Restaurant operators juggle dozens of tasks on a daily basis. They spend their days monitoring financial metrics, running payroll, checking on tables, managing employees, creating schedules, reviewing sales analytics, paying vendors, and receiving orders — just to name a few! And every day brings new challenges.
That’s why many restaurant owners choose to not go it alone. From both a logistical and a financial perspective, having a business partner can make restaurant operations much easier.
Restaurant business partners can choose to collaborate on tasks equally, or divide them based on their individual skill sets. Maybe one restaurant partner is an analytical wizard, and the other is a supportive, experienced people manager — both elements are critical to the success of the business, and each partner can focus on the areas where they can have the greatest impact.
Plus, having a business partner can help provide the elusive work-life balance that so many restaurateurs dream of. By having a co-owner, there’s someone you can trust to be at the helm of the restaurant while you’re at a kid’s soccer game or on vacation.
We’ll get into the benefits and risks of a restaurant partnership, how to find a business partner, and how to evaluate potential partners. We'll also share a list of different types of partnerships to explore in restaurant management.
The benefits and risks of restaurant business partnerships
Some restaurant owners build their business from the ground up in collaboration with a business partner, while others open their business alone, and then seek out a business partner later in order to sustainably grow the business.
Having a business partner can be extremely beneficial — depending on the partner, they can bring in more capital to help grow the business; provide support, ideas, and collaboration; offer skills to complement yours; and understand the nuances of your business better than anyone else.
It’s important to note that having a restaurant business partner means splitting the profits generated by your business. But if your skill sets work well enough together, you can generate more sales, keep employees happy, grow the business sustainably, and achieve a high enough profit margin to keep both parties financially satisfied.
However, going into business with someone who isn’t the right fit can bring huge risk to your business, even if they have the finances to make the partnership seem good on paper. A restaurant co-owner who has a toxic management style, is stubborn and uncooperative, struggles with open communication, or simply isn’t a good fit for your team can lead to costly inefficiencies, employee turnover, financial losses, and even threaten your business as a whole.
That’s why it’s so important to tread carefully and choose the right restaurant partner for your business.
Factors to consider when seeking out a business partner
Here are a few questions and considerations to help guide your search for a restaurant business partner and prevent bad partnerships from happening.
1. Relationship and history
Have you worked with this person before, or do you know them on a personal level only? Owning a business with someone often means signing up to spend more time with them than your own family. Do you know that you enjoy spending time together and working together?
Though family businesses are relatively common in the restaurant industry, be wary of going into business with relatives or close friends. If you do take this route, talk through every possible scenario and how you’d approach your relationship if things with the business go sour.
2. Collaboration and communication styles
Do you prefer to talk in person or on the phone, and are they more suited to texting and emails? If there’s a disconnect here, come up with a formal communication plan to bridge the gap. Schedule the right cadence of quick check-ins, calls, and in-person meetings, and designate what kinds of issues are fine to deal with over text and which require live collaboration.
Do they have the funds needed to buy an ownership stake in the business? Will their capital help you reach your business goals? How much do you need your business partner to bring to the table — and is it more or less than you brought? If you're looking for a restaurant investor who goes beyond financial support, confirm that they also have the operating and expansion experience, industry credibility, and business savvy to help your restaurant succeed.
4. Industry experience
Have they worked in the restaurant industry before — and ideally, in a management position? Not all successful restaurant business partners have worked in restaurants, but it’s an extremely helpful qualification if they have.
5. Complementary skills
Does this business partner have skills that cover gaps in your own expertise? For example, having one restaurant business partner with more front-of-house experience and another with more back-of-house experience can ensure that the restaurant has all the expertise needed to run smoothly. If your skill set is on the creative side, find a partner who complements that with a finance or business background.
How to find a restaurant business partner
Many restaurant business partners find each other while working in other restaurants. However, there are other routes you can take.
Take courses at a local business school or culinary school. Not only will you learn crucial skills about restaurant management and running a business, but you’ll find a community of others looking to do the same.
Reach out to current or former colleagues, preferably from the restaurant industry, who you always enjoy collaborating with.
Attend local industry events and start networking.
Connect with friends or family who might be interested in being a business partner — or if you’re just looking for financial backing, an investor or silent partner.
Peruse online networking sites and hospitality industry communities to meet potential business partners.
Favorites Thai BBQ: A successful restaurant partnership
Favorites Thai BBQ in Toronto is the brainchild of restaurateurs Jesse Fader, Jonathan Poon, and Monte Wan — restaurant partners, chefs, and co-owners who, between them, have started seven restaurants around Toronto. Each co-owner has specialized in opening and operating restaurants with different cuisines and vibes including an Italian restaurant, a wine bar, and several Thai food spots. Monte Wan is known in the Toronto area for his popular Thai restaurant Khao San Road.
Jonathan Poon came up with the concept for a new Thai BBQ restaurant after testing his ideas at a backyard wine party event and receiving tons of incredible feedback. The vision behind Favorites Thai was “to introduce people to dishes they didn’t necessarily know about.” Jonathan wanted to build a unique Thai barbecue concept that combined Eastern and Western flavors to create completely new, but comforting dishes. He pulled in chef Haan Palcu-Chang, then approached Monte Wan and Jesse Fader as partners to get the restaurant off the ground.
The trio joined together to branch away from traditional Thai food which, according to chef Haan Palcu-Chang, “ain’t going to be your green, yellow, red curry and Pad Thai joint.” Palcu-Chang helped establish Favorites as a local hotspot — he has experience at Michelin-star Kiin Kiin and brought a strong vision for a unique Thai menu.
Bringing together varying experiences and skill sets into a restaurant partnership has helped the business succeed. Today, the Favorites team continues to bring new types of regional Thai cuisine to Toronto, and even received a Bib Gourmand award from Michelin.
We're trying to do something that is Thai-inspired, Thai in mentality, and something that's our own.
Other restaurant partnership examples
Restaurant partnerships often go beyond just business partners: restaurants also partner with vendors, local organizations, and technology providers to increase their reach and streamline operations to scale in ways that wouldn’t be possible without outside help.
Administrative and professional services partners
There are a lot of professionals who help keep restaurants running while rarely, if ever, setting foot in the business. Accountants, real estate agents, insurance carriers, and lawyers are all crucial collaborators with skills that are worth investing in. Don’t wait until there’s a serious problem to start searching for an accountant or a lawyer — build relationships with these professional services experts early in your restaurant opening process.
Business community partnerships
Many restaurants partner with local organizations in order to give back to their community, build brand awareness and loyalty, and reach new customers.
A great example is Chicago-based Lawrence’s Fish & Shrimp, who partnered with the Friends of the Chicago River organization to host a Chicago River Day cleanup event. Thousands of volunteers showed up from the local area to collect trash from 156 miles of the Chicago River. The restaurant got to reach new people who they otherwise may never have connected with — while doing good for the community.
Restaurant marketing partnerships
Restaurants are hyper-local businesses: for the most part, the audience they really need their marketing efforts to reach are people who live, or visit, their city. Co-marketing with other nearby restaurants, brands, and tourism organizations is a great way to reach potential customers in your own neighborhood who maybe haven’t yet heard of you.
Here are a few ways to go about co-marketing your local business:
Promo for promo: Your restaurant posts a social media shout-out to another restaurant, and they do the same for you.
Limited-time combo discounts: Set up a deal where your restaurant gives a free appetizer to customers who show proof that they’ve visited a partnering business in the past week — and have the partner offer a similar incentive.
Create a collaborative menu item: Work with a local ice cream vendor to create a co-branded dessert for your restaurant, and have both businesses post about it on social media.
Here’s an example of how restaurants can partner with other local businesses to cross-promote one another, get in front of a new audience, and drum up new business. Chicago-based Manny’s Cafeteria and Deli launched a “Sweet Summer” series where they partnered with local dessert shops to host pop-ups in their deli and promote the authentic spirit of Chicago to their diners. The Manny’s team shared, “Our guests, who come from all over the country, will be able to experience a true taste of Chicago all under one roof.”
Food delivery partnerships
Managing your own online orders and delivery is time consuming, inefficient, and logistically challenging. Plus, doing it all yourself means the only people who order from you already know who you are, which limits your growth.
Restaurant delivery partners like DoorDash can facilitate your delivery and online ordering so you don’t have to spend time hiring drivers and building your own online ordering system. Listing your business on the DoorDash Marketplace connects you to new customers in your area as well as Dashers to facilitate deliveries. It can also integrate directly into your POS for seamless operations.
You can also try out DoorDash Storefront, which lets you set up commission-free online ordering on your own restaurant website. That means there's no need to pay a developer to build your own online ordering platform, and you can enjoy no monthly fees or commission fees.
How to vet a restaurant partnership
When bringing on a new partner, whether it’s a co-owner, a marketing collaborator, or a food delivery partner, consider the following:
Make sure expectations are mapped out on both sides. What will each party get from this partnership? How much work, time, or capital is each party expected to put in?
Use formal contracts. Talking through expectations isn’t enough to protect either party from disappointment, liability, or financial risk if things don’t work out. Enlist the help of a legal professional if needed.
Ensure your values are aligned. Especially important for business partners and marketing partnerships, make sure all collaborators have compatible values and goals.
Collaborate with restaurant partners who invest in your growth
The best partnerships in the restaurant industry are rooted in open collaboration and mutual success — the ones that are a true win-win situation.
Need help getting your business idea off the ground? Use our free Business Plan Template to align with your business partner on startup tasks, goals, and ongoing responsibilities. You can also follow our guide for creating a restaurant pitch deck to wow potential partners and investors.