Yes, restaurateurs thrive on the cut-throat competition, the intense pace of the kitchen, gratifying all sorts of customers, and finding on-the-spot solutions to unexpected disasters. But every once in a while it’s good to step back from all the feverish activities of running a restaurant and indulge in some good old leisurely reading.
Here’s a curated list of books that will brush up your business skills, offer inspiration, stir up emotions, evoke laughter, and provide all-round learning. Enjoy!
In this much-lauded book, Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group puts forward his philosophy of ‘Enlightened Hospitality’, the crux of which is to put people and human relationships before anything else. Speaking from years of experience, Meyer offers original thoughts on team building, employee management, investing in the community, customer relationships, learning from failures and success, and problem-solving among other topics. Having started the Union Square Cafe when he was 27 and then going on to build a restaurant empire, Meyer’s advice is not to be taken lightly. The innovative ideas laid down in the book applies not only to the hospitality industry but anyone who is keen to sharpen up their leadership and business skills.
Quotable quote: “I had begun to understand that business and life have a lot in common with a hug. The best way to get a good one was the first to give one.”
Even after his tragic death, Anthony Bourdain remains one of the most loved figures in the culinary world. His forthrightness and his ability to call a spade a spade were immensely refreshing and he brings these same traits to Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain’s journey from a young culinary student to becoming one of the most famous chefs and restaurateurs in the world is filled with adventures and misadventures—some hilarious, some horrifying, and some outrightly unbelievable! What goes on behind closed doors at a restaurant is told with much honesty and humor and in his trademark brusque voice, Bourdain crushes all preconceived notions about the industry. Kitchen Confidential is an atmospheric read, unlike any other restaurant memoir you will ever lay your hands on.
Quotable quote: “I'm not going anywhere. I hope. It's been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”
This is a classic handbook, and a must-have one, on running a successful food service operation. The multiple award-winning book has survived the test of time and has been a guiding light for scores of operators and managers within the industry through the years. Every aspect of restaurant operations is covered in minutest detail with every edition being updated to meet the needs of contemporary business demands. The book is currently in its fifth edition and covers topics such as branding, franchising, effective layout, menu planning, food safety, implementation of new technologies, IoT technology, mobile apps, digital marketing, managing online feedback etc.
For anyone who has always dreamed of opening a coffee shop, this is the go-to book. But the Daily Grind is also great for existing owners who’re struggling for profits or want to take their cafe business to the next level. Claire and Andrew Bowen offer pragmatic solutions to succeed in a highly competitive industry. From big picture thinking to everyday needs, the book provides in-depth insights and covers all aspects of the business in an extremely detailed manner. This one is definitely for keeps, as you will find yourself returning to the book for advice and resources time and again.
Gabrielle Hamilton is known for her iconic restaurant Prune in downtown Manhattan, New York which unfortunately shuttered this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before she became the celebrity chef that she is today, Hamilton had to face a lot of struggles and go through intense shoulder searching, all of which is masterfully written down in this beautiful memoir. What shines through most in the book is Hamilton’s earnest fascination and untarnished love for food from a very young age, like the episode where she is awestruck as her father roasts whole lambs on a spit. Hamilton, who never attended a culinary school or had any formal training in restaurants, has had a pretty unconventional career, and perhaps it is this rare journey which makes Blood, Bones & Butter so relatable.
Quotable 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.”
It's All About the Guest offers a lowdown on the restaurant industry, both the good and the bad, making it an enriching read right from the start to finish. Steve DiFillippo is the owner of Davio’s, an Italian restaurant group located in the cities of Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Foxborough and Avila’s restaurant in Boston. Stemming from his years of experience, DiFillippo not only offers sound advice on running a successful restaurant but also pins down all the wrong turns one could take in this long, arduous but highly fulfilling journey as a restauranteur. The beauty of the book lies in how DiFillippo uses enjoyable anecdotes to illustrate his points, ensuring there’s no single monotonous moment throughout.
Women on Food is an important book not only for its insights into the culinary world, but also to understand this world from women’s perspectives. The book is also laudable for bringing together more than 100 women writers and chefs of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. Druckman combines various forms like essays, interviews and surveys to highlight topics as wide-ranging as sexual harassment, motherhood, race and of course food. The collection is not only interesting to read but also thought-provoking for bringing out the gender politics of food. All in all the book is a much needed celebration of women's contribution and influence in the food and restaurant industry.
Cesar Quintero is the founder of Fit2Go, a healthy meal delivery service that caters to health-conscious professionals. In his short book the Profit Recipe, Quintero brings in his entrepreneurial experience and shares the life lessons he’s picked up over the years to help aspiring restaurateurs make it big in the industry. He gives some significant pointers on identifying shifts and current trends that most people, including industry veterans, usually tend to miss. He also focuses on the importance of technology for restaurants. Quintero is a huge believer in delivery and off-premise dining, and quite rightly so, and he brings this outlook to the Profit Recipe as well.
For the Art of the Restaurateur, Nicholas Lander, a renowned consultant writer, travels the world and speaks with 20 industry leaders and in the process gathers unique, inspiring and often intriguing insights. Lander’s purpose with this book is to spotlight restaurateurs, rather than celebrity chefs, because he believes that the success of any restaurant depends on “the partnership of a visionary restaurateur alongside a talented chef” and not one individual’s vision alone. He attempts to do away with all trends and hypes that have so strongly defined the industry in recent years, and gets down to the very basics of running a restaurant. Some of the people featured in the book are Danny Meyer, Trevor Gulliver, Juli Soler and Joe Bastianich.
Out of Line: A Life of Playing with Fire whips up the perfect recipe of an entertaining and enlightening autobiography. Chef Barbara Lynch recounts her rough childhood in South Boston, how she hoodwinked her way into her first professional cooking job and then the final rise to celebrity stardom. In a no holds barred narrative, she shows her readers how she made it in the tough business through sheer force of character and an impeccable instinct. Lynch is an inspiration in so many ways and this book does full justice to her life and true grit. A fascinating read not only about making it in the food world but also how an individual can be responsible for their own destiny.