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Start Your Business Startup Basics

10 Things to Do Before Opening a Restaurant

10 Things to Do Before Opening a Restaurant
Credit: grafvision/Shutterstock

Think you're ready to become a restaurateur? As with any business, opening a restaurant is no easy task. It requires many tasks and responsibilities, from creating a menu and marketing your concept to managing a staff and negotiating with suppliers, all of which can be stressful and overwhelming.

Whether you're a chef ready to share your unique culinary creations with the world or an aspiring entrepreneur with an interest in the food industry, here are 10 things experts say you need to do before opening a restaurant.

"Creating a sense of anticipation and sense of community are two critical success factors of opening with momentum from the start. Identify community events where tastes can provide insight to the menu in advance of your opening. Connect with high-profile businesses where you cater lunch or an after-work meet & greet at cost or totally as a marketing cost, with special certificates provided in advance for use the first month of opening. Once you build these connections, then you can invite all these pre-opening fans to a private pre-opening experience. They would pay, and also give you valued feedback for any tweaks before the official opening." – Sherre' L. DeMao, president and CEO, SLD Unlimited Biz Growth

"Talk to your neighbors. It is remarkable how much you can learn from the existing business owners in the neighborhood where you intend to open your new restaurant, and how few operators do this simple homework. And as many restaurants are [filling] spaces that were restaurants previously, it can be helpful to talk to the prior operator too." – Peter French, co-founder, Break Fast & Launch

"Aspiring restaurateurs should work in a restaurant. Whether that is a few shifts waiting tables or trying your hand on the line in the kitchen, make sure this industry is for you before making the leap. While being the next 'it' chef may be glamorous, washing dishes, waiting tables and dealing with customer complaints isn't." – Terry Seal, founder and partner, Corkscrew Consulting [For Foodie Entrepreneur, Networking & Tenacity Are Key Ingredients ]

"The single most important thing a budding restaurant owner should know before opening is simple math. The gross-to-net breakdown of a customer is vital; because, if the math doesn't work, little else matters. They need to know exactly how much each customer will impact the bottom line, what the average customer transaction is projected to be, and exactly how many customers per day are needed to keep the lights on." – Kyle Thompson, marketing strategist and owner, Big Fish Consulting

"Restaurant operators need to have a firm handle on food [spending], since it will take up a large portion of their budgets. The more they can negotiate fair prices with suppliers, order less expensive items, and reduce waste, the more successful they'll be at running their restaurants." – Mark Haidet, restaurant co-owner and CEO, Orderly

"Aspiring restaurateurs should create a small packet which shows the menu, the prices, the proposed location, images of the interior, samples if possible, and a brief written piece about what the restaurant will be like. Next they need to show it to 100 people and have at least 15 who are not in their target demographic. This test provides validation in so many ways: It verifies assumptions about the concept and gives you feedback you can incorporate before you spend your money, [it] forces you away from asking friends and family — aka the people who always say it's great — to the more honest general public, [and] if you can't muster the effort to ask 100 people, you have no business starting a restaurant." – Tanner Agar, founder and CEO, The Chef Shelf 

"If you are starting a restaurant with a partner, then it is vital to at least create a written partnership agreement. You must agree on how investments are made, who gets distributions, and who does the work. It is almost certain that two or more people will at some point disagree over these issues in the future, and not having an agreement can lead to expensive litigation, or even dissolution of the business through infighting. All restaurants should go further, whether there is one owner or many, and create a corporation or LLC. This will help limit liability in case there is a lawsuit." – Sean Morrison, owner and managing attorney, Sean Morrison Law Offices

"Get a good website that actually converts people into making reservations — not just an online brochure that doesn't convert into business, but a customer attraction magnet that brings people to your website and to your restaurant. Make sure it's mobile-friendly and isn't flash-based. Yes, Flash sites can be pretty but the search engines can't read them so they do you zero good from the standpoint of getting found. Make sure your phone number and a map are prominently displayed on the site." – David Wright, president and chief marketing officer, W3 Group Marketing

"The voice of your restaurant, which encompasses its values and aims, will differentiate it from the competition; it's your unique selling point. It's essential that entrepreneurs establish their restaurant's character early in the process and then ensure that this 'voice' is present in the dishes, the menus, the marketing and that it is conveyed by the staff." – Dev Biswal, head chef and owner, The Ambrette

"Position your menu to be unique but relevant. In other words, don't try and pioneer Indian/Japanese fusion in the South, but if you intend to open a burger joint, make it your own. Also, make sure your food stands out in all aspects of the customers' experience — consider elements like taste, texture, appearance and spice levels. Make them all pop!" – Brett Randle, CEO, Soulman's Bar-B-Que

Brittney Helmrich
Brittney Helmrich

Brittney M. Helmrich graduated from Drew University in 2012 with a B.A. in History and Creative Writing. She joined the Business News Daily team in 2014 after working as the editor-in-chief of an online college life and advice publication for two years. Follow Brittney on Twitter at @brittneyplz, or contact her by email.