starting a restaurant

If you’re thinking of starting a restaurant, here’s 5 pieces of good advice from those who’ve already done it themselves and succeeded. By Liz Swanton

Become business-wise

starting a restaurant

Russell Blaikie, partner and executive chef at Must, a wine bar and bistro in Highgate, WA.

Blaikie’s years in the industry started with wins as the state (WA) and national Apprentice Cook of the Year and includes competing in international culinary competitions.

He says it’s not enough to be able to cook great food if you want to open your own establishment; you have to focus on business matters too.

“Bring in financial partners who will add something extra to your business. When you’re starting up, the mix of expertise in the partnership group is crucial.”

“Bring in financial partners who will add something extra to your business. When you’re starting up, the mix of expertise in the partnership group is crucial.”

Russell Blaikie, partner/executive chef, Must

When you know you have the money, he says, do your sums. It’s critical to have a financial plan, to understand costs and potential income. Review those numbers regularly to ensure you stick to your plan.

“Get good legal advice. Always set up key documents which your business is built on with the help of a lawyer.”

Blaikie suggests learning to use social media properly is vitally important in the food and wine ‘game’: “If you don’t know how to do it, hire someone who does.”  


Plan for ‘you-time’

starting a restaurant

Geoff Lindsay, partner and executive chef at Lamaro’s Hotel in South Melbourne, and at other establishments, including The Crab Club, a pop-up restaurant that has ‘popped up’ for 10 years.

As the owner/operator of 12 restaurants in a career that started in 1982, Lindsay learned a long time ago to make personal happiness a priority. 

“The industry has no room any more for martyrs. Be kind to yourself, schedule a holiday every year, quarterly mini breaks and learn to escape it all—even if it’s just for two hours on a split shift.” 

“The industry has no room any more for martyrs. Be kind to yourself, schedule a holiday every year, quarterly mini breaks and learn to escape it all—even if it’s just for two hours on a split shift.” 

Geoff Lindsay, partner/executive chef, Lamaro’s Hotel

Lindsay also says you need to keep fuelling your own fire, because no-one else can do that for you.

“It’s an incredibly demanding industry that doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many years you have been doing it, or how many businesses you have been involved in. You need to travel, learn about new cultures and new ways of doing things, and you need to be well rested and healthy.” 


Solid experience comes first

starting a restaurant

Huw and Renée Jones, former owners of the Good Food Guide two-hatted Zanzibar Cafe at Merimbula on the NSW South Coast; current owners of Banksia Restaurant, which is just down the road in Pambula.

Huw and Renée each have more than 20 years’ experience in hospitality and they suggest you need a minimum of 10 years before trying to do your own thing. They also stress you should be able to cover all sections—the floor, coffee, prep and cooking etc.—before setting out on your own. “Reputations take time to build so you need to be willing to work harder than you ever have before, sometimes for little or no pay.”

The couple says consistency is important in everything, including the quality of your products and service, and your trading hours.

“Looking after staff is key. You need people you can trust and who will work hard for you. Happy employees are usually good employees.”  


Look after your customers

starting a restaurant

Karen Lott, owner/manager of Sprout Eden, an innovative cafe and local produce store on the far South Coast of NSW, for the last seven years.

Her golden rule? ‘Above and beyond’ customer service. In the wake of the summer bushfire tragedy she’s hoping that has built Sprout’s reputation enough for the customers to return.

Eden is just one small town that relies on income from the summer holiday-makers to bolster the leaner winter months. With so many towns evacuated over the summer, many small businesses like Lott’s will struggle.

She also advises being actively involved in the community that is the source of your customers. That could be a small ongoing sponsorship, regular donations to good causes or a one-off in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

“I have been shouting coffees to anyone connected to emergency services and our coffee company, ONA, is donating some beans to this. We’re also collecting donations to support fire-affected community members. One possibility, if people won’t take the money, is to fund something like a community dinner.” 


Plan for success

starting a restaurant

James and Sarah Potter, owners of Potters Pantry in the NSW Southern Highlands village of Bundanoon since October 2018.

While the operation is new to the area, the couple each has a strong background in hospitality and Sarah also has a degree in tourism management. They say that mix could be considered the perfect recipe for what they are doing but they don’t rely on that alone.

“Planning is crucial. The old adage of ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ is particularly true in the hospitality industry. You need to build something you believe in because it is the first step in building a strong brand.”

And like Karen Lott, James and Sarah are very strong on the idea of supporting your community, saying without them, there is no one to support you. 

Bundanoon, like Eden, has felt the wrath of the bushfires. James is a member of the local RFS and the couple has organised a number of initiatives to raise funds for the service, and to help community members who have lost everything. 

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