7 Smart Restaurant Moves for Women Owners

Woman on cell phone with paperwork in restaurant
••• Cultura RM Exclusive/Frank Van Delft/Getty Images

According to reports from the National Restaurant Association, more than 50 percent of restaurants are now owned by women. As more women enter the restaurant industry as owners, they have a distinct set of challenges that their male counterparts don’t face. Women restaurant owners also have some distinct advantages, from funding sources to the ability to connect with employees on a genuine and authentic basis. In an industry with a high failure rate, here are seven smart moves female restaurant owners can make both before opening day and afterwards, to ensure a successful restaurant business for years to come.

1. Make Sure Owning a Restaurant Is Right for You

The first thing any women who is thinking of opening a restaurant should do is be clear on why she wants to. Owning a restaurant is often a fun daydream for people who like to cook or who are unhappy in their day job. For those that do take the leap into ownership, the reality is often more than they can handle. Owning a restaurant requires a lot of work. The daily grind can be wearing on a person, if they aren’t prepared. This is one of the reasons that three out four restaurants close within the first three years. It becomes too much for one person to handle. As flexible and nimble as most working women are, running a restaurant requires wearing many hats from chef, to bookkeeper, to HR director to janitor. Everyone is looking to you as the owner, to solve the many problems that come up each day. You want to make sure that you are up for the challenge of being a female entrepreneur in a high stress business. 

2. Hone Your Business Skills

Many people want to start their own restaurant because they love cooking and/or they love entertaining. Owning a restaurant is way more than both of those things. It is first and foremost a business, which needs to make a profit. Restaurant finances can be complex. There are many rules and regulations that need to be followed, taxes that have to be paid, insurance premiums required, etc. Therefore, any women who want to open a restaurant should have a basic grasp of cash flow, profit and loss statements and other financial tools that will help them make sound business decisions. If you don’t already have these skills, there are many online courses or adult education community classes that can help prepare you to be a business owner.

3. Know How to Handle Conflict

Women in leadership roles have distinct advantages over their male counterparts. They are often more empathetic and nurturing with their employees, building a family-like atmosphere. This is all good, until hard decisions have to be made like cutting positions or firing someone who has a poor performance record. Women are conditioned by society to be soft and nurturing and when they do exert power they are labeled as bossy or unreasonable or worse. Women restaurant owners need to find a balance between their natural empathy for others and doing what is best for their business. They also need to be uncomfortable not pleasing all people all the time. For example, if you fire an employee, they probably aren’t going to like you anymore. A good leader knows this and doesn’t let that knowledge interfere with running their business. Like financial skills, there are lots of resources for developing your inner leader. Contrary to popular belief, leadership is not always a natural characteristic that one is either born with or without. It is a talent that can be cultivated and grown over time.

4. Have a Clear Business Plan

Since there are many financial programs available exclusively for female entrepreneurs, it is essential to have solid business plan at the ready when you go to the bank or small business association. Think of your restaurant business plan as your roadmap to success. It includes start up costs, annual budget and projected sales. It also helps you identify your targeted audience. Who will be your customers? Using demographics from the US Census offers a profile of your area’s median age, income, household size. Local chambers of commerce and small business bureaus are also good places to find out more about the demographics of an area. The more detailed information you can find out, the better for your restaurant concept.

Although a business plan can be time consuming to complete, the end result will help give you a clear picture of how to make your restaurant succeed. And quite frankly, if you aren’t willing to take the time to write a stellar plan for your new restaurant, you probably don’t have what it takes to be a restaurant owner.

Creating a business plan also helps you pinpoint your restaurant’s niche. What will make your restaurant stand out from the competition? If your restaurant concept is traditional American cuisine diner, what is your unique take on the menu or atmosphere? That uniqueness is what will attract customers and keep them coming back. 

In the process of writing your business plan, you may identity possible risks that you can be proactive about, such as local competition with similar menus and price points. Finding out this information n the planning stages allows you time to adapt your concept if needed, without spending any money.

5. Know When to Outsource Work at Your Restaurant

Women are excellent at multitasking, but not always so great at delegating. In a busy restaurant, you can’t expect to do everything yourself. But that is often what happens with owners (both male and female) especially in the early months of opening a new restaurant. You may not feel like you should be spending money on extra labor or outside services, but if done right, it will save you a lot more money in the long run. Common areas that restaurants can outsource include laundry services, payroll processing, social media marketing, website maintenance and cleaning. Developing a regular side work list for staff and having clear expectations about what needs to be done during every shift in both the front and back of the house, will also help you as the owner, focus on the bigger tasks of running a new restaurant.

6. Use Technology to Save Money at Your Restaurant

Like outsourcing, technology can save women restaurant owners a lot of money and time. For example, using a POS system or iPad POS System makes tracking sales easy while at the same time acting as a credit card processors. This makes swiping credit cards more secure for both the customer and the business. Servers are accountable for all their sales, and it is impossible to alter checks in the computer unless you have the password. This helps cut down on employee theft. You can also track menu items and inventory through a POS system, helping reduce waste and keep food cost down.

7. Have a Support Network

Finally, another area that women restaurant owners can benefit is from establishing a support network for themselves. This can be through family and friends or through a small business association or women’s business association. Running a restaurant can be isolating and having others to lean on, even if only to chat, can be helpful for female entrepreneurs. 

Women business owners continue to grow across the country. Women restaurant owners now dominate half the market of small independent restaurants. As women continue to take on more leadership roles, it’s important to know how to leverage their natural talents and cultivate new ones. Understanding finances, being comfortable in conflict, knowing when to ask for help and keeping a circle of support nearby are just a few ways that women can run success restaurants now and into the future.