Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Do you have an idea for the perfect restaurant, but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. Unless you’re an experienced restaurateur, the ins and outs of how to open a restaurant can be a bit of a mystery. But it doesn’t have to be! With the right plan, you can take your idea for a restaurant from just that (an idea) and transform it into a thriving, successful business.
Let’s take a look at the 8 steps you need to start a restaurant — so you know exactly how to turn your culinary dreams into reality.
- Decide what kind of restaurant you want to open.
- Define your brand.
- Create a business plan for your restaurant.
- Take care of the legalities.
- Find (and equip) your restaurant space.
- Hire your staff.
- Create your menu.
- Start marketing your restaurant.
1. Decide what kind of restaurant you want to open.
First things first — before you can figure out how to start a restaurant, you need to figure out what type of eatery you’re going to open. A barbecue joint or a coffee shop? A food truck or a tapas bar? It’s important to have clarity on your restaurant concept before you get started.
A clear concept will give you direction on the steps you need to take to get your restaurant off the ground. For example, the process of opening an upmarket Italian restaurant is going to, in many ways, be different from opening a burger food truck. It will also help you identify competitors in the market, so you can start thinking about how you’re going to differentiate yourself, grab customer attention and drive them into your restaurant.
If you’re not sure what type of eatery you want to open, here are some questions you can ask yourself to dig deeper and gain more clarity on your concept:
- What type of cuisine do I want to serve?
- What type of customer am I going after?
- What type of cuisine or dining experience is missing in my market — and how can I fill that need?
- How can I be different and better than existing restaurants in my market? What can I give my customers that no one else can?
2. Create your brand identity.
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of restaurant you want to open (and chosen a name!), it’s time to define who you are as a brand and how you’re going to bring that brand to life. This brand identity includes all of the elements you’ll use to communicate your brand to your customers. The main branding elements (or building blocks) you’ll need to define include:
- Brand fonts
- Brand colour palette
Once you have your brand building blocks in place, you can use them to build everything you need to effectively grow and market your restaurant business, from your website to your signage and business cards.
Your branding is important because it communicates in a visual way who you are as a restaurant — which can help to connect with your target diners. Different branding will send a different message and pull in a different crowd…so make sure your branding is a reflection of who (and what) you want to serve.
Let’s say you’re opening a chic, upmarket restaurant serving farm-to-table cuisine. Using a cartoon mascot in your branding isn’t necessarily going to communicate the right brand message to your customers. Instead, consider a minimalist, monochromatic logo design for your concept that doesn’t read too family-friendly.
Depending on your knowledge of design and branding, you may want to hire an expert to help define your look. 99designs by Vista makes it easy to connect with experienced creative professionals around the world who can bring your restaurant vision to life.
3. Create a business plan for your restaurant.
Once you know what type of restaurant you want to open, it’s time to draft a business plan. Think of a business plan as your restaurant road map: it gives you clear directions on how to get from where you are now (a person with an idea for a restaurant) to where you want to be (an established restaurateur with a thriving eatery).
Your business plan lays out your strategy for opening and launching your restaurant — the more detailed you are, the easier it will be for you to implement that strategy and get your restaurant up and running. Make sure to include all the information and details you’ll need to move forward with your restaurant idea, including:
- Restaurant name and description. What are you going to name your business— and what’s your restaurant concept? Try to think of a catchy slogan or signature hashtag to reinforce your eatery’s identity.
- Target customers. In order for your restaurant to be successful, you need customers — and in order to attract those customers, you need to know what kind of diners you’re going after. Do research on your market, the types of eateries that do well and what kind of diners those eateries do well with. Then, focus in on your restaurant’s target demographic.
- Competitor analysis. What eateries do you consider your competition? How are those restaurants performing? And how do you plan to differentiate yourself and drive diners inside? It’s important to familiarise yourself with competing small businesses in your area so you can take the right steps to stand out.
- Restaurant start-up budget. Before you get too far into building your restaurant, you need to get clear on the costs of opening a restaurant — and how that compares to your budget. For example, how much money do you need to open your restaurant? What will your monthly operating costs be? How much start-up capital do you have — and do you need to explore outside funding options (for example, a business loan)? Getting clear on your costs and budget from the beginning will set you up for financial success down the line.
- Safety plan. Ensuring a safe environment for your staff and customers is an absolute must. How are you going to ensure a safe environment for your customers and staff? What food safety protocols will you implement? Make sure you have a plan for how you’re going to ensure safety around food and in the work environment.
- Sample menu. What types of food/dishes are you going to serve?
- Service options. There are plenty of ways to operate a restaurant — and before you open your doors, you need to narrow down which of those service options you’re going to offer your guests. For example, are you going to be a dine-in only operation? Are you going to focus on takeaway and delivery? Or do you plan to give your customers a variety of dining options? Figuring out how you’re going to serve your customers from the start will ensure you set up your business in a way that supports those service options.
- Staffing needs. As the old saying goes, ‘you’re only as good as your team’. That’s true in the business world — and it’s true in the restaurant world. Before you get too far into the restaurant opening process, identify who you need to hire to open, manage and run your restaurant. (More on this later!)
- Marketing plan. Figuring out how to open your restaurant is one part of the equation, but figuring out how to market it is just as important. In your business plan, draft out the different strategies you plan to use to get the word out about your new business — and drive customers into the restaurant.
- Revenue goals. In order for your business to stay open for the long term, you need it to be financially sustainable — and you need to define what that looks like from the beginning. What are your financial goals for your restaurant, and when do you hope to hit those goals?
4. Take care of the legalities.
When you launch a new restaurant (or any small business venture), there are certain legal steps you’ll need to take. Before you open your doors and start serving customers, you’ll want to check all relevant legal and compliance items off your to-do list, including:
- Registering your business
- Obtaining any necessary licences or certificates (for example, an alcohol licence or food safety certificate)
- Opening a business bank account
It’s important to note that the process of legally establishing your business can vary based on a number of factors, including your location and business structure. Make sure to do your due diligence to make sure you’re following all relevant rules and regulations when opening your business. If you want to be completely certain your restaurant is set up the right (and legal) way, it could be worth getting some expert legal advice on the matter.
5. Find (and equip) your restaurant space.
Once you’ve taken all the legal steps to open your restaurant, you’ll need to find an actual restaurant location.
When evaluating potential restaurants, ideally, you’ll find a space that’s in a popular area with plenty of foot traffic. This way, people walking by will see your new eatery and be tempted to come inside — which can be a great way to find your first customers and start generating buzz around your restaurant.
Once you secure your restaurant space, you’ll need to equip it with everything you need to start serving customers, both for back of house (kitchen appliances, cookware, staff uniforms) and front of house (tables, chairs, utensils). Depending on your budget, you have the option to buy or lease most items you need for a restaurant. Once you have a clear idea of what you need, you can compare the costs and benefits of buying vs. leasing for each item — and make the decision that makes the most sense for you.
Need uniforms for your team? Outfit your entire staff with on-brand gear to spread awareness about your eatery and reinforce your brand identity. Add your restaurant logo to T-shirts, polos, hats, jackets and more — and make sure your staff is serving in style.
6. Hire your staff.
You may have an amazing idea for a restaurant, but you need to hire the right team to bring that idea to life. Exactly who you need to hire will depend on your restaurant, but some staff members you should consider hiring from the beginning (for both front of house and back of house) include:
Front of house:
- Restaurant Manager
- Bar staff
Back of house (kitchen):
- Sous chef
- Cleaning staff
- Kitchen supervisor
Also consider hiring some ‘back of house’ employees to help you out with operations and marketing. Find an accountant or bookkeeper to help you take care of your taxes, or a local web designer to swap services with.
Remember, a huge part of your restaurant’s success depends on the people you hire. Make sure to put plenty of time and energy into the hiring and interviewing process to find the right people.
7. Create your menu.
The heart of any restaurant is the food it serves. So, one of the most important steps you’ll take when starting a restaurant? Crafting your menu.
Your menu should feature a variety of dishes that speak to both who you are as a restaurant and the kind of customer you’re trying to attract. Work with your chef to finalise your offerings and then create a menu. Whether printed or digital, your menu should feel on-brand, and describe each dish in a way that’s going to grab the attention of potential customers.
Planning on updating your menu often? Printing paper menus every time you swap a dish can get expensive. Instead, try using a QR code for your menu. You can put your QR code on each table and in the window to tempt hungry passers-by. Then, when you need to update your menu or add a new dish, you can just change your menu digitally.
8. Start marketing your restaurant.
You’ve created your restaurant business plan. You’ve found and equipped your restaurant space. You’ve hired an amazing team, crafted a must-try menu…now, all that’s left to do? Get the word out. It’s time to tell customers you’re open for business and start driving diners through your doors.
There are plenty of ways to market your new restaurant — it’s all about trying different tactics until you find what really lands with your target customers. Here are some relatively low-cost ways to start marketing your new restaurant:
- Offer a ‘grand opening’ discount to incentivise customers to dine at your restaurant during opening week.
- Host local food bloggers or restaurant critics and have them write about your restaurant and share photos with their followers.
- Run ads on your favourite social channels to target people nearby.
- Partner with local businesses and offer a discount to their customers. For example, if you’re opening a vegan restaurant, you might reach out to a local gym or health food shop and give them an exclusive discount code to send to their email list and/or vouchers to pass out to their patrons in person.