Sexism, slim profit margins, and a tough bottom line; there’s no easy way to become successful in the restaurant industry. As a new restauranteur, you enter into the thick of it, knowing the chances of things going awry greatly outweigh your chances of success. A recent study published by CNBC quoted that, “60% of new restaurants fail within the first year and 80% shutter before their fifth anniversary.” And with over half of newly opened restaurants shuttering, it leaves you wondering why anyone would choose a career that seemingly has such a low return on investment and such a high chance of failure…
It’s because despite all this, operating a restaurant fuelled by passion is empowering. It can be one of the greatest accomplishments and for some, the very thing that gives them creative satisfaction in life. That’s why, for people tough enough to stick it out in the industry, being a restauranteur is the natural choice above all else. It’s something that’s meaningful and inherently decided. A passion for food and customer service becomes ingrained in the every day, while countless hours of devotion and attention to detail become common practice.
That being said, we wanted to delve deeper into the topic and take a look at what it’s really like operating a successful business within Toronto’s restaurant industry. To get a little more insight into the topic we reached out to the owner of Bar Reyna and Vv Magazine, Nicki Laborie. Read her confessions of a restauranteur below.
How long have you been in the restaurant industry and what made you want to open your own restaurant?
I’m that girl who was bartending her way through school in both Montreal and New York so that would bring my experience in the industry to 25 years… I’ve done almost every job – I’ve even done the dishes! That said, at 24-years-old while living in NYC, I couldn’t wait to get out and be ‘someone’, so sooner rather than later, I ended up working in PR at Nike Communications where I worked with chef, restaurant and hospitality clients. Then I was given an opportunity to work for a New York restaurateur in St. Maarten and my dreams of owning my own place began flourishing. Working for many male restaurateurs over the years, I always envisioned things I would do differently to make an experience more special (in my eyes). I have an insane – and probably annoying – attention to detail so I tend to see everything and always want to improve it, even when it’s not necessary. I think women in general have that gene more pronounced than men so I always wanted to open a place that would have details that differed from others, a menu that was unique and interesting, and to build a team that has the same attention to detail as I do. A warm and inviting space, a fun social setting and unique, delicious food is my idea of a great restaurant experience so this is what I have always wanted to create – and I think I did, with Bar Reyna.
Is owning your own restaurant everything you imagined it to be?
Opening a restaurant is a lot harder than most people think and I was well aware of that – it certainly has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. But I’m happy I did it and I think if the restaurant industry is in your soul, you can’t get away from it so you might as well embrace it. When you’re passionate about something, you just go and I’m definitely the kind of person that goes after what I want. So I did and I’ve learned both difficult lessons and great lessons that have helped me grow as a restaurateur and as a business person. I’m already thinking of Reyna 2.0 so clearly, the passion lives longer than the challenges!
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you first opened? That you face on a day-to-day basis?
Ha! What did I not face when we opened should be the question! Given that the building we are in is quite old, I think the hardest part was dealing with all the building problems. The renovation was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. We had leaks, floods, not enough electrical, HVAC problems, contractors who did half-assed work. It was challenging and frustrating and I thought I might break… but I didn’t and now we are coming to the one-year mark and things have finally fallen into place. Day-to-day I think the hardest part of the restaurant business is consistency. You have to trust that everyone is doing their job but the challenge of ensuring people enjoy the same, positive experience every time they come to Reyna is definitely a feat not only for me but also for our team.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the restaurant industry?
It has always made me laugh when people think that being a restaurateur is an easy and “cool” job. It’s not – it’s HARD and a passion for hospitality is absolutely necessary in order to do a good job. When hiring, my interview process is not just about someone’s experience. It’s about personality, passion and priorities. I’ve had 2 sayings over the years: 1) Use your personality and develop relationships because if something goes wrong, guests will be more understanding/forgiving, and will likely come back because YOU made their experience that much better. 2) If things are hectic and servers stress out… I always remind them we are not saving lives, we are just feeding people so calm down, ask for help and ensure the guest does not feel your stress.
And lastly, spill the beans. What are some of the most frustrating things customers do in the restaurant?
Well, I love my guests – hosting is in my blood so I can’t say that I have one particular pet peeve during service. That said, there is one thing that has been happening a lot recently which affects a restaurant’s bottom line. In the last year, it seems people are making reservations and either not showing up or canceling just minutes before their expected arrival. This is very hard on a restaurant because last minute cancellations are basically the same as no-shows and equates to a loss of revenue. Sometimes we are unable to take reservations for weekend nights 3-4 days before because we are at full capacity, but then the day arrives and more than half cancel and we end with empty tables. This is very frustrating…. The margins in this business are slim to none so when a restaurant gets 80-90 cancellations in one day – which can sometimes happen 2-3 times in a week – it clearly stops restaurants from achieving success.
What are your thoughts on the restaurant industry? Let Vv Magazine know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.