Learn from Restaurateurs' Failures and Successes With These Books

Looking to add to your reading list? These books on management and restaurant life share techniques and insights from other owners, chefs, and managers.

With employees to manage, customers to delight, and operations big and small to tackle – not to mention any number of other wrenches that can be thrown into the day-to-day – running a restaurant is a lot.

This is nothing new for anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant. Hell, that fast pace is part of the reason why people get into the industry. But if you do ever reach a point of feeling overwhelmed, it's important to remember that you aren't alone in this.

No matter what you come up against, it can be comforting to remind yourself that, chances are, someone else has also experienced it. In fact, some of those people have even taken their experiences and written about them, offering wisdom and guidance to help you come out the other side of any restaurant-related challenge.

That's why it's important to carve time into your busy schedule – as little or as much as you're able – to learn from the failures and successes of other restaurant people.

Below, you'll find a list of books on restaurant management and restaurant life that'll help you pick up noteworthy techniques and insights from other owners, chefs, and managers.

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1. Making the Cut: What Separates the Best From the Rest by Chris Hill

Chris Hill is a chef, restaurant owner, author, and speaker, known for his skill in management and entrepreneurship. His collection of stories from the restaurant people he's encountered in the kitchen serve as inspiration, direction, and advice for anyone who's serious about advancing their own career in the restaurant industry. Hill shares secrets from some of the most famous chefs alive on how they found success – and how you can, too.

Featured quote: "It’s not easy, and every day is a challenge, especially if you’re committed to doing your best work and being better than you were the day before. While my story is riddled with failures, disappointments, and not quite having my chef story pan out as I’d hoped thus far, the book isn’t about me – it’s about them and the lessons we can apply to our lives – every single day."

2. Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire by Barbara Lynch

James Beard Award-winner Barbara Lynch is regarded as one of the world’s leading chefs and restaurateurs. In her memoir, she takes readers on a journey, recounting her rise from a hard-knocks South Boston childhood to culinary stardom. Throughout, she delves into her culinary process, encounters she's had with colorful characters of the food world, and the importance of holding onto your roots and where you come from.

Featured quote: "I've never left Southie, and I can't: Southie is in me, in my fuck-you, make-me, prove-it attitude; in my wicked foul mouth, accent busting out if I don't control it. Its rhythms stroke my fierce stamina and drive, my sense of honor, the ironclad allegiance of my lifelong friendships. It throbs in my veins in brash, daredevil impulses that I can't shake—for better or worse—in life and love."

3. Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets by Jeff Benjamin

Anyone who's worked in a restaurant knows that, despite how intertwined they are, the worlds of the front-of-house and the back-of-house are very different entities. No matter how busy or stressful the kitchen gets, it's tucked away and hidden from guests. Meanwhile, the front-of-house team is on the front lines, interacting with guests and ensuring their satisfaction.

There's a science to both, but in this book, Jeff Benjamin lays down what it's like to work the front-of-house and interact with the "always-right" customer with open and humorous insight. The skills he highlights in his writing are essential for running a successful front-of-house.

Featured quote: "The dynamic nature of the menu keeps it interesting not just for guests who visit frequently, but also for everyone in the kitchen. We all love food, but chefs and cooks have a more complex relationship with it. The more they get to experiment and create new dishes, the better."

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4. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Before his tragic death, Anthony Bourdain was and still is known to “tell it like it is." And his shocking and hilarious confessional about what happens behind kitchen closed doors is no different. In Bourdain's memoir, he covers his more than twenty years of experience as a chef, from his experience as a student in culinary school to being a restaurant owner in Tokyo and beyond.

With blunt and brazen prose and stories that aren't sugar-coated in the slightest, Kitchen Confidential shows a behind-the-scenes look at the myriad of challenges and joys restaurant owners face every day.

Featured quote: "For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we've all had to become disappears, when we're confronted with something as simple as a plate of food."

5. Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

American chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir is sharply crafted and unflinchingly honest, following her journey from the rural kitchen of her childhood to international kitchens in Greece and Turkey and back to her own kitchen at New York restaurant, Prune. Anthony Bourdain called Hamilton's memoir, "Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever."

Featured quote: "...as soon as I saw the three-bin stainless steel pot sink, exactly like ours, I felt instantly at home and fell into peeling potatoes and scraping plates for the dishwasher like it was my own skin. And that, just like that, is how a whole life can start."

6. Restaurant Owners Uncorked by Will Brawley

Instead of reading about one person’s experience, why not read advice from over twenty different restaurant owners? Restaurant Owners Uncorked is a compilation of interviews with experienced chefs such as Phil Roberts of Buca di Beppo, Chris Sommers of Pi Pizzeria, and more.

They share how they got started, including what's worked for them, what hasn't, and the pros and cons of working in the restaurant industry.

Featured quote: "It doesn’t matter if you have a trendy-looking place, or a cool-looking bar, or the greatest chef in the world. You have to engage the people that come into your place, day after night after day after night, and remember who they are, and why you’re here."

7. Setting The Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer

Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group – which includes over twenty concepts in New York – shares his recipe for success in Setting the Table. He describes adopting his philosophy of "enlightened hospitality" at these restaurants, which emphasizes the importance of showing hospitality towards employees first. Only from there can hospitality be extended to your restaurant’s guests, community, suppliers, and investors.

This philosophy might turn the traditional business model on its head, but Meyer’s anecdotes, advice, and lessons show how it can lay the foundation for a successful restaurant business.

Featured quote: "In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard."

8. Restaurant Success By the Numbers by Roger Fields

For many restaurateurs, the road to success is defined by numbers: sales graphs, employee labor reports, inventory costing, and so on. To get a firmer grasp on the numbers side of restaurant business, pick up Restaurant Success by the Numbers. Accountant-turned-restaurauteur Roger Fields focuses on things like funding, location, hiring, menu-making, number-crunching, and turning a profit; he even includes sample sales forecasts and operating budgets. Beyond craft and passion, opening and sustaining a new restaurant is a numbers game, and this book can arm you with the statistics, reports, and numbers you'll need to keep a close eye on.

Featured quote: "Setting practical goals will help you focus on the appropriate type and size of restaurant for you. With reasonable goals, you can prepare an objective financial feasibility study and a pro forma profit-and-loss statement; these documents will help you to gauge whether your restaurant will be lucrative enough to realize your dreams and your financial goals."

9. Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar by Romana Pettygrave Shah

Ramona Pettygrave Shah spent close to a decade in the restaurant industry before becoming a beverage consultant and author. In her book, Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar, she shares the wisdom she gained from her years of experience to help answer the question: "How can I run a successful bar?"

With wit, honesty, and insight, the book delves into topics from time management to team cultivation to finances, tackling the issues real-world bar managers and other employees face behind the bar.

Featured quote: "So if I'm not all up in hospitality's grill, why and how the hell have I been in this industry so long? Well, I'm fascinated by the creative process, what makes a good drink, and how a well-curated team can succeed against all the odds on a busy night. I love the tight bonds that form under pressure behind a bar when chaos ensues, and the blend of creativity and efficiency you can put to use to make a bar stand out."

10. The Chipotle Effect by Paul Barron

Paul Barron, renowned restaurant entrepreneur, publisher, and founder of Fast Casual, wrote this book not only about Chipotle, but about the fast casual revolution as a whole. In an industry that's growing at a dizzying pace, new restaurants are tapping into consumer psychology to capture customers' attention and keep them coming back for more.

With insights into growing restaurant trends, Paul discusses design, technology, and the future of the food service industry.

Featured quote: "You can have the right place, time, and product going for you, but you have to know how to leverage them… [Chipotle] knew how to grab the gold when the opportunity came. Having watched the mistakes of their predecessors, they were able to develop an in-store and external brand that tapped into what their customers cared about: freshness, quality, sustainability, a sense of humor, and above all, a sense that they were breaking out of the ‘slightly more upscale fast food’ mold."

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