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Guest Post: Planning and Setting up your First Restaurant--Your Comprehensive Checklist

Posted by Rachel Schwartz on 4/29/2020

Starting a new chapter in your life as a restaurant owner can be a very exciting time in your life, but without proper planning, opening the doors to your new restaurant can be stressful, confusing, and unorganized. 

To help you become the most successful business owner we've developed a comprehensive checklist of items your restaurant needs to succeed--before and after the doors open to the public. 

Embracing Your New Business
Restaurants today are much different than they were ten years ago--even five years ago. Menus are more thoughtful, interiors have become just short of an art exhibit, and the standards for service have exponentially shifted into more than just taking orders and delivering food. The most successful restaurants start with a story, a theme, or a purpose. 

Developing and Believing in Your Concept
Before you start looking at buildings, land, or any form of property for your restaurant, you need to birth the idea of your establishment. Spend time ideating on the cuisine, decor, and feel that most closely emulates what you want your restaurant to become. 

If you're more of a visual person, try creating a mood board. Cut out images, words, and visuals that speak to your theme and keep them on a board or layout in your workspace. This subtle reminder will help influence your decisions to fall into your theme. 

Honing in on Real Concepts
Now that you have developed a clear vision on what you want your restaurant to be, now's the time to start nailing down the details. 

Where do you begin? The food, of course. Starting with the cuisine, dishes, and overall menu will be the starting point to developing your entire restaurant as a whole--from the back of the house to the front of the house. 

Start writing down menu ideas. As you're writing, ask yourself these questions:
  1. Do I want my restaurant to have a set menu?
  2. Will my restaurant have seasonal dishes?
  3. How often will this menu change, if ever?
  4. Can I realistically source the ingredients needed for each of my menu items?
These questions will act as a guide to start building your menu, discovering what type of equipment you will need, and understanding the type of chefs and other staff you will need to hire.

Finding the Right Location for Your Restaurant
Once you understand your menu, you can start looking for a location for your restaurant. Looking for a location before you begin purchasing equipment is ideal. This will ensure that your space is adequately set up for smooth operation. 

What to Look for in a Venue
Finding the right home for your new restaurant is crucial. In the right location, your internal business will run smoothly, while the external portion will draw customers in. To find the location for your restaurant, ensure it meets these requirements:

Overall Size and Layout
Assess the floor plan to ensure the ratio between back of the house and front of the house meets your business objectives. In most cases, restaurants allow for a 60/40 or 70/30 split between front of the house and back of the house. 

Giving more space to the dining area and less space to the kitchen allows you to adequately seat guests, while ensuring that the kitchen also has enough room to operate effectively. 

Restaurant Kitchen Space
Ensure there is enough space to fit any unique cooking equipment that is imperative to the creation of your menu. 

For example, if you are opening a health-conscious restaurant concept, you will likely require space for either a single or double stacked steamer

It is also extremely important to assess the overall space of the restaurant kitchen floor plan. Is the layout compatible for large commercial restaurant kitchen equipment, or do you need to investigate small-footprint solutions. Is the room organized in a cohesive manner, and if it isn't, is there the ability to change the layout? Where are the water connections, and is there certain equipment that needs to be in close proximity? Is there enough hood space for adequate ventilation?

The kitchen is the heart of your business and should be the most important factor in deciding on a location. 

Dining Area
Try to visualize the amount of people that will fit in the dining area and try to understand how many guests you will need to prepare to serve at max capacity. 

Also, assess where overflow customers will wait to be seated or if that space will need to be accounted for with a new schema. 

Understanding and Obtaining Restaurant Operation Licenses
Before purchasing a place or opening the doors, it's imperative that you have the right licenses and safety regulations attached to your business. Let's break down exactly what you'll need to ensure your business meets inspection regulations and is legally able to operate. 

Licenses and Permits Required to Open a New Restaurant
To start a restaurant, you will need to ensure you have the following seven licenses and permits before opening your doors:
  1. Business License in the state and city of your location of operation. 
  2. Employer Identification Number to ensure the federal government that you are an employer. 
  3. Certificate of Occupancy from your local inspection authorities showing that your business is safe for employees and customers. 
  4. Food Service License issued by your city or county health department to ensure your business meets food prep and storage safety regulations. 
  5. A Music License issued by either the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, or Broadcast Music Incorporated. 
  6. A Signage Permit to ensure your restaurant's signage meets the guidelines of the city or town where you are located. 
  7. *Optional: Liquor License to legalize the sale of wine, beer, and liquor in your restaurant. 
Each of these permits and licenses can vary depending on where you decide to operate. To better understand what your city or state required for proper restaurant operation, try researching your state's Food Service Code here

Making a Plan
Now that you have your restaurant concept set, menu created, and a location or size in mind, it's time to start developing a tangible business plan. 

Gather all of the information you've created from the above checklists--restaurant concept, year-round menu, location size and layout, business licenses, and safety regulations. Put everything on paper--everything. This will help you see exactly what you've decided and exactly where you need to go. 

Acting on Your Plan
Here's where it starts to feel real--it's finally time to start acting on your business plan. 

Choose and Own a Name for your Restaurant
Buy or research trademarking the name, purchase a domain name to create a business website, and have a logo developed. 

Choose your Commercial Kitchen Equipment
Equipped a restaurant kitchen is easier than you might think. Go through every dish on your regular and seasonal menu to start making a comprehensive list of every piece of equipment needed--we mean everything. From knives to food processors to ovens to refrigerators. If you're struggling on what equipment you think will be best for your restaurant, try reaching out to your local dealer. They will be able to help you craft a full equipment list, ensuring your restaurant is fully equipped with everything you need to successfully create your desired menu items. Some manufacturers have Kitchen Equipment Guides which will help you determine the exact model you will need. 

Hire a Staff
This can be one of the most time-consuming tasks, but one of the most important. Investing in the right people to operate your business will create a healthy, smooth, and flourishing business. Ensure that you choose staff members that have goals that align with yours. Their work ethic should match or exceed your own. 

Decide on the Layout of your Kitchen
Once you have a list of the equipment you need to operate, try mapping out the layout of the kitchen to ensure that you can create a cohesive space. Ensure you leave necessary space for employees, office space, and dishwashing. 

Layout your Dining Area
Decide on the type of seating you would like to have in your restaurant and start making a plan. Ensure you account for everything from silverware to tables and chairs. Make a prominent entrance area so guests will understand where they need to go and what they need to do to be seated or greeted. 

Marketing your Restaurant
It's almost time to open the doors to your brand new restaurant. To make your grand debut as successful as possible, develop a marketing plan. This plan should go beyond the first day, week, and month of operation. This plan should encompass a long-term strategy to keep guests coming back and attracting new customers. 

Need help marketing your new business? Try these simple marketing tips to start your marketing plan:

Create a Restaurant Website and Social Media Profiles
Creating a website and social media profiles allow consumers to be able to discover your business, learn more, and find vital business information.

Starting a social media profile like Instagram is a great way for customers to get a unique inside peek of what's happening in your restaurant. To learn how to leverage platforms like Instagram to market your restaurant, read our guide, The Ins and Outs of Instagram Restaurant Promotion

Host a Soft Launch Opening
A soft launch is not only a way for you to market your business but it's also a way to test out your offering before opening your doors to the public. This soft launch party can be a way to offer an 'exclusive' first look to local press and community members. It can drive excitement and get people to start talking about your restaurant before it even opens. 

Write and Publish a Press Release
A press release is a way for people to learn about your new business. Pitching your press release to local press or publishing it online can help drive new people into your restaurant and keep the conversation going. 

Establish Internal Marketing Materials
What constitutes as internal marketing? Think of anything that you use to communicate to your guests that isn't your staff. This can be items such as menus, ads, signs, table tends, and more. Ensure that these internal marketing materials accurately communicate who you are, what you're offering, and what you do. Use your mood board to ensure that each of these items are in line with each other so that your business operates as a cohesive brand. 

Establish a Loyalty Program
Start building a community of customers with a loyalty program. Offering an incentive to customers that make repeat visits to your business will help you establish value, trust, and loyalty with consumers. 

Set Your Restaurant up for Success
Now that you're fully equipped with the information you need to start and launch your own restaurant, it's time to make the jump. From building your menu to laying out your kitchen, this comprehensive checklist will ensure a smooth grand opening and years of success for your new business.

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