Samui Wining & Dining
Secrets of Success
Opening a new restaurant on Samui is easy; making a success
of it takes a great deal more effort and knowledge.


Secrets of SuccessMillions of tourists from all around the globe have visited Samui. And for some, the experience makes them re-evaluate their lives. They tend to return again and again and, for a small percentage of them, finding a way to live and work on the island becomes a reality. Sadly though, the dream can soon turn sour, particularly when they decide that what Samui really needs is another restaurant.


It can be done successfully but the odds are hugely stacked against it. There’re thousands upon thousands of places to eat on Samui. They range from up-market resort restaurants to beachside bistros, high-street franchises, innumerable roadside Thai restaurants, shacks and stalls, bars that also serve international food and stand alone independent restaurants. And the cuisines of dozens of countries are represented on the streets of Samui. Many open and close before you know it or die a slow death over a year or two with the owners using their savings to keep it afloat, for a while at least.


Let’s cover some of the pitfalls first. Not all of them, as that would need a telephone directory sized book. And let’s make some assumptions. You’ve decided to open a restaurant on Samui; you’ve contacted a lawyer here to deal with the appropriate documentation, work permits and visas; you’ve carried out months of research and questioned hundreds of potential customers; you’ve got a detailed business plan; and you’ve got a unique concept. Right? Okay, let’s just assume the first one.


Now ask yourself if owning and managing a restaurant is right for you? Does it mean that you’ll be working with your husband/wife/partner? Yeah, you’d be with them 24/7 as the Americans say. Or until both the marriage and the business rapidly disintegrate. And what makes you think you’d be a successful restaurateur? If you were a plumber or electrician at home or in fact anything other than in the restaurant business then stop reading now, get on a plane and go back home whilst you still have some money. Would you ask a food expert, an accountant, a marketing guru or a human resource manager to re-wire your house? No you wouldn’t. And you’ll need to be all of those and much more to run a successful restaurant.


Maybe you have some wonderful daydreams about what it would be like to own and manage a restaurant on Samui? Let’s stick a pin in some of those bubbles and swallow a couple of reality pills:


1) Running a restaurant will be great fun.

Oh, really. Is that because you’re such a fun person to be around all the time? It’s long hours and very stressful particularly when the only things coming through the doors are bills. Owning a restaurant means you will be at work the majority of the time, especially in the beginning. Do you like weekends, holidays, your kids’ birthdays, Christmas, New Year, a day off? Well too bad, you can forget about those.


2) It’s all about the right location.

Yes it is. And all the best spots are taken. You want to be on the beach or on the beach road? It would cost less to cover the debt of a small third world country. Paying more every month for the lease or rent on the premises than you generate in profit is one of the classic mistakes.


3) I’ll make loads of money.

No you won’t. The majority of new restaurants worldwide, not just on Samui, go out of business in the first seven months. Aside from massive start-up costs for the premises, kitchen equipment, tables and chairs, crockery and cutlery, advertising and marketing, recruitment and a period of zero income, there are also the monthly costs. Little things like staff salaries, insurance, tax, rent, food and liquor purchases. The list goes on and on. Many people think they will open a restaurant and draw a salary without actually cooking, managing or waiting tables. Restaurants can’t support dead weight for very long. If you don’t plan on working, don’t plan on getting paid.


4) I love to cook, so I should open my own restaurant.

Cooking for family and close friends is not the same as cooking for strangers who are slapping down hard-earned cash for your food. Even if friends and family say you should open a restaurant, remember, they are not the most impartial of judges. Your food can’t just be good it has to be great every single time. Samui is an incredibly competitive market place and you won’t have friends and family here to support you. And forget about the expat market; they’re either working too or cooking at home. Plus the fact that they’ve already got their favourite restaurants that they go to – and they’re not in the tourist areas.


5) Samui gets a million visitors a year; I only need a tiny percentage of them in my restaurant. How hard could that be?

That’s perhaps the biggest bubble that needs bursting. The market is saturated and no one knows you. And if you’re not on the main thoroughfare then they probably won’t find you unless you invest heavily in marketing and advertising. And modern day consumers are very knowledgeable about food and particular about what and where they eat. And it’s not just the food; the name of the restaurant has to quickly relate the style of cuisine you serve or they’ll move on to the next place within a second or two. And trying to cover every type of cuisine by having 200 dishes on the menu is guaranteed to fail. Putting ‘International and Thai Food’ on the sign only tells people one thing – you’re the same as everyone else. Décor, comfy seating, clean toilets, smiling staff, not to mention pricing are all factors as well. You only need to get one wrong.


Successful stand-alone restaurants are possible. And several are considered amongst the best on the island. The owners all have several things in common, however. They’ve all been chefs and restaurant managers who’ve worked at the highest levels in Europe and on Samui; they’ve all spent their entire careers in the industry; they’ve all spent at least five years on Samui before opening their own places; they all have excellent contacts with suppliers and have hired experienced staff that they’ve worked with and trained before; they all speak Thai and have a good understanding of the culture and ‘how’s things work’ here; they all have good contacts in the local community; they all marketed their new businesses extensively and spent years planning their ventures; and they all had a clear vision of what their concept was and who their customers would be. And they all had to, and still do, work exceptionally hard to turn a profit.


They would say that those aren’t secrets, but they are if you’re new to the restaurant business. Maybe being an electrician in Watford isn’t so bad after all!


Johnny Paterson


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