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Know the Signs of a Failing Restaurant

Know the Signs of a Failing Restaurant

If you've worked in the restaurant business, you probably know how volatile it can be. Restaurants come and go as quickly as you can say "cuisine nouveau." To stay in this industry, it's important to recognize the telltale signs associated with restaurants past their prime. Take heed of these indicators before it's too late, and then use the following tips to move on if necessary.

The Signs

A number of signs indicate a restaurant is struggling to keep its doors open, says former waitress Barbara Cohen of Nanuet, New York.

"You know trouble is brewing in the restaurant when you have one busboy working the dining room instead of three, or if the cook gets fired and the owner takes over the shift indefinitely," she explains. "This usually means there is a good chance there isn't enough money to properly staff the restaurant."

Dan King, principal of Boston-based Career Planning and Management, agrees, adding, "Look closely at turnover, particularly that of wait staff members, since they rely mostly on tips." Other indications of a failing restaurant, he says, are:

  • Managers/owners don't express passion for the business.
  • Menu choices are outdated/unchanging.
  • The number of regular menu items, as well as glassware/silverware, is shrinking.
  • Managers are cutting corners to stretch food ingredients.
  • The restaurant begins to close earlier.
  • Regular customers come in less frequently.
If you are a server, your tips are directly dependent on the quality of food and service; if both aren't in your favor, your earnings likely will plummet. "If you are no longer able to make the money you deserve, it's time to move on," Cohen says.

Ease Your Way Out

Cohen points out that loyalty makes it hard for some workers to leave a restaurant. If you feel loyal to the owner but realize the restaurant is losing momentum, scale back the number of shifts you work and pick them up elsewhere, she suggests.

"If you decide to stay, you will need to focus on your job and tune out the negativity around you," Cohen advises. "Your pay is based on presenting a pleasant experience, which may not be easy to do given the circumstances."

King says that if you stay until the bitter end, you will only postpone the inevitable -- unemployment. He suggests putting together a contingency plan. Ask yourself: "What would I do if I were to lose my job? Where would I like to go?" Use the opportunity to improve yourself and your work environment, King says.

Move On Successfully

"When looking for a new job, refrain from discussing the financial shape of your current employer," Cohen says. "Simply tell potential employers that you are looking for a different atmosphere."

When interviewing, says King, focus on your performance during "the good times" at the restaurant. "Demonstrate that you were glad that you were able to contribute to a positive venture and can do so again," he adds. "As in any occupation, you need to always be alert to changes in the field. Your skills don't diminish just because the restaurant failed; they stay with you."

Learn more about food service careers.

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