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Running successful restaurant isn't just about cash

Making money is the number one goal for any restaurateur, and it's the ultimate benchmark for success.

But for a new restaurant, profitability can take several long, excruciating years. So, what does success look like in the interim?

There may not be a one-size-fits-all definition. It's all relative. However, if you break the business aspects down into, er, small bites, you can find many different areas to feel the joy of achievement, and many more upon which to build future success. All while slowly losing your mind, waiting for another Sysco delivery.

Restaurant environment
Dan Dalton | Getty Images

One interim triumph is the emergence of a signature dish. When people consistently talk about your restaurant and, in the same breath, gush over, say, the splendor of your silk handkerchief pasta, that's something to celebrate.

Pop the cork!

But go easy. You're gonna have to wake up and make that dish again tomorrow.

And hopefully, during the rough years, you are also seeing an expanding customer base. The patronage of your sympathetic friends and neighbors can only last so long.

Take pride in seeing a growing number of new faces walking through the door. There's success in knowing that your overall quality is earning an audience and you are developing a distinctive brand.

Of course, one other success worth mentioning is effectively balancing work life and home life. The restaurant business comes with long hours and late nights. So, if you can effectively control the front and back of house, but also walk in through the front door of your home to a partner and/or children and/or a cat, and they still recognize your face, you're living a successful life.

Watch the video to hear how the hosts of "Restaurant Startup" define success.

Tune in to "Restaurant Startup," Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC, to watch entrepreneurs compete for the backing of the show's celebrity restaurateurs.