Starting a Restaurant Business
A restaurant is a source of warmth, comfort, food, and fellowship in a community. A well-run restaurant is particularly soothing to the guests. If you would like to open a restaurant, make sure that you do all of these steps and set yourself up for running a growing operation.
1. Volunteer to Wash Dishes and Clean-Up in an Already Successful Restaurant
There’s an enormous difference between restaurants that just get by and those that are wildly successful. A great way to conduct behind-the-scenes research is to get hired for cleaning duty by the most popular restaurants in town.
You want to be in a position to observe the little routines and systems that the best restaurants use. Sometimes, our own imagination runs out of juice. However, the best practices used by the most popular restaurants are great notes to take privately when on a bathroom break.
Notice the little routines that owners and managers set up to keep things running at a brisk pace. Speed is not the only factor. These routines make sure that the food is cooked to perfection and that everything is delivered hot and on time every single time.
Conduct your market research as deeply as possible. Don’t talk about your own plans for a restaurant with anybody. You don’t want your secret to get out. You want to continue learning as long as possible. When you know one big, successful restaurant in and out, pick up a cleaning job at another one. Keep your head down, your mouth closed, and watch everything. Take notes every single hour, if possible. You don’t want to rely on your memory when planning your own restaurant.
2. Take Note of the Restaurants Around Town – Which Ones are Packed and Which are Not?
After you have studied the “repeatable systems” used by all the best restaurants in your city, get a large map of your city. It should be oversized and quite spacious. Go around to all of the restaurants in your town, one by one. Visit them at their busiest times and at their lowest times.
This is the step where you will pick your business location. When it comes to restaurants, location is very important. If you have the right food, but it is inconvenient to get to you, this can mean that you won’t have nearly as many customers. Sometimes, a hidden location means privacy and attracts a certain type of loyal customer.
This is why you will be visiting each restaurant, noticing how long they have been in business, how good their food is, and how many people fill up the dining hall on a regular basis. You want to notice the location of the places that are always packed. Mark their location on your map and find out which ones are grouped together. You will be picking a location in the middle of this successful “food hub”.
3. Your Business Plan should have Realistic Numbers
It takes a lot of money to start a restaurant. However, because so much money is invested, owners can have unrealistic expectations about how booming their business will be right out of the gate. Your numbers should always reflect both best-case and worst-case scenarios. Your business insurance should reflect both of these numbers, as well.
You will, of course, have a Grand Opening day for your new restaurant. You should plan decorations and party favors for the kids, but otherwise not make it more special than any other day of your restaurant. Have your staff practice making multiple orders for each of your menu items. Prepare for a full dining room.
In reality, even with the money from your new business opening, you may take several years to pay off some of your initial funding debt. Also, you will need to keep track of equipment that needs to be updated or replaced on a regular basis. By wiping down and repairing equipment at the end of each day, you will significantly extend its lifespan. This will save you a lot of money over the years.
4. Come up with Meals that are Fresh, Upscaled Tastes of Old Favorites
Your menu should look and taste amazing. The dishes should be filling and attractive and be very cost-effective for you. Work on each menu item with great care and finesse. Have your brutally honest family members take taste tests and give massive feedback.
Your menu should also be easily executable. Your diners should not have to wait forty minutes for a complex dish to finally make an appearance. Your kitchen will be backlogged. Your dining room will be full. Each dish should look colorful, fresh, and amazing. Each item should be cooked to perfection. And, furthermore, every dish should be fairly easy to make and get good at.
There will be more information about your menu items in Step #6. You need to plan for great success, and that requires making the dishes delicious, attractive, and easy-to-make.
5. Talk to Other Restaurant Owners in Your Chosen Location
You may think it’s only a good idea to talk to other restaurant owners in your chosen field of food. For example, if you run an Italian eatery, you may think you should only talk to owners of other Italian places to receive their advice.
First of all, you don’t know how successful those other eateries are. Perhaps you do, if you’ve done your research. However, what you really need is advice from the uber-successful restaurant owners in your current location. They know about the type of customers that come to your location. They know their customer demographics, parking problems, etc. They also know how spicy and bland everyone likes their food.
Your chosen location was picked after a lot of research, and you are surrounded by successful enterprises. Like hotels that are built next to each other, all of you will get greater success if all of you hold a minimum standard of quality for your customers. Other restaurant owners in your location greatly desire you to succeed. They don’t want you to fail, because that would lower the value of the entire block or street they’re on.
6. Systematize EVERYTHING!
This will be a long section. After you learn about systems, you will never want to do anything else.
In his book, “The E-Myth Revisited”, Michael Gerber, talks about how entrepreneurs always push themselves into failure. They always work “in” their businesses, instead of “on” their businesses. Gerber discusses real-life examples of businesses that tried to work and kept failing. The owners worked themselves ragged, instead of developing simple, repeatable systems that you could teach a high-school student.
One of the reasons why fast-food chains are so successful is that their systems are so simple that any 16-year-old can learn them quickly. Any employee can be trained within a week, and every part of the restaurant is systematized.
You, as an entrepreneur, are working on your business. However, you should only be working “in” your business in the very beginning. Your goal will always be to replace yourself so that you can be an owner, not just another employee.
Everything in your business, from cleaning to cooking to service, should have simple, easy-to-understand, repeatable systems governing them. Don’t be fooled by attempts to make things overcomplicated. The beauty of your restaurant is that it will be a well-oiled machine, not a well-oiled person. You should be able to take an employee and train them well in a matter of hours.
Little, repeatable systems or routines will enable your employees to do this. Have each small system written down and taped in the correct location for your employees to see it and use it habitually. Once they get into the habit of each part of the system, they will begin doing everything automatically.
7. Hire Your Own Personal Compliance Officer
You will need to pass all health and safety inspections with flying colors. Don’t save this until the last minute. These steps should already be in your business plan. Set up wheelchair ramps (which are quick and easy to build and pour), have extended space around tables for at least six handicapped individuals, and get a handbook of OSHA’s current safety regulations.
Make sure that you have the health code for your municipal area memorized. There should be no part of it that is foreign to you. As you walk through your restaurant, your kitchen, the back door, and your restrooms, you should be able to mentally tick off a long list of requirements that are being met in your busy, thriving restaurant.
Do not take this for granted. There is nothing like getting an “A+” grade from the health and safety inspectors and displaying it proudly (with a current date always at the top) in front of your restaurant. This is a great way to show “eternally skeptical customers” that you are, indeed, a great place to eat.
8. You’ll Need a Social Media Marketer and a Traditional Advertiser
Never underestimate the power of advertising. If you don’t have the ad budget for a TV commercial, don’t worry. You still have the budget for a top-notch social media marketer. This is a great way to always keep your restaurant in people’s thoughts when they are making lunch or dinner plans together. It’s also a great way to make people hungry for your food!
A traditional advertiser will make sure that fliers and sales are spread by word-of-mouth. Traditional advertising involves a lot of brick-and-mortar sales techniques. Let business come in from every angle. Don’t limit the size and scope of your customer base by being too picky or too stingy with your advertising. Get both social media and traditional methods involved.
9. Make Sure Your Systems are Broken Down into Their Simplest Steps
Your systems may be easy to learn, but they should be broken down into very basic steps. You might think that a three-step chunk of information is enough for any employee to understand and use. However, they cannot read your mind. You may need to make it simpler and explain each step within your typed directions.
Always assume that you are getting the slowest high school student for all of your employees. They can all learn every facet of your business, and they can run it well. You just need to keep each step of your system broken down to its most elemental parts. That will preserve all of the integrity of your fine restaurant.
10. At 6 Months, Test Your Restaurant by Leaving for Two Weeks
Now that your restaurant is up and running, you need to make sure that all of your systems are working correctly. Get as much feedback from your employees as possible. Ask them if any of your systems need to be changed, altered, or updated. Why should you do this? You need to make sure that your restaurant is adapting to new or changing requirements.
Perhaps you haven’t thought of anything. You might have neglected to include a step in your instructions. Your employees will spot these errors and point them out to you if you are open to change. Make sure that you have all of the resources for them to be able to adjust and try out different methods of cooking, cleaning, or serving your customers. Keep an eye on the system itself, not on the people.
You should never have to micromanage anybody. If you have to resort to this, then you are being too overbearing. Instead, let your systems do all the work for you. Let each step in each system speak for itself. Don’t worry about changes or alterations of any kind.
In the first six months of your restaurant, you may have to tweak things here and there to make them fit better and for work to proceed more smoothly. Don’t worry about this at all. This is a natural part of running a big and successful operation.
When your restaurant has been in business for six months, test your systems (not your individual employees) by leaving for a two-week trip. If your systems are speaking loud and clear, your employees will be able to rinse and repeat without any trouble at all. Never spend any time worrying about your business. Tell your manager that you will be unavailable for two weeks. Your manager will be able to tell you about additional systems (or emergency systems) that should be put into place when you get back.
In the meantime, your business will run and operate smoothly in your absence. A couple of hitches here and there won’t make that much of a difference. Your employees, well-trained to speak their minds, will tell you all about any problems when you return. You will learn what systems should be changed or put into place after your return.
This is your restaurant, and you should have complete and total faith in yourself. A business, like any other organism, is a living machine. Let it breathe and exercise as long as you want to remain in the restaurant business. Happy cooking!
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