Home Advice For The Young At Heart Why You Should Start Your Entrepreneurial Career In Restaurants

Why You Should Start Your Entrepreneurial Career In Restaurants


By Anthony Lye, President & CEO of HotSchedules

Waitress serving customers

In the 1980s, as a teenager in Weymouth, England, I spent summers working in beachside restaurants. In our vacation town, that was the best way to make money and get a tan. I progressed from washing dishes to waiting tables, but I never considered restaurants a long-term option. From at least that era into the present, Western societies have construed restaurants jobs as temporary work – something you do before you get a “real job.” Today, that mindset is an illusion, and it could deter you from taking the reins of what will soon be a $3.8 trillion global industry.

Whether your goal is to build a career or a business, the restaurant industry is relatively untapped. Unlike digital fads, food is survival. You can’t eat through a web browser or move your kitchens offshore to a lower cost country!

As entrepreneur and consultant Eli Feldman argues convincingly, the restaurant industry will only grow in the U.S. The trifecta of urbanization, digitization, and globalization undercuts job growth in some industries while fueling demand for restaurants. They are “the shared kitchens and dining rooms” of cities, says Feldman. Indeed, in 2015, Americans spent more at restaurants than grocery stores for the first time ever. Restaurants hone a craft you cannot offshore and provide an experience you cannot digitize.

If you’re an entrepreneur, your cylinders should be firing. But since restaurant careers are still tainted by the “real job” myth, let’s deconstruct this opportunity further.

First, restaurants jobs are multiplying. Today, 14.4 million Americans work in restaurants, and the industry will create another 1.7 million jobs in the next 10 years according to the National Restaurant Association. As jobs in banking, telecommunications, and manufacturing undergo automation, restaurants defy the trend.

Unlike repetitive, administrative tasks, restaurant work is human-facing. Bank customers never saw the switchboard operator, mail cart attendee, or other staff who performed repetitive, back-office tasks. Restaurants, on the other hand, serve a product that you put inside your body. Think about how intimate that is. A team of people take raw ingredients and manufacture a finished product to your specifications with artful attention to all five senses. This industry can’t replace human beings with robots and still maintain the quality of experience.

In other words, you a) Can have a job in the restaurant world for the foreseeable future, and b) Have an opportunity to improve the lives of restaurant workers and guests through entrepreneurship.

Second, the restaurant industry is meritocratic. No one cares about your college degree and where you earned it. You rise or fall on your work ethic, grit, and people skills. You operate on a team, deal with chaos, and learn to take responsibility for situations that fall beyond your control.

When people spin restaurant jobs as good preparation for “future” employees, they tout those abilities. And that’s the problem: it’s assumed that you must transfer those skills out of the industry to make them valuable. That’s rubbish. If you thrive in restaurants, and love it, you can rise as high as you want. Go pioneer a new restaurant concept or manage a thriving chain when you’re ready.

Third, on that note, look at how much innovation there is in the restaurant industry. When I was a kid, there were two concepts: fast food and fine dining. Now, we see new genres every year. Who would have thought that food trucks would be serving some of the best food in Austin, Texas? Who would have imagined that frozen yogurt shops could turn into multinational chains? Celebrity chefs, famed food critics, and star restaurateurs exist because we respect their work as a craft.

Opportunities for innovation go beyond the food. We’ve seen an explosion of technologies for the kitchen, workforce management, training, mobile payments, rewards, marketing, reservations, the Internet of Things, and more.

There are many more opportunities to create tech for restaurants, but you can’t spot them without immersing in the industry. Consider David Cantu and Ray Pawlikowski, former restaurant workers who founded HotSchedules, the mobile restaurant technology company I have the honor of leading. They invented the first version of our scheduling software nearly 20 years ago after experiencing just how painful and inefficient it is to create and communicate shifts using spreadsheets.

You can practice empathy, but you can’t develop passion for a problem without encountering it yourself. David and Ray’s work in restaurants guided their entrepreneurial journey. Where will you find a problem worth solving? The restaurant industry might not seem glamorous, and that’s a good thing. You can tackle an industry most entrepreneurs underestimate.

Let someone else make novelties and gimmicks that are quickly forgotten. Take the $3.8 trillion opportunity in restaurants, and make a difference for us all.


Anthony Lye

President and CEO of HotSchedules Anthony Lye provides strategic direction and business guidance for the company, including the integration of multiple technology solutions into one integrated platform. Prior to his current role, Anthony was Chief Product Officer for HotSchedules managing product development and cloud operations for all products, which include hiring, training, scheduling, business intelligence, shift communication, loyalty programs, labor and inventory management software and tools.


  1. Good thoughts Anthony. Some contentions for fun. 1) Some of the restaurant operations will be automated over time – there are robots already cooking consistent meals. 2) The human element of food service will remain intact in the upper echelons of fine dining, where diners are paying for experience, but it’s already slowly eroding as online ordering and delivery provides more convenience. 3) Meritocracy is most certainly not at play within the restaurant industry. Yes, it’s possible to start low and end up higher, but I consistently meet bankers and consultants in their mid-20’s that know 1000x more about how to run a good business than a large restaurant CEO. That is a problem.


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