This article is part of our Restaurant Business Startup Guide—a curated list of articles to help you plan, start, and grow your restaurant business!
Despite families and businesses both being complicated separately, people consistently want to fuse the two.
This is an obvious recipe for disaster, but it can also be a unique opportunity for success.
Family members will have the same incentive to see the business do well. It only makes sense to hire them, right? However, this logic doesn’t carry over to all business types.
Specifically, restaurants are a unique niche. They often have different hours, special rules on employee conduct, and periods of fast-paced mania.
When combined with the complications of family relationships, this can turn any restaurant into an episode of reality television.
However, with the power of hindsight, I can tell you what pitfalls to look for. After eight years of working in my family’s pub and grill, I know that there are some industry-specific issues that need to be stopped before they can start.
1. You’re about to get really comfortable
Waiting tables is one of the most stressful jobs, even compared to high-stakes medical professions. It’s only natural that coworkers grow closer together after facing stressful situations. And, while this can strengthen your familial bond, it also encourages bonding between family members and other co-workers.
This can lead to some awkward situations: your brother is dating the bartender, who is your best friend’s cousin, who is upset with your mom because of what she said to you over text, but your boyfriend went through your phone and told the kitchen manager while they were prepping. Restaurant employees have a reputation for hooking up with each other, so don’t be surprised when your daughter and the cook flirt heavily.
Furthermore, even if you’re prepared to see the food runner as your son’s girlfriend, are you prepared to see your son differently? When your family is at the restaurant, they are amongst coworkers and will behave accordingly.
At an office, this might mean they’re more reserved, but at a restaurant, this can mean quite the opposite. You will gain an insight on family members that you’ve likely never had before. Seeing your mom flirt with guys at the bar or hearing your dad joke around with the waitresses can be disconcerting at first.
You need to make some allowances here. Understand that in order to foster good coworker relationships, they can’t always be the daughter or dad that you know them as. It’s a strange situation that most families don’t have to deal with; not many parents share friends and coworkers with their children. But not accepting that they have their own relationships and have different facets to their personality than what they present to you can create tension, both within the family and the business.
Do not punish other employees for “encouraging” your little boy to act differently. There is a definite, not always morally righteous culture in restaurants, and you chose to allow your family to be a part of that. You’ll have to live with that choice and separate family and employee in your mind, even if they’re the same person in real life.
2. You may be working with family members who are unqualified
Only hire your family members if they are qualified, or at the very least prove that they can do the job. This can be difficult to execute, but it is especially important in a restaurant. Learning on the job might be more acceptable in other businesses, but the foodservice industry is a special case.
Your employees are constantly in contact with your customers, who aren’t always the most understanding. Sometimes you can excuse a charred steak or bad service on an employee’s first day, but not always. Every interaction with a customer is a representation of your brand. Obviously, there will be some mistakes, but those mistakes will only multiply if someone is unqualified.
This means that while Uncle George might be a great conversationalist, if he keeps messing up his mojito, then he might not be the best bartender. Just as you wouldn’t put yourself in a serving position if you can’t multitask, do your family and your business the same courtesy. I’m sure you love Uncle George, but your patrons will not be so understanding when they’re sucking shredded leaves through a straw. Unless your family has experience in the industry, don’t hire them without some serious consideration, or your business could suffer.
Rejecting family can be a hard conversation, but it’ll only be worse if you have to fire them later on. Then it’ll really get personal. If at all possible, find something else for them to do, so they can still feel useful.
3. It will consume your family
I’m sure that members of your family have other aspirations than working in a restaurant. Well, everyone should realize that it’s impossible not to be pulled into the madness. Of course, family members can pursue other careers and some will never even work in the restaurant itself. All the same, I guarantee you that you will all be consumed by it, more so than any other type of business.
This is just the nature of the foodservice industry; because you develop such a camaraderie with your coworkers, because your hours are backward from everyone else in the world, because no one else can understand how annoying the regular at table three is, an exclusive club will form around the restaurant. It will be 80 percent of what you talk about, if not more. Even the family members that don’t work there will be forced to take part in the daily drama, by virtue of being related to you. Your business will consume family functions.
You will need this support, seeing as 90 percent of independent restaurants close within the first year, and the rest have an average lifespan of only five years. Extreme dedication can be a strength, but if your business does fail, this leaves your entire family vulnerable. You won’t have much else to lean on, if anything. A family-run business is a classic all or nothing venture, so be prepared to give 100 percent, because that’s what it will take.
All entrepreneurs know how much starting a business can rule your life, but restaurants take that to the next level. Your days will be less nine to five and more noon to 3 a.m. Every day is different; there is no getting in the groove in the foodservice industry. While there are some general rules (you’ll be dead on the 4th of July and slammed on St. Patrick’s Day), you can never know for certain. Some Friday nights will be like a ghost town, and the next Tuesday lunch will be chaos.
Additionally, there are several interconnecting parts of a restaurant that can each have their own problems. The dishwasher behind the bar broke, so they have to bring glassware to the back, which slows down the replacement of clean plates on the line, so cooks can’t pass food off to the servers, and people have to wait longer for their meals.
Oh, and a twenty-person baseball team just walked through the door, wondering if you can accommodate them without a reservation; the new girl is covering someone’s shift, but she doesn’t know table numbers yet; someone knocked over a glass, so the table is standing in the middle of the dining room, waiting for someone to wipe down their root-beer-ridden chairs.
This is the exact sort of mayhem that happens daily, and you want to add all the complications that come with family?