On the Line / Operations / These Movies Capture the Joys and Realities of Restaurant Life

These Movies Capture the Joys and Realities of Restaurant Life

Have a day off in your busy schedule? Unwind with one of these great movies about restaurant people.

Restaurant Movies Hero Image 1

DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

The movies that stay with us are the ones that we connect with on a personal level. But that's easier said than done.

Sure, there are plenty of movies about secret agents and even worn-out office workers, but what about people who work (or have worked) in restaurants? Movies that focus on restaurants and the people that bring them to vibrant life are far and few between.

That's exactly why good movies about restaurants are so memorable – because so rarely does someone who's ever worked as a server or a manager or a chef see that part of their life brought to life on screen.

Below, we've put together a list of movies that stand out to us as authentic and true as any cinematic experience can be to restaurant life. Take some time to yourself on a day off and enjoy.

1. Big Night (1996)

Big Night is set in 1950s New Jersey, starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as two brothers running an Italian restaurant. Despite their efforts and magnificent food, their business is failing, with a rival Italian restaurant out-competing them. In a last-ditch effort to save the restaurant, the brothers plan to put on one big night, spending their entire savings on food and inviting people to join them for a magnificent feast.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 96%, with the critical consensus reading, "The performances in Big Night are wonderful, and the food looks delicious."

2. Waiting... (2005)

Looking for authenticity? Writer-director Rob McKittrick penned the script while working as a waiter. Waiting... captures both the tedious and rewarding moments of working in a restaurant, along with some R-rated hijinks.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 31%, with the critical consensus reading, "Waiting... is a gross-out comedy that's more gross than comic." Maybe not a hit with critics, but it's become a favorite among anyone who's spent years working in restaurants.

3. Chef (2014)

Written and directed by and starring Jon Favreau, Chef is a perfect little film in its own right, but it's become a special gem to restaurateurs. Chef and food truck entrepreneur, Carl Casper, is a character who starts his own business, stands up for himself, surprises and satisfies customers with his cooking, does what he's good at, and ignores the words of spiteful critics.

He embodies many of the qualities of a great restaurateur, mainly because he's in this business for all the right reasons.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 87%, with the critical consensus reading, "Chef's charming cast and sharp, funny script add enough spice to make this feel-good comedy a flavorful—if familiar—treat."

Read this next
How Ming Tsai Gives Back to the Staff at Blue Dragon

How Ming Tsai Gives Back to the Staff at Blue Dragon

By providing health insurance and charging a 2% kitchen appreciation fee — and by saying "thank you" every day — Ming Tsai shows his staff he cares.

4. Ratatouille (2007)

Yes, the plot of Ratatouille follows a rat named Remy who dreams of becoming a chef. And yes, it's an animated film. But it's still, without a doubt, one of the best movies ever made about the authenticity and passion of working in a restaurant. It also perfectly captures the stress of making your work in the kitchen stand out.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 96%, with the critical consensus reading, "Fast-paced and stunningly animated, Ratatouille adds another delightfully entertaining entry—and a rather unlikely hero—to the Pixar canon."

5. Dinner Rush (2000)

Anyone who's worked in a restaurant knows that anything that can go wrong will go wrong at one point or another – especially during the dinner shift of a popular New York City restaurant. And that's exactly what Dinner Rush tackles.

The film spends one night at a NYC restaurant, with its owner dealing with converging pressures from his son and his gambling sous-chef, on top of run ins with organized crime.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 91%, with the critical consensus reading, "With the aid of a witty script and a well-acted ensemble, Dinner Rush is a tasty dish."

6. The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Helen Mirren scored a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Madame Mallory in The Hundred-Foot Journey, playing a restaurant owner in France challenged by the threat of a new business in the neighborhood.

When an Indian family opens up a new restaurant, Maison Mumbai, across the street from Mallory's establishment, a feud between the two restaurants begins. The movie tackles the stress felt by both new and seasoned owners, underscoring that healthy competition isn't always healthy.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 67%, with the critical consensus reading, "Director Lasse Hallström does lovely work and Helen Mirren is always worth watching, but The Hundred-Foot Journey travels predictable ground already covered by countless feel-good dramedies."

7. Spinning Plates (2012)

Not one for fiction? This documentary follows three restaurateurs and their different establishments. The film provides grounded insight and inspiration, with the important reminder that, as a restaurant worker, you are never alone in your successes or your failures.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 85%.

8. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Speaking of documentaries, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is another popular documentary, following Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant. The film also features and profiles his two sons.

The film dives into Jiro's process and philosophy and captures the strive towards perfection that so many restaurateurs and chefs are familiar with.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 99%, with the critical consensus reading, "Beautiful, thoughtful, and engrossing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi should prove satisfying even for filmgoers who don't care for the cuisine."

9. Julie & Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep scored one of her many Oscar nominations for her performance in Julia & Julia as star chef Julia Child. In the film, her early years in the culinary world are contrasted with the life of Julie Powell, a young New Yorker who aspires to cook all 524 recipes in Child's cookbook in 365 days.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 77%, with the critical consensus reading, "Boosted by Meryl Streep's charismatic performance as Julia Child, Julie & Julia is a light, but fairly entertaining culinary comedy."

10. Always Be My Maybe (2019)

Okay, maybe not a full-tilt "restaurant movie" like some of the other movies on this list, but Always Be My Maybe still takes aspects of chef and restaurant life and fits them into a romantic comedy mold.

Ali Wong stars as Sasha Tran, a celebrity chef and restaurateur, who returns to San Francisco to open a restaurant, only to reconnect with an old friend (and romantic flame).

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 89%, with the critical consensus reading, "Carried by the infectious charms of Ali Wong and Randall Park, Always Be My Maybe takes familiar rom-com beats and cleverly layers in smart social commentary to find its own sweet groove."

icon Tech Tip

Get the right tools, technology, and advice — personalized for your restaurant.

Take the quiz
Subscribe to On the Line

Sign up to get industry intel, advice, tools, and honest takes from real people tackling their restaurants’ greatest challenges.

We’ll handle your info according to our privacy statement.

Otl subscribe 55