Want to Open a Restaurant? Here's a Step-By-Step Guide

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Starting and opening a new restaurant is an exciting venture that can be both a rewarding and challenging experience. It takes work, however. Opening a successful restaurant requires a strong business plan, an understanding of the local market, an eye for the right location and staff, permits and business licenses, inventory and supplies management, appealing menus and more.

If it’s your first time, you’ll need to look beyond the grand opening and strategize for generating a cash flow that allows you to do more than just break even. Still, with the right guidance, you can make your dreams of owning a successful restaurant come true. This guide will give you all the information you need to start and open a restaurant. It will cover everything from creating a new business plan to setting up operations and marketing your restaurant. By following this guide step by step, you can open a restaurant that will attract customers for years to come.

What’s Inside

Target markets

Breaking into a new market is a challenge, and no single food-service operation has universal appeal. Many newer entrepreneurs have trouble accepting this fact, but it’s impossible to capture 100% of the market. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. So focus on the five or 10% of the target market that you can get — and forget about the rest.

With that said, who’s eating at restaurants? Let’s look at the main market categories of food-service business customers:

  • Generation Z
    The youngest consumers represent about 20% of Americans and make up the first digitally native generation. Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Zers grew up with smart phones, and many are socially minded – embracing the crossover of commerce and mental health, for example. And if you want their attention, act fast: young consumers are quicker to tune out ads than older generations.
  • Millennials
    This generation was born between 1980 and 2000. Millennials account for more than three times as many people as Generation X, and they’re a prime target for a food-service business. This generation often opts for fast-food and quick-service items, with about 25 percent of their restaurant visits going to burger franchises, followed by pizza restaurants at 12 percent.
  • Generation X
    Generation X is a label applied to those who were born between 1965 and 1980. This group is known for strong family values. While earlier generations strove to do better financially than their parents, many Gen Xers are focused on their children. They are concerned with value, and they favor quick-service restaurants and midscale operations that offer all-you-can-eat salad bars and buffets. To appeal to this market group, offer a comfortable atmosphere that focuses on value and ambience.
  • Baby boomers
    Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers make up the second-largest segment of the U.S. population, after millennials. Prominent in this generation are affluent professionals who can afford to visit upscale restaurants and spend money freely. Many boomers are becoming grandparents, making them a target of restaurants that offer a family-friendly atmosphere and those that provide an upscale, formal dining experience.
  • Empty nesters
    This group consists of older Gen X and seniors (people in their early 50s to about age 64). Empty nesters typically have grown children who no longer live at home, and their ranks will continue to increase as Gen X grows older and their children leave home. With the most discretionary income and the highest per-capita income of all the generations, this group typically visits upscale restaurants. They are less concerned with price and are more focused on excellent service and outstanding food. Appeal to this group with elegant surroundings and a sophisticated ambience.
  • Seniors
    The senior market covers the large age group of people age 65 and older. Generally, the majority of seniors are on fixed incomes and may not often be able to afford upscale restaurants often, so they tend to visit family-style restaurants that offer good service and reasonable prices. “Younger” seniors are likely to be more active and have more disposable income than “older” seniors, but the group typically appreciates restaurants that offer early-bird specials and senior menus with lower prices and smaller portions, since their appetites are less hearty than those of younger people.

Restaurant service styles

Restaurants are classified into three primary categories: quick-service, midscale and upscale. Quick-service restaurants are also known as fast-food restaurants. These establishments offer limited menus of items that are prepared quickly and sold for a relatively low price. In addition to very casual dining areas, they typically offer drive-thru windows and take-out service.

When people think of fast-food restaurants, they often think of hamburgers and french fries, but establishments in this category also serve chicken, hot dogs, sandwiches, wraps, salads, pizza, fresh seafood, grain bowls and foods from other regions.

Midscale restaurants, as the name implies, occupy the middle ground between quick-service and upscale restaurants. They offer full meals but charge prices that customers perceive as providing good value with plenty of special offers. Midscale restaurants offer a range of limited and full-service options. In a full-service restaurant, patrons place and receive their orders at their tables; in a limited-service operation, patrons order their food at a counter and then receive their meals at their tables. Many limited-service restaurants offer salad bars and buffets.

Upscale restaurants offer full table service and do not necessarily promote their meals as offering great value; instead, they focus on the quality of their cuisine and the ambience of their facilities. These are the places that find themselves on a list of trip ideas for tourists looking for great food from a renowned chef. Fine-dining establishments are at the highest end of the upscale restaurant category and charge the highest prices.

Selecting a food concept

Restaurant patrons want to be delighted with their dining experience, but they don’t necessarily want to be surprised. If you’re anticipating a family-style steakhouse (based on the name or the décor of the establishment) but find yourself in a more formal environment with a bewildering — and pricey — gourmet menu, the surprise may keep you from enjoying the restaurant. Concepts let patrons know in advance what to expect, and they provide some structure for how to operate restaurants. Here are some of the more popular restaurant concepts:

  • Seafood
    Quick-service seafood restaurants generally offer a limited range of choices, often restricted to fried seafood. Midscale and upscale seafood restaurants offer a wider selection, prepared in ways other than fried, such as baked, broiled and grilled. Seafood can be a risky area on which to focus, as prices are always changing, and many kinds of seafood are seasonal. Also, quality can vary tremendously. When shopping for seafood, make sure the items are fresh and meet your standards of quality. If you are not happy with what a distributor offers, your customers won’t be, either.
  • Steakhouses
    Steakhouses are part of the midscale and upscale markets. Midscale steakhouses are typically family-oriented and offer a casual environment with meals perceived as good values. In terms of décor, comfort is emphasized and Western themes are popular. Upscale steakhouses offer a more formal atmosphere and may serve larger cuts of meat that are of better quality than those served in midscale restaurants. Upscale establishments also charge higher prices, and their décor may be similar to that of other fine-dining establishments, offering guests more privacy and focusing on adult patrons rather than families.
  • Family-style restaurants
    As the name implies, these establishments are geared toward family fun, and the often-reasonable prices also appeal to seniors. They offer speedy service and their menus are designed to satisfy a broad range of customers, from children to seniors. Family-style restaurant prices may be higher than those at fast-food restaurants, but these establishments provide table service to compensate. The décor of family-style restaurants is generally comfortable, with muted tones, unremarkable artwork and plenty of booths and wide chairs. Booster seats and highchairs for children are readily available.
  • Casual-dining restaurants
    These establishments appeal to a wide audience, providing a variety of food items — appetizers, salads, main dishes, desserts. Casual-dining restaurants offer comfortable atmospheres with midrange prices. Many center on a theme that’s incorporated into their menus and décor. You may need to get your liquor license, depending on what you plan to serve.
  • Global cuisine
    These restaurants enjoy a significant share of the U.S. restaurant market. They range from quick-service places with limited selections to upscale eateries with a wide variety of menu items. Their menus typically include Americanized versions of global dishes with unique flavors, as well as more authentic food. The three most popular kinds of these food styles are Italian, Chinese and Mexican. Other popular types include Indian, Thai, Caribbean, Cuban, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Turkish and Vietnamese.
  • Pizzeria
    You have two primary choices when starting a pizzeria. One is a to-go restaurant in a modest facility with a pizza- and beer-forward menu, limited seating and a self-service atmosphere. The other is a full-service pizza restaurant with a menu that features not only a variety of pizzas, beer and wine, but also Italian entrees (spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna), side dishes (including salads) and a few desserts. The foundation of a pizzeria is the pizza, of course. If you don’t know how to make a good pizza, hire someone who does. Invest in top-quality ingredients and preparation methods, and make every pizza as if you’re going to eat it yourself.
  • Sandwich shop/delicatessen
    One reason sandwich shops are so successful is because they enjoy high profit margins. Sandwich shops and delicatessens can also change their menus quickly and easily adapt to current tastes. In the wake of the pandemic, when many regular customers no longer worked from offices, delis have also incorporated delivery and catering into their business models. Most sandwich shops serve only sandwiches, possibly with some side dishes or desserts. A delicatessen usually offers a more extensive menu, including sandwiches, prepared meats, smoked fish, cheeses, salads, relishes and various hot entrees.
  • Coffeehouse
    With Americans consuming more than 140 billion cups every year, coffee is the country’s most-popular beverage (not counting water, of course). People frequent coffeehouses and espresso bars for a variety of reasons: to meet with friends, to do work, for a quick lunch, for an afternoon perk or simply to start each morning with a great cup of Joe. The most successful coffeehouses have heavy foot traffic and high-volume sales. Many will serve between 200 and 300 cups per day, despite having limited floor space and modest seating capacity. Profit margins for coffee and espresso drinks are extremely high — after all, you’re dealing with a product that’s more than 95 percent water. At the same time, the average cup of coffee costs around $3, so you need volume to reach and maintain profitability. Besides specialty roasted coffee by the cup, most coffeehouses also have espresso-based drinks (cappuccinos, lattes, etc.), assorted teas, bottled water and fruit juices, along with an inviting assortment of baked goods, a selection of desserts and coffee beans by the pound.
  • Bakery
    With competition from supermarkets that have in-store bakeries, “bread-only” retail bakeries have almost disappeared from the United States. Bakeries today usually offer cakes, scones, bagels and coffee drinks, and sometimes even offer full dining menus, including sandwiches, hot entrees, beer and wine. Consumers love fresh bakery goods, but the market is extremely competitive. As you develop your particular bakery concept, you’ll need to find a way to differentiate yourself from other bakeries in town.

Find the concept that best suits you

Before you can begin any serious business planning, you must first decide what specific segment of the food-service industry you want to enter. Your own personality and tastes will dictate whether you choose to open a commercial bakery, a coffee cart, a fine-dining restaurant or another type of operation. Then, once you’ve decided what business suits you, it’s essential to figure out the niche you’ll occupy in the marketplace.

Related: The Top Full-Service Restaurant Franchises in 2024

For example, are you an early riser, or do you prefer to stay up late and sleep late? If you like — or at least don’t mind — getting up before dawn, your niche may be a bakery or a casual breakfast-and-lunch operation. Night owls are going to be drawn to the hours required for bar-and-grill type restaurants, fine-dining establishments and even pizzerias.

Do you like dealing with the public, or are you happier in the kitchen? If you’re a people person, choose a food-service business that gives you plenty of opportunity to connect with your customers. If you’re not especially gregarious, you’ll probably lean more toward a commercial type of business, perhaps a bakery or even a catering service, where you can deal more with operational issues than with people.

Some other types of questions to ask yourself include: Do you have a passion for a particular type of cuisine? Do you enjoy a predictable routine, or do you prefer something different every day? Are you willing to deal with the additional responsibilities and liabilities that come with serving alcoholic beverages?

As you do this self-analysis, think about your ideal day. If you could be doing exactly what you wanted to do, what would it be? Once you’ve decided on the best niche for you as an individual, it’s time to determine if you can develop a niche in the market for your food-service business.

Steps to opening your own restaurant

There’s no perfect recipe for opening a successful restaurant, but there are proven actions that will get your business off the ground and help you start feeding customers. Follow these steps when opening a restaurant:

1. Write a business plan

Armed with practical experience, you’re ready to put together your business plan — the most critical element of your restaurant. Map out everything on paper before you buy the first spoon or crack the first egg.

When you’re writing a business plan you should include:

  • A clear definition of your concept
  • A description of your market
  • Your menu and pricing
  • Detailed financial information, including data on your startup capital (amount and sources) and your long-term income and expense forecasts (including operating costs such as kitchen equipment and food costs)
  • A marketing plan including target customers
  • Employee hiring
  • Training and retention programs
  • Detailed plans that outline how you’ll deal with the challenges restaurateurs face every day (including health department compliance, customer experience and expansion)
  • An exit strategy

A well-crafted business plan is the cornerstone of any successful restaurant. It’s best to have it professionally written, but if you’re short on cash, you can also draft a document yourself. Just be sure that your plan is comprehensive and as accurate as possible. Include realistic projections, research data (such as current industry trends) and thorough analyses of the competition. Because restaurant margins are so thin, it’s also smart to detail every single cost you might encounter — down to the price of napkins, ice, internet, glassware and cooking oil. No matter what you decide, your business plan should be a living document that you update and refine as your restaurant evolves.

2. Fund your business

How much money you need to start depends on the type of business, the facility, how much equipment you need, whether you buy new or used, your inventory, marketing and necessary operating capital (the amount of cash to carry you until your business starts generating profits). It’s easy to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars starting a restaurant, but it’s not essential. For instance, when Borealis Breads owner Jim Amaral started his first bakery in Maine, he rented a space that had been a commercial bakery and came complete with mixers, benches, ovens and other equipment. He was able to start with just $10,000 he’d borrowed from family and friends, and used that primarily for inventory.

Regardless of how much you need, you will definitely need some cash to start your food-service business. Here are some suggestions of where to go to raise your startup funds:

  • Your own resources
    Do a thorough inventory of your assets. People generally have more assets than they realize, including savings accounts, retirement accounts, equity in real estate, recreation equipment, vehicles, collections and other investments. You may opt to sell assets for cash or use them as collateral for a loan.
  • Family and friends
    The logical next step after gathering your own resources is to approach friends and relatives who believe in you and want to help you succeed. Be cautious with these arrangements; no matter how close you are with the person, present yourself professionally, put everything in writing, and be sure the individuals you approach can afford to take the risk of investing in your business.
  • Partners
    Using the “strength in numbers” principle, look around for someone who may want to team up with you in your venture. You may choose someone who has financial resources and wants to work side by side with you in the business. Or you may find someone who has money to invest but no interest in doing the actual work. Be sure to create a written partnership agreement that clearly defines your respective responsibilities and obligations. And choose your partners carefully — especially when it comes to family members.
  • Government programs
    Take advantage of the abundance of local, state and federal programs designed to support small businesses. Make the Small Business Administration (SBA) your first stop, but be sure to research other programs, too. Underrepresented groups and veterans should check out special financing programs designed to help them get into business. The business section of your local library is a good place to begin your research.
  • Banks and other lending institutions
    Despite the general mood of tight credit, many banks are still willing to make small-business loans. They may even be more open now as they seek to increase their loan portfolios.
  • Be prepared with a business plan and financial projections
    These help prove your concept and show lenders you are serious about your business. Also, compare rates from multiple lenders, and don’t forget to factor in closing costs and other fees.
  • Venture capitalists and angels
    If you have a capital-intensive concept with proven profitability potential, venture capitalists or angel investors may be willing to provide the funding you need for a stake in your business.

As you can see, there are many ways to get the capital you need to get your restaurant off the ground — you just need to be organized, prepared and willing to do your research.

3. Choose a location

Depending on where you start your food-service business and the particular type of business you choose, you can spend anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000 on monthly rent. That doesn’t include outfitting a kitchen or renovating the space, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Related: The Best States to Start a Business.

Not every food-service operation needs to be in a retail location, but many do. For those relying on retail traffic, here are some factors to consider when deciding on a restaurant location:

  • Anticipated sales volume
    How will the location contribute to your sales volume?
  • Accessibility to potential customers
    Consider how easy it will be for customers to get into your business. If you are relying on strong pedestrian traffic, consider whether or not nearby businesses will generate foot traffic for you.
  • The rent-paying capacity of your business
    If you’ve done a sales-and-profit projection for your first year of operation, you will know approximately how much revenue you can expect to generate, and you can use that information to decide how much rent you can afford to pay.
  • Restrictive ordinances
    You may encounter unusually restrictive ordinances that make an otherwise strong site less than ideal, such as limitations on the hours of the day that trucks can legally load or unload.
  • Traffic density
    With careful examination of food traffic, you can determine the approximate sales potential of each pedestrian passing a given location. Two factors are especially important in this analysis: total pedestrian traffic during business hours and the percentage of people likely to patronize your food service business.
  • Customer parking facilities
    The site should provide convenient and adequate parking, as well as easy access for customers.
  • Proximity to other businesses
    Neighboring businesses may influence your store’s volume, and their presence can work for you or against you.
  • History of the site
    Find out the recent history of each site under consideration before you make a final selection. Who were the previous tenants, and why are they no longer there?
  • Terms of the lease
    Be sure you understand all the details of the lease, because it’s possible that an excellent site may have unacceptable leasing terms.
  • Future development
    Check with the local planning board to see if anything is planned for the future that could affect your business, such as additional buildings nearby or road construction.
  • Appearance
    It’s important that the building or site be attractive and inviting in order to draw customers.

Once you’ve chosen a location, it’s time to nail down the particulars of your food-service business.

4. Create a menu

As you put together a plan for your food-service business, stay up-to-date on the “it” foods of the moment, but don’t go chasing fads or trends. Let these inform your menu, rather than dictate it. At the same time, be sure to keep the kids in mind as you plan your selections. If families are a key part of your target market, you’ll want a range of four or five items in smaller portions that youngsters will enjoy. While most restaurants still offer fixed kids’ meals, you might consider allowing your young diners to choose among a selection of nutritious options.

Your menu should also indicate what dishes can be prepared to meet special dietary requirements, and be sure to offer alternative protein options for vegans, vegetarians and pescetarians (with these noted on the menu).

Though menu variety has increased over the years, menus themselves are growing shorter. Busy consumers don’t want to read a lengthy menu before dinner; dining out is a recreational activity, so they’re in the restaurant to relax. Keep your number of items in check and menu descriptions simple and straightforward, providing customers with a variety of choices in a concise format. It also makes things easier in the kitchen: fewer recipes to memorize, fewer ingredients to source, etc. The simpler the menu, the easier it’ll be to turn crazy dinner rushes and make it through particularly stressful services.

5. Hire employees

One of the biggest challenges — for businesses in all industries — is a lack of qualified labor. As the food-service industry continues to grow, the demand for workers in an already diminished labor pool is also increasing. Finding qualified workers and rising labor costs are two key concerns for food-service business owners.

Related: How to Know When to Hire Your First Employee

The first step in developing a comprehensive HR program is to decide exactly what you want someone to do. The job description doesn’t have to be as formal as one you might expect from a large corporation, but it needs to clearly outline the job’s duties and responsibilities. It should also list any special skills or other required credentials, such as a valid driver’s license and clean driving record for someone who is going to make deliveries for you.

Next, you need to establish a pay scale. You should do research to find out what the pay rates are in your area. You’ll want to establish a minimum and maximum rate for each position. You’ll pay more even at the start for better qualified and more experienced workers. Of course, the pay scale will be affected by whether or not the position is one that is regularly tipped. Your payroll costs, including your own salary and that of your managers, should be about 24 to 35 percent of your total gross sales.

Every prospective employee should fill out an application — even if it’s someone you already know, and even if that person has submitted a detailed resume. A resume is not a signed, sworn statement acknowledging that you can fire the person if he or she lies about his or her background; the application, which includes a truth affidavit, is. The application will also help you verify the applicants’ resumes, so you should compare the two and make sure the information is consistent.

Here are some tips to help you find and keep great people:

  • Hire right
    Take the time to thoroughly screen applicants. Be sure they understand what you expect of them. Do background checks. If you can’t do this yourself, contract with an HR consultant to do it for you on an as-needed basis.
  • Create detailed job descriptions
    Don’t make your employees guess about their responsibilities.
  • Understand wage-and-hour and child labor laws
    Check with your own state’s Department of Labor to be sure you comply with regulations on issues such as minimum wage (which can vary depending on the age of the workers and whether they’re eligible for tips), and when teenagers can work and what tasks they’re allowed to do.
  • Report tips properly
    The IRS is very specific about how tips are to be reported; for details, check with your accountant or contact the IRS.
  • Provide initial and ongoing training
    Even experienced workers need to know how things are done in your restaurant. Well-trained employees are happier, more confident and more effective. Plus, ongoing training builds loyalty and reduces turnover. The National Restaurant Association can help you develop appropriate employee training programs, and groups such as The LEE Initiative run programming to promote healthy kitchen environments.

There are several categories of personnel in the restaurant business: manager, cooks, servers, busboys, dishwashers, hosts and bartenders. When your restaurant is still new, some employees’ duties may cross over from one category to another. For example, your manager may double as the host, and servers may also bus tables. Be sure to hire people who are willing to be flexible in their duties.

Standard restaurant roles

The most important employee in most restaurants is the manager. Your best candidate will have already managed a restaurant or restaurants in your area and will be familiar with local buying sources, suppliers and methods. You’ll also want a manager with leadership skills and the ability to supervise personnel while reflecting the style and character of your restaurant.

To get the quality of manager you want, you’ll have to pay well. Depending on your location, expect to pay a seasoned manager $50,000 to $60,000 a year, plus a percentage of sales. An entry-level manager might earn $40,000 to $45,000 but won’t have the skills of a more experienced candidate. If you can’t offer a high salary, work out a profit-sharing arrangement — it’s an excellent way to hire good people and motivate them to build a successful restaurant. Hire your manager at least a month before you open so they can help you set up your restaurant.

Chefs and cooks
When you start out, you’ll probably need three cooks — two full time cooks and one part time. Restaurant workers typically work shifts from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 4 p.m. to closing. But one lead cook may need to arrive early in the morning to begin preparing soups, bread and other items to be served that day. One full-time cook should work days, and the other evenings. The part-time cook will help during peak hours, such as weekend rushes, and can work as a line cook during slower periods, doing simple preparation. Cooking schools can usually provide you with leads to the best in the business, but look around and place ads online before you hire. Customers will become regulars only if they can expect the best every time they dine at your restaurant. To provide that, you’ll need top-notch cooks and chefs.

Salaries for chefs and cooks vary according to their experience and your menu. Chefs command salaries significantly higher than cooks, averaging $55,000/year. You may also find chefs who are willing to work under profit-sharing plans. You can pay part-time cooks on an hourly basis; check around for the going rate in your area.

Your servers will have the most interaction with customers, so they need to make a favorable impression and work well under pressure. There are two times of day for wait staff: very slow and very busy. Schedule your employees accordingly. The lunch rush, for example, starts around 11:30 a.m. and continues until 1:30 or 2 p.m. Restaurants are often slow again until the dinner crowd arrives around 5:30 or 6 p.m.

Because servers in most establishments earn a good portion of their income from tips, they’re usually paid minimum wage or just over it. When your restaurant is new, you might want to hire only experienced servers so you don’t have to provide extensive training. As you become established, however, you should develop training systems to help both inexperienced employees and veteran servers understand your philosophy and the image you want to project.

6. Market and promote your restaurant

Every business needs a marketing plan, and your food-service business is no exception. As you consider various marketing vehicles, consider the loyalty program. Research conducted by the National Restaurant Association found that 78% of customers are more likely to visit a restaurant where they can earn loyalty points.

Word of mouth and earned media are also strong ways to earn business, so make the foundation of your marketing program an absolutely dazzling dining experience that customers will want to talk about and repeat. Ask every new customer how they found out about you, and make a note of this information to track how various marketing efforts are working. You can then decide to increase certain programs and eliminate those that aren’t working.

A key question for restaurant owners is this: Do your marketing materials — menus, signs, table tents, social media posts, ads and other items — send an accurate message about who you are and what you do?

The first step in creating a complete marketing package is to know your market, and it’s not enough to gather demographic information once. Markets change, and food-service businesses that don’t change their marketing strategies with population shifts are missing out on a lot of opportunities. Next, consider every element in your facility — the parking lot, interior decorations, printed items, etc. — to make sure they contribute to your marketing message.

One cheap and easy way to promote your food-service business is by building a presence on social media and giving away gift certificates, such as dinner for two or a free pizza. After all, promotions are one of the 7 Ps of marketing. Post weekly specials, host contests, engage with followers and give patrons a behind-the-scenes look at running your business — cooking tips, kitchen hacks, signature recipes. You can also connect with local social media influencers to visit your restaurant and post the delicious results (food videos are especially popular on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok).

Consider donating coupons and gift certificates to be used as door prizes at professional meetings or for nonprofit organizations to use as raffle prizes. Just be sure every coupon or gift certificate clearly identifies your business name, location, hours of operation and any restrictions on the prize. Some other promotional methods you can try include local event or sporting team sponsorships, discount coupon books, frequent-dining clubs, menu promotions and contests.

7. Choose an efficient layout

Layout and design are major factors in your restaurant’s success. As you factor it into your startup costs, you’ll need to take into account the size and layout of the dining room, kitchen space, storage space and office. Typically, restaurants allot 45 to 65 percent of their space to the dining area, approximately 35 percent to the kitchen and prep area, and the remainder to storage and office space.

Dining area
This is where you’ll be making the bulk of your money, so don’t cut corners when designing your dining room. Visit restaurants in your area and analyze the décor. Watch the diners. Do they react positively to the décor? Is it comfortable or are people shifting in their seats throughout their meals? Note what works well and what doesn’t.

To accommodate the different groups of customers, use tables for two that can be pushed together in areas where there is ample floor space. This gives you flexibility in accommodating both small and large parties. Place booths for four to six people along the walls.

Production area

Too often, the production area in a restaurant is inefficiently designed, resulting in a poorly organized kitchen and less than top-notch service. Keep your menu in mind as you determine each element in the production area. You’ll need to include space for receiving, storage, food preparation, cooking, baking, dishwashing, production aisles, trash storage, employee facilities and an area for a small office where you can perform daily management duties.

Arrange your food production area so that everything is just a few steps away from the cook. Your design should also allow for two or more cooks to be able to work side by side during your busiest hours.

Working in a restaurant

Dealing with customers and playing the role of elegant host are only part of a restaurateur’s many duties. Food-service business operators spend most of their time developing menus; making sure their operation is in compliance with a myriad of local, state and federal regulations; ordering inventory and supplies; managing personnel; creating and implementing marketing campaigns; completing a wide range of paperwork; and performing other administrative chores. There are fun aspects of working in restaurants, but starting, running and growing a food-service business is also hard work.

Regardless of the type of food-service business you intend to start, successful restaurateurs agree that the best preparation for owning a restaurant is to work in someone else’s first. Doing so will give you significant insight into the realities and logistics of the business. Think of it as getting paid to be educated. Certainly you should read books and take courses, but you should also plan to work in a restaurant for at least a few years doing as many different jobs as possible. And if you’re not actually doing the job, pay attention to the person who is — you may find yourself doing it when your own restaurant is unexpectedly shorthanded.

Ideally, you should work in a restaurant similar to the type you want to open. You might find you don’t like the business or realize you’re more suited to a different type of operation. Regardless, you’ll learn a lot — about the industry and yourself.

“As soon as I started working in a restaurant, I realized this was my passion,” says restaurateur Scott Redler. “When you have a busy restaurant, and you’re watching everything happen as it should, it’s just a wonderful feeling of satisfaction.”

Redler has worked in restaurants for more than four decades, first opening a Chinese fast-food joint at the age of 26. That venture failed within eight months, after which Redler went to work for a large restaurant company, where he eventually advanced to the position of senior vice president and oversaw 15 operations. But he still yearned for his own place, so he developed the concept that became Timberline Steakhouse & Grill in Kansas (which he sold in 2011). He recognized that the fast-casual segment was gaining momentum, so he created Freddy’s Frozen Custard, which offers hot dogs, hamburgers and custard. Freddy’s Frozen Custard is now a franchise operation with more than 500 stores in 36 states.

Most regulatory agencies will work with new operators to let them know what they must do to meet the necessary legal requirements. Your state’s general information office can direct you to all the agencies you’ll need to be concerned with.

Starting and opening a restaurant can be an exciting, rewarding, and sometimes overwhelming experience. When done correctly, the benefits will far outweigh any anxieties that may come along with it. With proper planning and research, you will have the necessary tools to make your dream of owning a successful eatery a reality.

Restaurant startup resources

  • Start Your Own Restaurant and More by Rich Mintzer and the Staff of Entrepreneur Media: Entrepreneur’s official guide describes the ins and outs of starting and running a successful restaurant, pizzeria, coffeehouse, deli, bakery or catering service. Packed with tips on how to keep your restaurant growing and healthy, the book answers most commonly asked questions and covers the essential business basics.
  • National Restaurant Association (NRA): Founded in 1919, the NRA is the leading business association for the restaurant industry. Its site offers access to an information service and library, various publications and industry research. It also provides networking opportunities and training, and emphasizes the ways in which local restaurants can contribute to their communities.
  • National Restaurant Association (NRA) Educational Foundation: This nonprofit organization is dedicated to fulfilling the NRA’s educational mission. The site offers classes for professionals and listings of U.S. food safety laws and training requirements. Where available, county and municipal requirements are also listed.
  • SCORE: To get some practical, real-world advice, contact SCORE and ask to speak with small business counselors who owned or managed a restaurant. Find offices or counselors in your area by visiting the website.
  • Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF): The WFF is dedicated to providing women in the food-service industry with the resources to succeed. It offers leadership development programs, market research and a regional partnership program for networking. The site also provides answers to FAQs, advice and a community of peers.

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