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Opening a restaurant

Opening a restaurant | The ultimate checklist for success

Design & Inspiration

Lachlan Ross | December 7, 2021

You’ve been dreaming of opening a restaurant for long enough!

Starting a restaurant is a huge undertaking and getting started can feel overwhelming. It’s best to take it one step at a time and approach it systematically. Here’s a comprehensive checklist to get you on your way.

Read through the detail so you can tick the tasks off as you go. Best of luck!

Opening a restaurant checklist

  1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances
  2. Choose the perfect location
  3. Apply for licences, permits and insurance
  4. Establish your restaurant brand
  5. Develop your menu
  6. Create your restaurant marketing plan
  7. Select your vendors and start buying
  8. Get your team in place
  9. Open your restaurant!

1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances

Opening a restaurant is an exciting time and it’s essential to be well prepared. It’s a significant investment and many poorly planned restaurants go under. Following these steps will give your new restaurant a solid foundation.

Make sure owning a restaurant is right for you

Take our short quiz to ensure you’ve got the skills and personality traits to run a restaurant successfully.

  1. Are you a people person?
  2. Do you handle stress well?
  3. Can you multi-task?
  4. Are you creative?
  5. Are you a good delegator (and not a control freak)?
  6. Do you have good financial management skills?
  7. Do you have hospitality industry experience?
  8. Are you a good planner?
  9. Can you solve problems on your feet?
  10. Are you a foodie at heart?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, it looks like you’re a good fit for opening your own restaurant. And you can always strategically supplement your skills when recruiting your team if there are areas where you’re lacking.

Brainstorm restaurant concepts

Now’s the time to cultivate your vision. Ask yourself:

  1. What’s going to make your restaurant unique?
  2. What are you bringing to the area that’s better than the competition?
  3. Are you offering something people in the area want?
  4. What cuisine will you offer?
  5. Are you aiming for fine dining, family bistro or fast food?

Do market research

You need to understand the market to decide if your restaurant concept is on the money. Here are some research strategies you can use:

  1. Do a Google search to see who the competition is and check their Google and Trip Advisor reviews to see what customers think of them
  2. Use Google’s free keyword planner to check the demand for certain cuisines in different areas
  3. Visit restaurants in the area you’re interested in to see firsthand what the competition is like. Talk to random people on the street and ask them what’s missing in the neighborhood

Write a business plan

A restaurant business plan is your road map. It helps you envision every aspect of your business and make sure you’ve considered everything. It describes your proposed restaurant concept, details the market and showcases expected financials. It’s simultaneously the most challenging and most valuable part of opening a restaurant.

Get funding

Now that you’ve chosen a concept and have a business plan that charts the road to success, it’s time to face facts – opening a restaurant is expensive. You might be fortunate enough to have the necessary funds, but if not, there are plenty of restaurant funding options available.

2. Choose the perfect location

Your restaurant’s location is a crucial factor in its success. Location determines foot traffic and impacts your potential customer base. Thoroughly research different areas to check the demographics complement your restaurant concept.

Do your research

  1. Who are your customers? Family diners might want to eat close to home, while tapas and cocktails may suit an inner-city after-work crowd
  2. Who are the competitors? Joining a restaurant precinct can be good, or maybe you should add a restaurant where there are no others
  3. What else is in the area and how can you capitalize on the surroundings?
  4. Is there public transport, good road access and plenty of parking?
  5. How busy is the area? Are other businesses well patronized?
  6. Are there population growth figures available from the local municipality?

Lease or buy premises

Once you’ve decided on your location, you’ll need to decide whether to lease or buy.

  1. Take the time to inspect lots of options to learn about pricing and availability
  2. A great location in a prosperous suburb will cost more, but the returns can be strong. When you have lots of passing traffic, bright signage will grab diners’ attention and boost sales
  3. Negotiate hard to get the best deal
  4. Before you sign anything, seek financial and legal advice
  5. Just remember, if the lease or sale price looks too good to be true, it probably is

3. Apply for licenses, permits and insurance

You need to make sure you follow all the rules and guidelines in the restaurant industry. Do your own research to ensure you don’t miss anything because regulations vary across different council areas, states and countries. Some applications take months, so get onto this well ahead of your planned opening day. Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Licenses: business, food service, liquor license, music
  • Permits: food handlers, signage permits
  • Insurances: public liability, property, workers compensation

4. Establish your restaurant brand

Restaurant branding goes far deeper than choosing a name and designing a logo. It’s about carefully curating an image for your restaurant that differentiates you from your competition and connects with your customers. Good branding gets you noticed, builds loyalty and increases sales.

Document your unique brand position

With your vision, mission and target audience in mind, clearly define what it is that you’ll do better than anyone else. Think about the personality you want for your brand and how you want people to feel about it.

Choose a restaurant name

Naming your restaurant can be tricky. Do some serious brainstorming here or get help from a branding agency if you have the budget. Ideally, choose something that has a connection with your restaurant concept, is easy to spell and say, and stands out from the competition. Make sure you don’t use an existing trademark and pick something that won’t date.

Develop your visual identity

It’s time to get creative and design your logo, fonts and colour scheme. Depending on your budget, choose a low-cost option through sites like Fiverr, or seek support from a brand design agency.

Design the interior and exterior

Work with engineers and architects to design the interior and exterior of your restaurant. You’ll need to submit drawings to your local authority for approval.

Install signs so people know you’ll be opening soon

As soon as you can, put up signage. Digital restaurant signage works best because the eye-catching graphics and animations grab the attention of passers-by. You can update your messaging remotely in minutes and display a countdown to opening day to build excitement for your launch.

5. Develop your menu

An enticing menu is the most important asset for any restaurant. Now that you’ve nailed your brand, you can move on to creating your menu.

Put together your menu items

You’ll have a basic idea of the food you want to offer, now is the time to work through the detail. Limit your options to about six items per category to simplify the customers’ choice and streamline your operations. Work with potential food vendors to work out a food cost formula so you can price profitably.

Design your menus

Technology like online ordering and digital signage makes paper menus a thing of the past. Restaurants that use digital signage report their daily sales increased by 30%. Anyone in the business can easily create digital menu boards using drag and drop signage templates. You can update instantly as availability changes. You can incorporate mouth-watering imagery to entice diners to your more profitable lines. 

6. Create your restaurant marketing plan

Your restaurant marketing plan details your target audience and how you’ll reach them. It helps you be more organized and successful with your marketing strategies. Set a budget and plan for:

  • Advertising: online, social media and newspaper advertising
  • Promotions: schedule happy hour specials, 2 for 1 deals and loyalty discounts
  • Events: schedule the grand opening event, kids eat free Fridays and live music

Make sure you take advantage of the power of digital marketing.

  • Website: A website that shows your menu, opening hours and reviews at a minimum is essential. A whopping 93% of customers look at a menu online before choosing a restaurant. There are DIY options for website building, or you can outsource
  • Social media: Customers expect to communicate with you via social media and it has a huge reach. Target the platforms your customers use, and if you’re not sure, set up Instagram and Facebook at a minimum
  • Reviews: a massive 94% of diners read online reviews to choose their restaurant. Set up your accounts on Google My Business, TripAdvisor and Yelp so that you can keep track and respond to reviews

7. Select your vendors and start buying

From food, furniture and cookware suppliers to cleaners, security, and whatever else your restaurant needs, you’ll need to choose your vendors. Interview them as if you were hiring a staff member and generate some healthy competition for your custom.

It’s worth exploring and investing in restaurant technology. Innovative solutions like reservation software, POS, digital signage, online ordering and food delivery platforms have transformed the restaurant business for the better. They streamline operations, enhance the customer experience and boost profits.

8. Get your team in place

Successful restaurants need the best staff. Having skills in customer service, food preparation and cash handling is a bonus, but you can train people. Look for staff that connect to the restaurant’s culture and are great team players.

Advertise and hire staff

Advertise everywhere. Digital channels like job websites and social media platforms will give you a big pool of applicants but don’t forget to use offline techniques. Job ads on your exterior digital signage could find great candidates who would value the chance to work locally.

Train your team

You’ll need to train your team to ensure they are safe at work and comply with all relevant food and beverage handling protocols. Check with local authorities for mandatory training requirements.

You’ll also need to make sure they know the ropes for cleaning, payments and customer service. Plan a training session at the restaurant to bring their learning to life. You can demonstrate your expected behaviors and use your digital signage to deliver engaging training that enhances culture.

9. Open your restaurant!

After months of planning, the time to open your restaurant is finally here.

Have a soft launch

A trial run with friends and family is a great way to give your staff some practice and iron out any issues before opening to the public.

Have the grand opening

With a successful soft launch under your belt, your team is a well-oiled machine and your venue looks impeccable. It’s time for the grand opening.

Promote your opening night heavily on your window signage and social media channels. Offer discounts and specials and invite prominent local influencers for a complimentary meal in return for some love on their social media. 

Here’s cheers to your success

Opening a restaurant isn’t easy, but it’ll be a labor of love and hugely fulfilling. Follow these steps to establish a thriving business, provide for your family and establish a career that allows you to immerse yourself in your passion for food every day.

Written by Lachlan Ross

Marketing Manager at Mandoe

I’m a SAAS-focused marketer with 10+ years of experience who likes to think I’ve got a way with words - thanks for stopping by and checking out this blog.

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