What Does It Take to Run a Restaurant?

Jun 13, 2013

A New Haven, Connecticut sidewalk demonstrates some restaurant competition and a related need for parking.
Credit Ragesoss / Wikimedia Commons

"Eighty percent of restaurants fail within the first year," said Chris Conlon, owner of Smokin' With Chris in Southington. Why did he start a restaurant, then? "Pure stupidity." It takes a certain spirit of adventure.

Conlon, whose eatery specializes in BBQ, said he's been doing fairly well for about seven years now--and a lot of that success comes thanks to the involvement in his local community. He also is careful to add a personal touch, especially if he hears complaints about the food or the service.

If he could go back in time and give himself advice as he started out, here's what Conlon would have highlighted:

  • Make sure you have written procedures and regulations.
  • Train your staff from day one. Do not assume they know how to do things.
  • Treat customers the way you want to be treated.

As you start out, it can be challenging enough to figure out how many employees to hire, where to source your food, and how much to charge for it. Add to the mix anonymous food critics on Yelp or Facebook who might be slamming your business, or reality TV shows highlighting expert criticism of a tough industry to do right. 

Here in Connecticut, we’re increasing the minimum wage, but not for tipped workers. Waiters and waitresses are the very lowest-paid of the state’s ten largest low-wage occupations. Restaurants also must provide paid sick leave to employees, and publicize health inspection performance. How are they doing?

Where We Live recently visited Ansonia in the Naugatuck Valley, as part of our Small Business After Hours series, to talk with Conlon, as well as Nicole Griffin of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, and Leeanne Griffin of the Hartford Courant and ctnow.com.