Counter Culture

Come And Get It

Anyone with sufficient capital can own a diner. It takes a special person, however, to give a diner life. In addition to vision, you need a strong grasp of restaurant economics. Operating hours are long, and menus are varied. "Diners are highly dependent on turnover," Garbin points out. "Also, alcohol sales are usually not successful, so you're limited to the relatively low profit margins of serving food."

Busy, visible locations--such as shopping malls--are desirable but expensive. Add typical building costs, which range from $150,000 to more than $1 million, and even a modest diner is a major undertaking.

Higginbotham at 5 & Diner claims that franchising can eliminate some of the risks, especially for newcomers to food service. "In this business, you're dealing with a lot of variables," he says. "Doing research, advertising, tracking sales--these things can get neglected," with negative effects on the bottom line. Independents and franchisees alike need solid strategies for dealing with both the mundane details and larger issues associated with diner ownership.

Perhaps the best starting point for any aspiring diner owner is to visit various new and vintage diners. Although owning a diner is decidedly different from patronizing one, there's no better way to understand the diner's magic than to experience it firsthand--counter by counter, pie by pie, one bottomless cup at a time.

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Counter Culture.

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