What's the difference between retail and restaurants?

Many new owners think that running a restaurant will be easy if they’ve worked in the retail world. While all their retail skills do help, there are major differences between owning and operating a retail shop, and operating a restaurant.

These include:

In the food biz, you are also the warehouse and manufacturer of the product you are selling, which together both make up more work and require much more managing than a business that just sells the product. This is the major difference.

In the food biz, your product is perishable. After it is manufactured, it has to make it to the customer within a few short minutes in order to be satisfactory. A retail stores product isn’t worthless 5 minutes after it goes on the shelf.

In the food biz, you are also managing a distribution system. Whether it’s only coming from the kitchen to a tray on the counter, or all the way to a table, or even all the way to their home, you have to have a system for getting a highly volatile product to your customers before it’s ruined. They aren’t just plucking something off the shelf and bringing it to your register to pay.

There are a LOT more expenses involved in a restaurant compared to retail. The line items of things you must manage in a restaurant dwarf that of a retail shop.

Inventory procedures and control are much more complicated for a restaurant than a retail shop. While both types of businesses require you to track your cost of goods sold, the process in a restaurant is MUCH more complicated, as you will likely have more items on your inventory in more various stages of prep that all have to be counted, tracked, and ordered more often. These items are also much easier to waste and steal than in most retail settings.

Managing a food business and managing a retail business just aren’t the same thing. Not even close. While managing a food business requires all the skills used in managing a retail business, those skills are only a fraction of the skills you need.

The most difficult transition isn’t going from retail to food, not if you have worked production in the food business, it’s going from employee to owner. Managing in a business and owning a business are not the same thing. Not to say that people don’t successfully make that transition because some do. Most need experience running a business with someone else’s money first though, in a structure with support and mentors to teach you what you don’t know.

I would suggest reading a couple books to give you some insight on being an owner that you may not have considered. Any book on opening and operating a restaurant will help. One that I think is good is “The Everything Guide to Starting and Running a Restaurant” by Ronald Lee, a guy who owns and operates restaurants. I would also suggest “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michel Gerber, and any and all books by Al & Laura Ries or Dan Kennedy. They are real world marketing gurus.

While you can’t realize it until you open your business, the toughest part of the restaurant business isn’t making and serving great food. Doing that is relatively easy. The toughest part is creating a concept that speaks to people, and creating a system of marketing to get people into your business.

The biggest mistake new restaurant owners makes is thinking that all they have to do is “build it and they will come”. They believe their food is so good, or their idea so revolutionary that people will flock to them. They talk about building their business by “word of mouth” instead of having a real marketing plan, and more often than not, they fall flat on their faces. Don’t make these mistakes. If you do nothing else, study restaurant marketing. I think everyone who owns a restaurant will tell you they greatly underestimated how important marketing is. Remember, word of mouth marketing can’t work if no one knows who you are.

Brandon O’Dell
O’Dell Restaurant Consulting
Office: (888) 571-9068

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