Your restaurant has been your career and your passion for more years than you care to count, but it has come time for you to retire. It is paramount to you that your business remains within the family, so you are trusting your children to carry on your vision.
For some crucial guidance on succession planning for family restaurants and how to make this transition smoothly to ensure your establishment continues to thrive for years to come, we spoke with the second-generation teams behind three family-owned restaurants: owner Nick Livanos and his son, Johnny Livanos, a manager at their restaurant Ousia in New York City (the family owns several other restaurants, including Molyvos and Oceana), Jacques Haeringer, who is chef-owner of L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, Virginia, and Katy Casbarian, co-owner of Arnaud’s in New Orleans.
Though the thought of leaving your business behind might be upsetting on a number of levels, you need to put a process for transition to the next generation in place. “If you don’t make a plan, fate will make a plan for you,” says Haeringer.
Seek the right counsel.
Don’t turn to an advisor that will be profiting from your transition beyond their hourly fee. “An attorney who specializes in estate planning is a good idea,” says Nick Livanos. “Not someone who is selling you insurance or other financial products.”
Under the best circumstances, a restaurant’s transfer to the next generation of owners shouldn’t need to be an abrupt event. In fact, it should be done gradually in order to maximize the financial benefits for both parties, advises Nick Livanos.
Keep your feelings in check.
“It’s easy to get emotional about letting go of your restaurant because it’s your entire life,” says Haeringer. “But you need to treat it like a business.” That means sometimes stepping back for a moment to take a few deep breaths and realign your perspective. Remember to treat your offspring like anyone with whom you would do business: with professionalism and respect.
Be a resource.
When Haeringer finally hands the reins of L’Auberge Chez Francois over to his son, Marc, he plans on staying on as a part-time advisor. This way he can help the team with any issues or obstacle that arise to ensure the smoothest transition between generations.
Train for the takeover outside your family.
Don’t work for your family business right away recommends Johnny Livanos. “I spent five years after college working for other people,” he says. “I’m more well-rounded, have a much more respected opinion with peers, and wider perspective because of that. By leaving, I got a lot of different experiences under my belt that I could then bring back and apply to the family business.”
Trust is a must.
You must gain the confidence of your employees, so they’re comfortable when the transition happens. “You’re preparing the team, so they trust you to bring the restaurant in a new direction,” says Casbarian. “If they’re onboard, they’re going to come with you. That’s what really helped our transition run smoothly, so our customers didn’t feel anything.”
Photo credit: Jake Stangel.