Planning on taking the leap and opening your own restaurant? The whole process can feel like walking through a darkened maze in boots made of concrete. It’s confusing and hard work. What is needed is a clear vision and the ability to stick to a plan. While there is no singular pathway to success, here are some general tips to get any aspiring restaurateur thinking on the right track.
Some of the most successful restaurants in the world start as an idea that builds and grows in the owner’s mind. Over time they map out what type of food will be served. This could involve drilling down on the story of where that menu comes from, both geographically and emotionally. The aspiring owner will understand every part of their target market: where they live, shop, eat and drink. They will know how much they spend, what they spend it on and how much they have in their pocket to spend on good food and drinks. As part of this, the restaurant’s brand values will evolve, hopefully aligning with the concept and the aspirations of the target market. There’s no use opening a hard-core Texas BBQ or Champagne bar in a suburb dominated by young vegetarian mortgagees with no disposable income.
The business model
If an Excel spreadsheet is not your best friend, it soon will be. The figures don’t lie. You can punch in your start-up capital, projected earnings and costs across a timeline to see if your concept is financially viable long before you start looking at that old butcher’s shop in the high street. Rent, wages, energy, insurance, food and beverage costs need to be understood back to front because restaurants are businesses. It doesn’t matter how good the chef is – unless the numbers stack up, you’re not in the game.
When looking for the perfect place to open your new eatery, there are five criteria to consider: visibility, competition, convenience, foot traffic and parking. Firstly, you need to be seen. Unless the concept is a hidden basement bar, your first and best marketing is your front window. An easily visible location will give you just that. When it comes to competition, being one of a dozen food outlets in the strip could mean there might not be enough clientele to support another business. Wherever you’re looking, it does need to be convenient and accessible. Public transport can be a plus, and where there is foot traffic, there is potential business. Most people still drive when going out so access to car spots when you plan to be open is important.
Staff and concepts need to be aligned. Starting a traditional Italian trattoria? You’ll need a chef who knows how to cook a bistecca di pollo con patate al forno and waitstaff who can pronounce sangiovese. Establishing a workflow and hierarchy early on with all team members on board is a recipe for success and helps with great customer experience and staff retention. Take your time hiring and get the best staff you can afford.
From the second someone makes a booking to the minute they walk through the door to the moment the last person turns off the lights needs to be planned, written down and then explained to the staff as to who does what and how. Training staff so every single member knows their role and how they interact with every other member of staff is essential. Having feedback systems so the team can tweak and perfect the operation empowers staff and is good for business.
Because it’s one of the last things in an opening plan to be implemented, the marketing budget sometimes gets consumed before the front door opens. A good marketing strategy, utilising old-fashioned word-of-mouth, opening night party, flyers and freebies for food journos, along with a targeted social media campaign, will help get your new restaurant in front of hungry eyeballs. Just make sure you leave enough dough to pay for it.
Opening a new business brings so much of its own energy and excitement. If you look like you’re having a good time and have a good story to tell, customers and critics are inclined to share your good news. Good luck and bon appetit!
As seen in Spring 2023