12 Quick Tips for Opening a Restaurant

12 Quick Tips for Opening a Restaurant

We’ve asked our top restaurant consultants what they recommend when opening a new restaurant. They provided such great feedback that we compiled it all into this all-in-one resource for you! So, below you’ll find 12 quick tips for opening a restaurant. Enjoy!

Meet Our Panel of Expert Restaurant Consultants:

1. Ensure You’re Selling Something People Want to Buy. Are you selling something that people want to buy? Your grandmother’s haggis recipe might be the best you’ve ever had, but will people be lining up at your door to try it? Match your offering to your market, or if you don’t, be sure you have enough money for advertising and keeping the doors open while you build up your audience. -MG

2. Never Go in Under-capitalized. A lot of restaurants fail not because they are bad restaurants or because of a fickle public, but because they do not have enough money to get started. No one should even begin to think about opening a restaurant without a clear financial plan. Know what it is going to take to get open and what every month of your first year will look like. If you are realistic, you will see that at least the first 6 months you will likely lose money. It takes a while to control waste by tracking sales trends, to get vendors to take you seriously enough to give you a deal, to get the staff trained to do more work in less hours, to understand what marketing is working and what is not, etc. Have enough money in the bank to cover your bills until you’re profitable.-MM


3. Identify and Define your Company Culture. Understand your culture and make your staff drink the Kool Aid. Your team needs to work somewhere they are proud of in order to do their jobs well. They need to be able to articulate who you are and what you believe in. And most of all, say the same thing. Early on you should list out the details of your brand, your mission, what is important to you, how you will treat your staff and how you expect them to treat others. Teach this during pre opening training and make it a conversation every day you are open. This will bring you happy team members and a consistent message. Your guests will become equally proud of you and will never be confused.-MM


4. Hire the Right People. Think about day one. The doors open, customers walk in, and everyone in the building has never done their job before. It can be chaotic. Don’t take chances on people who have potential to learn the job, you can do that after you are solidly operating. Hire people who understand what it’s like to work in your type of restaurant and who enjoy the restaurant business. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Don’t be dazzled by people who can “talk the talk.” Look for applications that show a pattern of “job hopping” and check references. Those who know the business but keep moving are usually sick of restaurants but don’t know anything else. That bitterness will sabotage your opening. Look for big smiles, experience and people who have stayed in a few jobs for 2 or more years. You will also find that former employers are eager to talk about these people, instead of the evasive “yes, they worked here and they are eligible for rehire.” -MM


5. Hire your Leadership Team Early. Be sure to bring your department heads (General Manager, Chef, Service Manager) on early enough to assist with uniform ordering, man power planning, hiring and restaurant tooling. Most first timers forget to budget for this pre-opening leadership labor and are either surprised by the cost or surprised by the amount of work needed beyond construction. -RC


6. Set Employee Training Expectations. Set expectations for staff and manager activity during training. Make training fun by being organized and rehearsed so you can program fun role play events. Also, don’t tolerate loose adherence to stated/published standards. Address lateness, uniform issues, grooming standards, interpersonal relationship behaviors and attention to detail with calm, one-on-one interaction. It’s a new work group and some employees are feeling out how much they can get away with and where they fit in the pecking order. Strong-willed bad actors will expose themselves quickly as they seek to establish dominance over other employees and even managers, so nip it early by redirecting their energy toward desired leadership behaviors. -RC

Restaurant Opening Checklist [PDF]
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7. Create Pre-opening Buzz. If you open the doors and just expect people to walk in, you will starve before that happens. Months in advance, you need to engage your marketing and PR machines. People need to know you’re on the horizon, when you plan to open, why you are special, and what your menu looks like. So many come to us wanting a “soft-launch” only, with no pre-launch marketing or PR. That is a death wish. If your business is a slow build, you will run out of money and your wonderfully-trained staff will leave because their hours were cut and they are not making any money. When business finally builds, you will have no money to buy food and a lot of untrained new employees. I always suggest you engage a marketing and/or PR company to send out press releases, court the media and all the influential people in your neighborhood, ensure you have a great website, start gaining exposure on social media and and more. Throw a pre-opening party for those people, as well. It will be worth the investment. -MM


8. Schedule Mock Runs. Mock runs (sometimes called Soft Opening or Pre-Opening Events) are vital to making sure the machine runs. The first mock run is almost always a train wreck, so invite construction contractors, close friends, and family to the event. Budget for the expense because food and drinks will be free to your test guests. Do NOT let them order off the menu because it won’t represent reality. Be sure to define what each party will order so you control the station load in the kitchen and so you can make the test mimic anticipated real ordering behavior. Have at least two mock runs per meal period. The first one exposes the issues (printer routing, point of sale buttons, cook line setup, guest flow, service flow, etc). Fix the issues, then do it again. The second time will be much closer to “ready.” Three mock runs per meal period are ideal if you want to launch professionally to the public. And then, you can throw your pre-opening party (as Mike mentioned above) after one of the mock runs! -RC


9. Know (and Control) your Food Costs. About a third of every dollar you make will be spent on ingredients. Write down your recipes and calculate to the penny what every dish you sell costs you. Toyota doesn’t sell a car without knowing what every nut and bolt costs them. You shouldn’t sell a steak without knowing what every mushroom and onion costs you. Once you have your recipes down, train your cooks to follow them exactly every time. Toyota doesn’t let the assembly line workers put a Camry door on a Prius… -MG


10. Make Sure your Seat Heights are Coordinated with your Table Heights. Not all seats and tables work well together. A seat top (with cushion compressed, if there is a cushion) should be 11 1/2 inches from the top of the table. Any less, and it’s tough to squeeze in. Any more, and adults feel like they’re kids and the table hits them in the ribs. -RC


11. Be Sure that your Tables Glow. Overhead lighting may be beautiful to look at but it often makes your guests not so pretty. Make your guests feel and look pretty by illuminating up…up from the bar, up from the table, up from the floor. Lighting should be warm Candles do this nicely. So do little lamps with shades (like on the bar). You should never see the filament of a bulb …because if you can, then it is etching little lines on the retinas of your customers. -RC


12. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help. There are resources available everywhere for people looking to start a restaurant, hospitality or food and beverage business. Talk to folks at your local Chamber of Commerce, SBA office, your lender, your vendors, or even your local utility has a budget to help spur economic development. Find a business mentor through SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). Ask people in the industry whose work you respect how they got started and what they wish they’d known then. Or, you can hire restaurant consultants (like us!) who understand the kind of restaurant you want to open and how to do it most effectively. -MG 

Emily Tanner – Director of Marketing & Communications, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

Do you need assistance with advice on opening a restaurant? We’re here to help! Contact us today, and let’s chat.

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