Tips for Opening a Restaurant: Five Things You May Not Think About

You've got the culinary chops, but you need more than magic in the kitchen to get a restaurant off the ground. Lots of factors go into keeping the lights on at a new establishment. Here are five tips for opening a restaurant that can make or break a business faster than you can flip a burger.

  1. Have and Keep a Business Plan
    Starting a restaurant is a journey, so a carefully planned road map is vital. You can start with the fun aspects like menu and decor, but eventually you need to think about things outside of your concept, such as your target customer, revenue projections, pricing and marketing. After that, focus on hiring — everyone from wait staff to advertising, permanent or temporary — and the training process. Although it goes against the power of positive thinking, plan a strategy for possible hiccups along the way. You'll be equipped to deal with unforeseeable challenges, like theft, when everything else is prepared.
  2. Know the Law
    Learning your city's local restaurant codes is a vital step in the process. Talk to other restaurant owners — it's a great way to learn about the bylaws and inspection policies they wrestled with and the regulations that crept up on them. For example, what liquor license you apply for depends on the type of restaurant you open and what you serve. It could take up to a year to get one, but most states, including Texas and New York, offer temporary permits. Some cities, like Chicago, make you pay outstanding debt, like parking tickets, before granting you a license of any kind. If you speak directly with regulatory agencies, all your paperwork will be sorted before a fork is lifted.
  3. Don't Cut Corners
    Once you've figured out your location's zoning requirements, you'll need to start building your business. If you're constructing a place from the ground up, your biggest (and most expensive) decision will be choosing the general contractor. You need someone who will be able to deliver your vision on your budget. A good contractor can help coordinate with electricians, carpenters, plumbers, designers and window installers. One cracked water main leads to an expense you weren't counting on, so having the best army behind you will minimize future damage.
  4. Account for the Little Things
    Opening a restaurant includes accounting for even the smallest item. Office supplies, light bulbs, hand soap, scrubbing pads and toilet paper can quickly add to your budget, so figure out if high-end pens or heavy-duty sponges are more important. In a business where you'll be making anywhere between five to eight percent profit, you need to calculate what the bottom line will likely be and maximize it. The smallest items can stealthily drive down that profit, so be thoughtful about how and where you choose to spend your hard-earned cash.
  5. Poll the Customers After You Open
    Go straight to the people who matter most and ask your customers what they think. It's good to start with how they found out about your restaurant, since it helps you decide where your marketing and advertising budget is best spent. Though the feedback could be mixed, ask patrons about your menu, location and facilities, too. The most important question you ask will be, "Why?" Whether the answers are negative or positive, anything that helps fine-tune the dining experience will benefit your business.

Your goal at the end of every week is attracting paying customers and increasing table turnover (as well as serving up a string of delicious meals). Start with these tips for opening a restaurant and you'll be well on your way to a smooth launch.

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