By Megan Prevost
Many professional fields provide opportunities to grow through the pursuit of outside research and books. Taking a little time to read up on your work can pay back huge dividends in performance, but often this doesn’t ring true for fields where experience is king.
Experience is the best teacher in many arenas, and this is especially true in restaurants. But you shouldn’t write off book learning yet! Even though experience is king, someone else’s experience can be invaluable. If you’ve got some time to spare, the books below will help you become a better restaurateur for yourself and your business.
1. Setting the Table by Danny Meyer
Danny Meyer’s quintessential guide to the philosophy of hospitality has been an industry mainstay since its publication in 2006. Meyer, the founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group and Shake Shack, has been an industry titan since the age of twenty-seven. He’s built his brand on the philosophy of “enlightened hospitality,” which emphasizes building close relationships between staff members and management.
Meyer doesn’t just lay out his thoughts on the industry in his book, it’s also filled with anecdotes and real-life situations where his principles come into practice. As a foundation for starting and running a restaurant, Meyer’s words on philosophy shouldn’t be missed.
2. The Restaurant Manager’s Handbook by Douglas Robert Brown
This book may look bland on the exterior but appears on nearly every restaurateur’s required reading list – and for excellent reasons. Where Meyer’s book deals with the philosophy of working in and running a restaurant, Brown’s book provides over a thousand pages of practical know-how about restaurant operations. In this foundational text, Brown covers everything from necessary certifications to service floor planning, scheduling apps, and kitchen layouts.
While you may not need to read the book from cover to cover, having it on hand and keeping a working knowledge of its contents will give restaurant owners a game plan for all occasions. Having a mentality for service is a fantastic start, but Brown’s book will give you the tools to start cooking with gas (and most other methods, too).
3. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
The late, great Anthony Bourdain was internationally known for his unflinching bluntness and in-your-face directness, and Kitchen Confidential was the book that earned him his fame. This book is cut from a different cloth than the others listed here; it’s intentionally written as a memoir and selection of short stories about Bourdain’s time running kitchens in New York and beyond.
Bourdain’s book isn’t instructional – at least not by intention, but he still peppers his writing with commandments on respecting the dining experience. Still, it’s an unparalleled insight into the world of professional restaurant work. Bourdain’s stories about the bizarre peculiarities of the business are an asset to anyone getting their sea legs in restaurant work.
4. Restaurant Success by the Numbers by Roger Fields
Managing pricing, waste, and food and beverage costs can be overwhelming, even for the most experienced restaurateurs. Fortunately, Fields has kindly covered the subject.
Fields accounts for everything on the topic of cost management and maximizing revenue to significant effect. In the grand scheme of restaurant operations, the bottom line still requires attention above most other concerns. As a “money guy,” Fields is precisely the asset you can use to ensure your restaurant has plenty of time to become a neighborhood staple.
5. Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar by Ramona Pettygrave Shah
While bar programs aren’t part of every restaurant, they’re a critical component in many. Knowing how to manage costs is all well and good, but knowing how to build and run a thoughtfully-designed bar program is an invaluable asset to your restaurant’s business. Shah deals primarily with the business and hospitality sides of bar operations, focusing less on cocktail creation.
However, her work here is an excellent north star to ensure your bar operates seamlessly within your restaurant. Shah even discusses staffing and workplace cohesion specific to a bar program, which can be an enormous help in making bar hiring choices.
Today a reader, tomorrow a leader
Reading these books might feel like an overwhelming task, but don’t think you need to check them all off your list before the year ends. Having these resources can be a massive relief when you’re struggling to grasp an unfamiliar element or there’s a blind spot in your education.
Approach the reading on your own time and at your own pace. The voices listed here are thoughtful and eloquent, benefiting from decades of experience. If experience is king, they’re handing you a map to the throne, and all you have to do is hit the books.
Megan Prevost is a contributing writer for RestoBiz and a Content Manager for MustHaveMenus. Her work has also appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.