"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Restaurant, Second Edition" by Howard Cannon

Pros: Incredibly informative; very detailed; comprehensive; entertaining; well-thought-out
Cons: Not a quick read!
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 3/7/2006
Review copy courtesy of Alpha Books.

My husband and I absolutely love to cook, particularly for our friends, and have often heard that familiar refrain: “you should open a restaurant!” Fortunately we know enough to realize that opening a restaurant is about running a crazy, high-stress business, nothing like cooking a few meals for a friend, so we were never tempted by that. I couldn’t resist, however, reading “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Restaurant,” by Howard Cannon, when it crossed my desk. Morbid curiosity? Maybe. But it made for a fascinating read, and one I think anyone seriously considering the restaurant business should indulge in. Actually, “indulge” is the wrong word; it implies that this is a luxury read. On the contrary, I think it’s a necessity for anyone who isn’t already intimately familiar with the business–and perhaps some of those people could learn a thing or two as well.

This is an incredibly detailed and comprehensive book, and like all books from the “Complete Idiot’s Guide” series is designed to be straightforward, clear, and easy to understand. The first part delves into the broad knowledge base you’ll need to acquire in order to do a good job in your chosen profession. Running a restaurant involves everything from accounting to cooking, dishwashing to equipment repair, and while you’ll rely heavily on the advice and aid of professionals, you also need to know as much as possible on your own.

Eighty percent of new restaurants fail within three to five years.

No matter how early in the process you are, you’ll find something for you here. Cannon describes business plans for restaurants, site choice, finding investors, hiring staff, managing risks, purchasing your equipment and materials, marketing, and so on. There’s even a series of checklists in the appendices describing the things you should have done by certain periods before your restaurant opens.

Whether you want to open a fast-food franchise or a fine dining establishment, this book has plenty of advice for you. It covers all the various restaurant-type options and the issues dealing with each. A large portion of the book deals with the operation of your restaurant, from the kitchen, to the dining room, to hospitality, quality, service, cleanliness, and even the serving of alcohols–whether you’re talking fine wines or a bar.

One of the book’s strengths is its approach toward finding, keeping and coaching staff. Cannon strongly believes that the restaurant business is all about people–both your customers and staff–and that the best way to do a good job in these areas is to care about people. He has numerous suggestions for cultivating your employees’ abilities and for attracting and keeping customers.

Finally the book deals with growing your business, optimizing your profits, and, if things go well enough, deciding when and whether to expand or open a new restaurant.

The appendices include all sorts of calendars, checklists, forms, guidelines, and lists of additional reference materials.

If I planned to open a restaurant I would read this book at least three times and make copious notes. I found myself nodding along frequently, impressed by the common-sense suggestions and Cannon’s application of them to the specifics of the restaurant world. The writing style is engaging and interesting, including fascinating stories and entertaining tidbits to keep some very thick reading from becoming boring. Cannon has run many restaurants himself and consulted for many more, and his copious experience certainly shines through. I find myself looking at the restaurants I frequent in a new light, more carefully evaluating which slips and errors are no big deal and which probably indicate that there’s a larger problem with the restaurant’s management, which alone is fascinating and valuable to me. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the restaurant business.

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4 comments on “"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Restaurant, Second Edition" by Howard Cannon
  1. Bruno says:

    Very informative post. The book looks good. Is there an excerpt of the book on your site I can have a look at?



  2. heather says:

    No; it would be a violation of copyright law for me to post an excerpt of the book. You might try Amazon.com; sometimes they allow you to poke through pieces of a book online. Publisher and author websites also sometimes post excerpts.

  3. phil says:

    Our local market always seems to have restaurants open up and then within a few years close their doors. The more unique ones will stick around but we’ve seen Fudd Ruckers, Fridays, Cheddars and several other national chain restaraunts come in only to fail. You would think they’d have a higher success rate but maybe it’s just too much of the same.

  4. I couldn’t imagine being a restaurant owner. My wife and I have both worked extensively in the industry and I think that we learned it isn’t a business we would jump into. However there are always exceptions. Looking into niches within the restaurant industry is key.

    We see small ideas that would serve to a specific market.

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