Whether your dream is to open a chinese, poke, shabu, pizzeria, or sushi restaurant, a little bit of insight and planning goes a long way towards making your restaurant dream pay off in big ways.
From selecting the perfect location, to choosing attractive menu items, to hiring great staff and attracting customers, there are crucial activities that any successful restaurant owner must manage successfully in order to create the thriving business of their dreams.
We’ve compiled a list of 8 critical strategies to help you start a restaurant that will change your life.
Before you start your new adventure, ask yourself these important questions.
Everybody dreams that their restaurant idea will attract a continuous stream of happy customers walking into and out of their doors.
While a good idea is a necessary starting point, it is just one step in the equation of operating a successful restaurant business.
A good idea becomes viable when supplemented by strong passion and determination.
To gauge whether you are ready to embark on this new journey, start by asking yourself these questions.
- Do you have a passion for opening a restaurant as your next career move? No one will care more about your restaurant than you will, so your passion will create the culture that attracts quality staff and customers alike.
- Are you ready to handle the business aspects (bookkeeping, management, accounting, marketing, sales, HR) of running a restaurant?
- Are you a patient person? Success comes from perseverance, and many restaurants shut down after a couple of years if their owners are not seeing immediate results.
- Are you a people person? A good restaurant owner takes an active role in the dining room, greeting customers, and communicating with them to learn about and solve problems.
- If you answered Yes to all of the above, then great, you have the right frame of mind, now lets make sure you understand what it takes before spending any money.
Get hands on training before you start
The best way to eliminate future stressors and risks of owning a restaurant is by working in one (ideally the same type you would like to start).
You can think of it as getting paid to learn the ropes.
You can participate in all the successes, and failures of the workplace without wasting your time and your own money.
Try to work in as many different restaurant jobs as possible and speak to those holding positions in key areas (ie. owner, supervisor, head chef, waiter) and you’ll discover insights and knowledge that can help prevent future mistakes.
Besides learning what satisfies the customers you hope to attract, find out what it takes to provide excellent customer service, develop a creative menu, get compliance with local, state, and federal regulations, how to manage people, how to market, how to sale, and many other critical skills necessary to run a successful restaurant business.
Once you feel you have a good understanding of all the areas, its time to start planning your restaurant.
Know who you want to attract
You’ve heard the old adage that it’s never wise to underestimate your competition, even though you think you can do better.
After all, the restaurant down the street that’s been around forever is obviously doing something right, or else they wouldn’t still be in business, and you probably don’t want them taking all of your future business.
There is something about these other restaurants that appeal to patrons. Find out what it is and ask yourself, Why do people come here? What’s the appeal? How can I serve them better?
A simple way to get these answers is to visit your competitors and observe the type of people who frequent them, what they are ordering, and the general comments they are making. Also, you can get keen insight from the positive and negative comments left on your competitor’s social media (ie. Facebook, Twitter), Yelp, and Google My Business Listings.
Choose a Solid Restaurant Concept (What Makes You Unique?)
Restaurant concepts are often conceived around current food trends. Shabu shabu, ramen, personalized pizzas, and custom burgers may be the fad now, but how long will these last?
Creating a concept around a diverse menu that offers a variety of classic and new dishes is likely to remain popular with diners today and 10 years from now.
Remember copying a restaurant makes you simply “another restaurant X, but not the original.” For example, does anyone want to visit another Chipotle, when they can simply visit Chipotle?
While your restaurant can be “influenced” by other establishments, find a way to make it stand out by making it authentically yours.
Create a Desirable Menu
Your menu can make or break your restaurant, so it is worth the time and investment to make sure that it flows well with your restaurant concept and ambiance.
Most importantly, your menu should be attractive to your target market, and complements your restaurant’s ambiance.
As you are writing your menu, consider factors like the size of your restaurant kitchen, availability of ingredients, and the equipment you need.
Locally grown produce, organic items, fusion dishes (combining multiple ethnic cuisines into one dish) are rising in popularity. Consumers are also eating more chicken, beef, and seafood dishes than they have in recent years but also want to see meatless alternatives.
Menus that include a number of ethnic dishes are also popular. It’s not surprising to find Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, French, and American cuisines on the same menu.
Though menu variety is steadily increasing, menus themselves are growing shorter. Busy consumers prefer not to read a lengthy menu. Keep an eye out on the number of menu items, and make sure their descriptions are simple and straightforward to make selecting an item a breeze.
Location, Location, Location
Now that you have your target customers, restaurant concept, and menu items ready to go, it is time to secure a viable location.
Ideally, the location should have a continuous flow of traffic, convenient parking with easy access, and is close to other businesses that drive visitors to your restaurant (especially your target market).
To determine if the location has potential, calculate the total pedestrian traffic walking past that location during business hours and how many are likely to be customers.
Additionally, it is also wise to find out who the previous tenants were and why they are no longer occupying the space in addition to future development that could affect your business positively, or negatively.
Once you locate a desirable, and affordable location, it is time to shift your attention to the type of people you will need to hire to operate your business.
Your restaurant will only be as successful as the people you hire
One of the biggest hurdles restaurants face is hiring and retaining qualified and motivated staff. Nothing is more expensive, and time consuming then continuing to recruit, hire and train new employees.
Therefore, in order to attract and retain qualified employees, it is crucial to start by hiring right.
By making it crystal clear what you are looking for in the job description, not just in terms of job duties but also what you are looking for culturally, it will help to filter out some unqualified candidates from the start.
When your restaurant is new, some employees’ duties may cross over from one category to another so hire people that not only have a good blend of personality and experience, but also are willing to be flexible in their duties.
Do some research to find out what the pay rates are in your area and then establish a minimum and maximum rate that makes you completive.
Once you find them, provide initial and ongoing training on to help them improve their skills and operational efficiencies. Well-trained employees are often happier, confident, more effective and have lower turnover.
The best way to acquire restaurant equipment
Once you’ve decided on your location and what goes on your menu, it’s time to turn your attention to purchasing kitchen equipment and supplies.
Equipment is typically the biggest expense faced by new restaurant owners, so selecting quality, reliable, and affordable equipment and supplies that fits your restaurant type is critical on a tight budget. The last thing you want is spending money on equipment that is unable to service the needs of your restaurant.
Since you are likely to purchase cooking equipment, refrigerators, fryers, ovens, and serving ware that you will depend on to operate your business effectively, it is important to see and demo the equipment from a local seller to ensure that it meets your needs before you buy it.
Establishing an ongoing relationship with a dependable, and trustworthy equipment and supplies seller also goes a long way towards allowing you to focus on working on your business instead of just in it.