How to Open a Restaurant


Restaurant Business Profile

Ask a restaurant consultant about whether opening a restaurant is a good idea, the succinct answer you’re likely to get is: “Don’t!” For many new restaurant owners who do not know what they are getting into, the failure rate is high, the costs can soar out of control and the hours are brutal. However, with the right vision, attitude and knowledge, you can open a restaurant that people will definitely patronize. If you are convinced that you are the next Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver or Wolfgang Puck, put on your toque, brush up on your knife skills and forge ahead.

  1. Clarify the concept and theme that you want your restaurant to project. Put all the proposed details — from decor to dessert choices — in writing. If you can’t write about them, then they probably need more thought.
  2. Investigate the regulatory requirements, both city and state. Prepare for a plethora of paperwork, including byzantine building codes with regulations covering everything from kitchen exhaust systems to interior finish requirements.
  3. Find an ideal location. Do a demographic study of the surrounding area. Research the amount of foot traffic and the availability of easy parking. Then negotiate a lease you can afford.
  4. Research and develop your menu early in the game. Conduct proper studies on the cuisine that would work for the demographic in the area, and which would fit in with the concept of your restaurant. Taste-test the recipes repeatedly until the kitchen can achieve consistency. Remember that the food also has to look good on the plate. Plot out your menu-pricing strategy. Have the final menu proofread before sending it to the printer.
    • The kitchen layout and equipment purchases would depend on the menu that you plan to serve. Reduce your equipment costs either by purchasing used equipment or leasing new ones.
  5. Find the funds. Take all of the research that you have conducted and write a detailed business plan. Research on all the costs that would come with the opening of a restaurant — from the site, to equipment, to labor — and list them all in the business plan. Consider forming a small private corporation or starting limited partnership. Keep in mind that you should raise an amount larger than the capital that you think you need, in order to provide a buffer for unforeseen costs. Many restaurant consultants blame the high rate of new restaurant failures on undercapitalization.
  6. Allocate the available space. Remember that in addition to dining and kitchen areas, you’ll need room for dishwashing, storage, bathrooms and administrative work. Map out the layout clearly, so as to not miss out on space for important functions.
    • Plan the layout for the dining area. Remember to balance your desire for the maximum number of seats with your future customers’ desire to shun tables crammed into awkward corners. Also, avoid locating tables in the middle of the room like woebegone little islands. Keep the layout balanced and pleasing, and give each table sufficient personal space.
    • Keep the kitchen layout focused on efficient, safe food preparation. Ensure that there is sufficient light and ventilation, as well as enough space so that cooks, servers and dishwashers are not bumping into one another at the busiest times.
  7. Work on the details and decor for the restaurant.
    • Don’t neglect the graphics. From the exterior signage to the look of the menus, graphic design plays an important part in a restaurant’s overall look.
    • Pay attention to lighting design. Focus dramatic light onto the tables to highlight the food, and complement it with glowing atmospheric light to make customers look good.
  8. Investigate insurance needs thoroughly. Start planning for insurance early and ask them for advice about how to properly cover your restaurant business. Restaurants are simmering stockpots of potential accidents-from fires to floods to food poisoning and a hundred other potential horrors.
  9. Select and train the staff. Look for enthusiasm as well as experience. Allow ample training time before the restaurant opens. Remember that the person running the front of the house is as important as the person running the kitchen, and great service is as important a factor in winning customer loyalty as great food.
    • Designate a core of trusted employees to supervise storage areas carefully. Stress that they must check in all deliveries and audit the food inventory frequently.
  10. Set up a bookkeeping and accounting system. Establish control over the meal checks. There are dozens of scams that dishonest servers and cashiers can pull; get some expert advice on how to prevent them.
  11. Pass your opening inspection by a food safety specialist with your local health department, along with a plumbing inspection. You’ll receive a permit to operate, which will be reviewed yearly.
  12. Open your doors and welcome hungry diners.


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