restaurant.

New or Used Equipment?  I outfitted my place with mostly used appliances.  eBay was a great source for finding exactly what I needed.  I found a seller in Kansas City that specialzed in restaurant liquidation, and he had new pieces listed every month.  We struck a deal where he would store the items I purchased from him over a 6 month period, then I drove down with a truck and picked them all up at once.  I saved thousands this way.  From another seller in SD I found a curved glass deli case for $200, but again, had to travel to pick it up, but the cost savings was worth it.  The downside?  It takes a lot of time to track down particular pieces of equipment.

To Buy or Lease Equipment?  When making this decision, you roll the dice on the durability of a new unit to save you on repair bills at the onset. With this in mind, I bought my bread oven and dishwasher new, thinking I did not want these two items to break down any time soon.  I love the oven and hate the dishwasher.  I probably have the repair guy look at the dishwasher every three months.  When I decided to get rid of my small icemaker, I chose to lease a larger unit. The peace of mind that comes from calling the leasing agent to fix it is part of the price tag that makes it worth it for me.

Hire a Service or Do It Yourself?  If you find yourself handy like me, you may feel the need to work on things yourself.  Sweat equity goes a long way in starting up a business, and in some ways, it can be fun and rewarding knowing you did it yourself.  I saved myself a bunch on the new west wall bench by building it myself.  It took me much longer than a carpenter, but the job got done at a fraction of the cost.

But there does come a time when you just need to call a person to take care of it.  At some point, your time becomes more valuable than the cost of the service.  As an entrepreneur, you will have to determine when to make that call, since you are accustomed to shaving down costs whenever possible.  If fixing things takes you away from the tasks that only you can do for the business, then hiring it done becomes essential.  I struggled with this one until the day I came in and was handed a list of things that needed fixed; sink drain leaking, restroom door lock won’t work, etc, etc.  All of it was stuff I am perfectly capable of doing, but which would take my focus away from more important matters.  My response: Can you just call someone, please?

What to buy?  There are countless decisions you have to make in stocking a kitchen, from plates to glassware, flatware, and smallwares. Containers, cups, pots and pans.  Some of this you learn the hard way by trying to save a buck and getting less expensive items.  Here are a few of my recommendations that I wish I knew before purchasing.  These are my opinions from my personal experience only.  I don’t get paid to endorse any of these.

Plates.  Your choices run the gamut here, but for about 6 bucks a plate, the Everyday White collection at Bed, Bath and Beyond has been our choice from day one.  We like the square shape and they have held up over the constant daily use.  There are comparable plates rated at commercial grade, but the cost can be double or triple. 

Kitchenaid.  When I first started, I bought their ProLine Mixer and Food Processor.  When both failed in the first month of use, I called their service department only to find out that Pro did not mean Pro, that it was only a consumer grade product.  I have a KA mixer at home and find that it works fine for periodic use, but not designed to take daily demands of a commercial kitchen.  Go ahead and spend the extra dollars for a Robot Coupe or Hobart stand mixer.  I can mix concrete in those two if in a pinch.

Riedel Stemware.  When the rep gave me the pitch on Riedel and all the research that went into the design, I admit I thought it was a little over the top.  But after using these glasses for four years now, I am hooked.  The shape of the bowl and the thinness of the rim both lead to greater enjoyment of the wine.
I can find cheaper stemware, but I’ll look for other places to trim costs.

I’ll add to this list in the future. If you are looking to open a restaurant, I’d love to dialogue with you and share more lessons.  If my experience can save you a few headaches, it would make it worth it.  You can contact me via this blog.

Good Luck.

What I wish I knew