Day 12: Restaurant life on the Costa Blanca

Photo by: Arno Wesselink

Many British people who come to Spain to live and work, dream of owing a bar or restaurant in the sun, from the outside it seems like the perfect life.

For many they think that they will thrive on the challenges that they will face, but the reality is a different story. Long working hours, lots of Spanish red tape that can take months to get through and of course their knowledge of the language is poor.

Sitting in a local restaurant in the Moraira/Teulada area I am sat around a very Spanish looking table, enjoying the cool air and a refreshing drink with restaurant owners Sue and Tom* who moved to Spain 15 years ago at the height of Spain’s building boom. After a holiday in the sun, they packed up their lives in England and decided that they wanted to give their take away fish and chips business ago.

Tom told me that setting up a food business in Spain is a ‘mine field’. He said: “When you think you have gotten over the last hurdle, up come another three. An example of this was when we had just opened the chip shop and three months into it, the police came and closed us down, because we only had one toilet and not two, even though we were a take away. Someone in the Town Hall decided that there should be a male and a female toilet – we were a take away. ”

After promising that in the next six months Tom would install another toilet to his take away he was not allowed to open his business for another two weeks. This all happened in the middle of July and is typically a busy time for many shops, bars and restaurants due to the influx of tourists to the area.

“There are a lot of problems that people don’t see, until they start to go down that business road,” Tom said.

After seven years of owning their own fish and chips take-away Tom and Sue decided to sell up and buy a restaurant, which they have been running for five years. But they knew that it was not going to be easy, as they had to go through the red tape system again – most of it was fine, but when being told that they needed to fire-proof the ceiling of the restaurant they received no help from the local authorities and were told that it needed to be done, or they would not be able to operate their business. “They only wanted us to provide them with a certificate.” Tom told me.

“It took us two years to get the job done and cost us 7,000 Euros …that’s the sort of hurdles that people come up against,” said Tom.

Neither of them were aware of the problems or the long hours that they would be up against in owning a restaurant. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing” said Tom, “I would have probably stay and done a take-away which is pretty well-defined  – what you are selling and when you are selling it.”

But their are lots of great times to be had when owning a business like a restaurant and living in Spain. “The satisfaction of having a full restaurant and having 50 people walk away happy is great,” said Tom.

Sue said: “I love the people and the weather and meeting lots of different people in the restaurant… It’s a buzz seeing the same people and meeting new people as well.”

But in these tough economic times they have to work hard to keep their customers and to bring in new custom. “We host music and themed night on a Saturday night… everyone enjoys it. It keeps bringing people back.”

Being an English restaurant, many of their clients are English, but in recent months, especially, they have noticed that people are going back to the UK or pensioners can’t afford to eat out or other wise. Over the past three years there is a new general trend of people going back to the UK and pensioners passing away and these people not being replaced, as this continues many local business along the coast line will struggle.

If you want to own a business is Spain it’s important to do your research and seek professional advice. Tom said: “Come out here for six months, rent a property, dig in and then dig even deeper before you sign anything.”

Finally both Tom and Sue echoed how important it is that people who want to own businesses, any business in Spain, that they talk to local business people and get the full picture before doing anything. Learn the language and understand the laws will also ensure that your dreams of setting up a business is not riddled with nightmares.

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About samanthapidoux

Double Edward R Murrow award winner for 'Best Documentary' and 'Best Feature'. Community and freelance journalist and programme maker. Currently working at the Lincoln School of Journalism at the University of Lincoln.

Posted on August 31, 2012, in Features and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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