Realities: An insider’s view of running a small “hospo” business

An insider’s view of running a small “hospo” business

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We, at Future Food, are employed to deliver best practice food and beverage service standards and to ensure that all businesses we work with are striving to push the bar higher.

However, we also understand the challenges that small businesses are facing in the current landscape and we take a lot of this into consideration when setting realistic expectations and goals for our clients.  Our aim with this blog post is to provide an insider’s view of the realities of ‘living the hospitality dream’.

Allow me to first explain some of the perks of becoming a restauranteur which ultimately influenced this author’s mindset when deciding to go ‘all in’ and set up a restaurant and bar some seven years ago.  Who wouldn’t want:

  • An endless supply of restaurant quality food at all hours of the day?

  • An infinite, wholesale supply of beers, wines and spirits to make any connoisseur envious.

  • The ability to throw a party, celebration or gathering at the drop of a hat with all the infrastructure, licenses and capability to rival the best in the market.

  • To work to your own playlist, in comfortable work attire, meeting new people every day.

  • To show the industry what you are capable of through all your learnings and all your ‘industry research’, to fashion a point of difference and etch your own stake in the highly acclaimed Australian food and hospitality scene.

Sounds like an exciting lifestyle.  Let’s do it. 


Small business is fantastic, nothing like being your own boss… they say.

The flexibility to do it your way is a game changer; you’ll never look back… they said. 

Well “they” must not have been talking about small business in the hospitality industry.

Now I can’t talk for all other sectors, industries and lines of work, but I can assure you that running a small business in hospitality is damn tough, and an enormous amount is taken for granted when working for a large organisation or in other people’s business ventures.

The below points are not unique occurrences in the world of Hospitality Management, they should probably be considered part and parcel of choosing to work within the industry that you love.  However, if you don’t work in this space, you may not fathom the magnitude of dedication required of the ‘hospo life’:

  • Lifting solid timber al fresco furniture out to the footpath feels like competing in a strong man competition at 10am on the twelfth consecutive day in a row.

  • There is nothing to watch on TV when sitting down for dinner at 02:00am with your significant other at the end of a fifteen-hour shift.

  • It is a constant battle to not hear the football score during a busy Friday or Saturday night service, but it’s even harder trying to stay awake and watch the replay till 04:00am after said service.

  • Parents of Hospitality professionals must love their children unconditionally, because their Mother’s Day or Father’s Day celebrations are always celebrated a day late, every year! (Monday is hospitality day off)

  • Friends of Hospitality professionals eventually cease with the wedding and birthday invites, after it becomes clear that any event on a Friday or Saturday night will obviously be declined.

Who knew that the job description of Restauranteur actually includes: Restaurant Manager, Bar Manager, Function Manager, Waiter, Maître D, Sous Chef, Kitchen Hand, Cleaner, Event Coordinator, Security Guard, Handyman, Accountant, Marketing Manager, Social Media Manager, Procurement Officer, HR Manger, Recruiter and more! 

When you shoulder that many responsibilities, there just aren’t enough hours in an 80-hour work week to do much more than you are already doing.

Managing hours in the day by utilising a checklist of priorities is typical of most jobs, however the changing landscape that is the hospitality industry makes it a near impossibility.  What doesn’t get completed this week, well that’s how you’ll be spending your one day off!! 

The stresses of being a restaurant owner change daily. They can be dependent on factors such as the weather (not fabulous in a city like Melbourne), staff deciding to turn up to their shift or not (with no prior notice), what they’re charging for snapper fillets at the market today ($59 a kilo!!), your table of twelve deciding not to show up unannounced for Friday dinner, and your rent continuing to increase by 4% per annum but CPI is clearly only half that amount.

Just keep that smile on your face, you work in hospitality after all and nobody wants to hear your negativity. At the end of the day it was your choice to go into business and open a restaurant.

Though there is a degree of reward over return, and satisfaction in creating memorable customer experiences, in small business there must also be some correlation between what you put in and what you get out. However, this is not always in balance. 

Having all the necessary credentials, being service oriented, good with people, knowledgeable about the product, experienced in the industry, having a detailed business plan, working capital, a strong team, determination, commitment, drive and an element of luck are all required to stand any chance of success in this industry. Culinary dexterity coupled with a sound business plan can make the recipe!

I would never change the experiences and lessons I learnt from owning and running one of Melbourne’s most well-regarded small establishments, yet I know for a fact that life would have been significantly easier if more people had insight into the lengths that small business owners go to, day after day, dish after dish, in pursuit of providing genuine and memorable customer experiences, and meeting often unrealistically high expectations.

More than 60% of small businesses fail in the first three years.  This is not a surprise when you see the amount of work that is required to make a go of it. These operators work their backsides off to deliver often comparable if not better food, service and experiences, and your support may prove a deciding factor in them successfully trading past the dreaded three-year mark.  I for one can honestly declare that most of best dining experiences I have ever had is thanks to small owner/operator restaurants and bars in the Australian landscape. So next time you are planning a catch up with friends, a date night or just a casual meal out, ask yourself, does it need to be at the newest ‘big-name chef’ restaurant so that you can tell all your friends you’ve been there, instead why not support small business?