Foodie entrepreneurs often dream of starting a restaurant and turning their passion for cuisine into profit. Of course, you know you’ll need to choose an appropriate space, create an appealing menu for your target customers, hire the right staff and promote your new restaurant before opening your doors to the community. However, there are many steps to take before diving in.
Starting a restaurant will give you a full plate of responsibilities, so before you open an eatery, you’ll want to ensure you’re prepared for every step. We talked to industry veterans who shared tips for navigating the business and launching a successful restaurant.
If you believe starting a business in the restaurant space is right for you, consider the following tips to help you get started.
In any industry, doing your due diligence before starting up is critical for success. This is especially true for the restaurant business, where simply knowing good food isn’t enough.
Joe Erickson, vice president of RestaurantOwner.com, said thousands of independent restaurants fail every year because owners are not prepared or aware of what needs to be done.
“Thoroughly research the financial metrics of a profitable restaurant, the systems successful restaurant owners use to promote consistency and predictability and the type of culture that will attract the best workers,” Erickson said. “[Potential owners] need to understand the challenges of restaurant ownership before spending their life’s savings.”
Even if you’ve worked in a restaurant, there are still many legal, managerial and marketing lessons to learn. For example, many would-be restaurateurs overlook local licensing and health regulations. Michele Stumpe, a Georgia-based attorney specializing in alcohol licensing and hospitality litigation, stressed the importance of knowing local and state business regulations in your restaurant’s location, especially since state and even county laws can vary.
Stumpe advises aspiring restaurateurs planning a launch to factor in the time permitting and inspection processes will take.
Getting your bearings in the restaurant industry as a first-timer can be challenging. If you don’t have previous experience in the business, it’s essential to partner with or hire someone who does.
When Costanzo Astarita started his Atlanta restaurant Baraonda in December 2000, he and his partner had worked on the food preparation and management sides of the industry. Still, he didn’t know much about commercial leases.
“I wish I had understood how to negotiate them when I started,” Astarita said. “I think that any new restaurateur who is unfamiliar with commercial leases should hire a lawyer who specializes in that field.”
Tony Doyle, owner of Hells Kitchen Hospitality Group, has worked in restaurants since age 12 and opened several successful restaurants. However, he still had a lot to learn when he opened his first establishment.
“There were a lot of things I’d never dealt with before — employees, payroll, taxes, bank account management, etc.,” Doyle said. “You need to get a general knowledge of the working of the business before you start. There are a lot of issues that people don’t see.”
Choosing the right business location is crucial. Without a good location, your restaurant is doomed to fail, no matter how great it is otherwise.
In the 30 years she’s been in business, Paola Bottero moved her Manhattan eatery three times before settling on her current location. Marco Pipolo, owner of New York City’s Marcony Ristorante, has learned valuable lessons from each of the five restaurants he’s owned, but one of the most important is that location can make or break your business.
Even with a mobile eatery, location can still present an issue. Daniel Shemtob, co-founder and executive chef at Los Angeles-based TLT Food, recalled a harrowing first day working on The Lime Truck.
“[My co-founder and I] were in the middle of nowhere — we didn’t have propane to cook and the truck wouldn’t start,” said Shemtob, who recalled having to hotwire the truck and wait for someone to come help them.
“Then there are other factors, like traffic,” he added.
A mobile restaurant POS system is a game-changer for a mobile eatery, letting you ring up purchases on the fly, offer fast checkout and stay on top of inventory management.
While food quality and service consistency are crucial for success, the restaurant business is far from static.
“I have found over the years that you constantly need to be updating, renovating and evolving with the ever-changing taste of the public to be successful,” Pipolo said.
Shemtob agreed, noting that his menu is constantly changing to allow for newer, more innovative dishes. When you come up with your concept and menu, it should be flexible enough to adapt when your customers ask for something new.
Everyone knows a successful restaurant must serve delicious food. Still, many other factors contribute to your venture’s success — and most of them boil down to happy, loyal customers. If there’s one thing Bottero wishes she had known when she started, it’s that building customer loyalty is challenging and takes time, even if your menu is top-notch.
“Customers make the place,” Bottero noted. “You have to earn their trust by making sure they’re taken care of and providing the best service possible. In today’s market, you also can’t succeed without social media. Good food is important, but so is good technology.”
If you’re thinking about starting a restaurant, consider the advantages and disadvantages to inform your decision and ensure you’re starting your venture with all the facts.
The pros of starting a restaurant include the following:
The cons of restaurant ownership include the following:
Starting a restaurant can be an enormous venture, but with the proper steps, you can build a profitable business that keeps customers happy.
As you start the process, consider your motivation. Are you looking for another source of income? Do you want your community raving about your new dish? Knowing what’s driving you can help you stay motivated during the long days and nights of working to build a successful business.
Shayna Waltower and Nicole Fallon contributed to the reporting and writing of this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.