Before starting your own restaurant, consider the risks. From putting your savings on the line to carving a niche in a fiercely competitive market, Hong Kong restaurateurs tell it like it is, drains and all.
You love food. It’s your passion. Your mum makes a mean potato salad, marvellous meatloaf and, in your opinion, is the best home cook in the world. Since she passed on her recipes, you have spent long, hot nights cooking for your nearest and dearest, and you’re a decent host. Friends say you can cook. Now you want to share your food and hospitality skills with the world. But what are you passionate about, really? Consuming food, or creating food?
People open F&B businesses for all sorts of reasons: passion, status, money (there is none, most restaurateurs will tell you). But above all, restaurateurs are romantics. At the beginning, they rarely understand that starting a restaurant anywhere, but especially in a fiercely competitive market such as Hong Kong, is a risky business – or, to put it less gently, financial suicide – if you don’t know what you’re doing. And, sometimes, even if you do.
Before starting a restaurant, it’s important to ask yourself this question: are you prepared to lose everything?
“You have to be prepared to not have any time or to take any time off,” warns Sandy Keung, executive chef and founder of Table Seafood and Good BBQ – a depurated seafood-focused restaurant and a chain specialising in sous-vide siu mei, respectively. “I’ve been an accountant and an investment banker. Sure, we had late nights, but never like this. All the times you want to leave, when people are happy celebrating, you’ll be working. If you want a boyfriend, a marriage, have a life, don’t do it. Forget travelling. Forget skiing.”
Restaurant veteran Todd Darling, who runs American-Italian restaurants Linguini Fini, Posto Pubblico and Stone Nullah Tavern, among others, poses more questions.
“First, are you prepared to lose your entire investment? Second, are you willing to sacrifice your personal life for many years? And third, how will you take care of yourself, physically and emotionally? Because it demands a lot in both aspects. Fourth, there are all the boring technical and operational things a person needs to know. And lastly, do you really have an idea that is commercially desirable for the general public?”
Be absolutely clear on the reason you’re opening a restaurant, Keung says, because the commitment is like no other. “If you’re a passionate chef and you enjoy cooking, do catering. Don’t open a restaurant. If you want to entertain your friends, rent an apartment somewhere and cook for them. Don’t open a restaurant. It comes with many financial responsibilities. I’ve seen a lot of people lose a lot of money and they all had good intentions.”
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