Opening a restaurant is the dream of many chefs. It’s a natural progression after having worked in other people’s kitchens. Many professional cooks yearn for the day when they can serve their own dishes to eager customers.
After years of studying, learning, and saving, you’re ready to make your dream come true. You’re confident, you’ve got financing, and a book chock-full of recipes is raring to go! So now all that’s left is to find a building, remodel it, bring everything up to code, and put your menu together. Easy, right?
Oh, and don’t forget about marketing the restaurant and hiring staff. It can all seem very overwhelming. But we’re here to help with some useful steps to opening the restaurant you’ve always wanted.
1. Find the Perfect Spot
As they say in the real estate business, location is everything. Whether buying a home or opening a business, so when opening up a restaurant, you’ll want to do your homework first. Sit down and make a list of neighborhoods you’d like to check out and how big a space you want (and can afford).
One of the most important aspects of finding a good spot is to check out the competition in the neighborhood. Check to see how many restaurants there are in the area, and does yours stand out from the pack? Meaning, if you’re opening an Italian place, are there five others on the same block? You want to try to be the only one of your kind in the area.
Next, look into accessibility. This means there is ample parking, public transportation, and easy access for people with disabilities. If all is good so far; take a walk around the neighborhood and check out the foot traffic. Are there shops and other attractions that will draw hungry patrons to your restaurant? While you’re at it, look for markets, liquor stores, and restaurant-related conveniences. It’s always a good idea to have these places nearby in case you run out of something.
2. Upgrade the Electric
Once you have the space, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and start the remodeling process. A good place to start is the electrical system. Chances are, if your building was built before the year 2000, your electricity is outdated. This is especially troublesome for the restaurant business, as you need well-functioning electricity and a lot of it.
Between freezers, refrigerators, appliances, and ambient lighting, you need a system that you have confidence in and rely upon. You may also want to consider a generator in case of a widespread outage. The last thing you need is for your supply of food to go bad. A local electrician can come in and inspect your system from top to bottom.
They’ll check for things like outdated panels, flickering lights, discoloration around outlets, breakers that trip easily, and frayed wiring. While the electrician is updating your system, you’ll likely want to discuss new lighting with them. The kitchen will need to be equipped with proper overhead lighting.
The dining and bar areas will need a combination of functional and ambient lights. So you may want to install some soft sconce lights along with some track lighting with dimmer switches. While you’re at it, be sure to ask the electrician to make the restaurant Wi-Fi-compatible and cable-ready if you’re planning on some flat screens.
3. Install a New Kitchen
One of the most vital areas of your restaurant will, of course, be your kitchen. It’s the area where all the magic happens, from the creation of new recipes to the preparation of delicious dishes. The kitchen will not only need to be well-equipped with the most up-to-date appliances, but it will also need to be spacious for everyone’s needs, have a positive flow of workstations, and be up to the health codes of the town.
For this area of the building, you may want to consider hiring a design build company. These are companies that employ a team of professionals, from architects and designers to general contractors and trade professionals. They will work together on your project and take care of everything from start to finish. They can get a room if necessary and turn it into a world-class kitchen.
Hopefully, you won’t need to take your kitchen down to its bare bones, but if you do, a design build company can make this overwhelming task much easier. One of the important things is to install the proper flooring. You’ll want sturdy, non-slip flooring like vinyl, tile, or linoleum. It should be easy to clean and be able to withstand heavy traffic and the dropping of pots and other kitchenware.
Another item to consider is custom countertops. They’ll need to be made from heavy-duty material and be food-prep-friendly. You’ll need enough space for workstations, large appliances, and food warmers.
According to health codes, you’ll also need to have an emergency area that includes an eye wash station and a place to minimize first aid for things like cuts and burns. Be sure to shop around for high-quality, energy-efficient appliances like stoves, dishwashers, and refrigerators. They will be in constant use, so they need to be reliable, yet you don’t want to break the bank in the process. Many appliances have the Energy Star label, which means they use less energy. You may even get some hefty rebates in the process.
4. Upgrade Your Heating and Cooling System
Your guests will be patronizing your restaurant all year. You’ll, of course, want to make them comfortable, along with your hard-working employees. This is why having an up-to-date HVAC system needs to be a priority. Consider having the system zoned so that the people in the kitchen can stay cool while not freezing out guests in the dining area.
A zoned HVAC system can also help if you’ve got a bar or lounge area where people might be a bit warmer than those in the dining room. Consider investing in a smart thermometer that will allow you to regulate the climate around the restaurant from your phone or computer. Before opening, have an inspection done by a local HVAC company. They can tell you exactly what needs upgrading, like the furnace, water heater, and ventilation system.
They’ll also be aware of the local and state codes and ensure you pass all the mustard with building inspectors. While it may be quite a financial investment, in the long run, having an updated system will save you money. Believe it or not, it could attract more business to your establishment. Customers often prioritize comfort right up there with the food. If the restaurant is stuffy, chances are they’ll let you know in the reviews.
5. Install Bathrooms
A nice bathroom completed by a plumbing service may not be the first thing you think of when planning a restaurant, but it certainly has its benefits. Besides the obvious reasons, your patrons may take to the restroom for a variety of reasons, including to freshen up their appearance, make a phone call, or even take a moment to decompress from a stressful date or family gathering.
So your bathrooms should have a balance of functionality, style, and comfort. Before doing anything, consult a bathroom contractor or plumbing service. If you’ve got functioning bathrooms already, you need to know what you can keep and what needs to be upgraded. The contractor can tell you what size bathroom you’ll need based on the capacity of the restaurant.
They’ll suggest the number of toilets and sinks needed, as well as things like flooring, vents, and the size of stalls. You may want to consider hiring an interior designer to help spruce up the area and have them design a separate area for a makeup/refresh area and a sitting area. The designer can also decorate and choose fixtures, like mirrors and lighting, that match the decor of the restaurant.
6. Upgrade the Water
Water treatment is a detail that’s often overlooked in the restaurant business. Some business owners think that as long as they offer bottled water, they’re in good shape. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A good water filtration system is key to a well-run establishment.
Customers may not necessarily notice if their ice cubes are clear or the dishes are spotless, but their eyes will be drawn to foggy cubes and water-stained plates. This can be avoided with good water quality. Water can also make a difference to the drinks and food you serve. If water is not filtered properly, it can contain chemicals and particles that give it a bleachy or metallic taste. This can be tragic in the food business.
If better-tasting food is not enough reason to invest in a water filtration system, consider the fact that good water can save money. Hard water that’s filled with sediment and minerals can wreak havoc on appliances like dishwashers and coffee makers. Over time, those gritty materials can build up in your pipes.
This will lead to you having to replace or repair all of these things much sooner than if you had a filtration system. There are several commercial-grade water filtration systems available, including the popular carbon filter. This will purify water without giving it that purified taste.
7. Market Your Business
A few months before opening, launch your marketing campaign. Emphasize what makes you different and what you’re offering that makes you stand out. Offer the space for private events like wedding showers and birthday parties. Many restaurants garner up to 30% of their revenue by organizing these types of events.
Take some great photos of your newly designed space, along with appetizing food photos, and get yourself on some social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Join community pages and invite people to the opening with a coupon or voucher.
Partner with a delivery company like Uber Eats or Grubhub. This will ensure you show up in searches on their site. Send out mass texts offering a free dessert or appetizer for subscribing to text messages. Consider a loyalty program where customers can earn a free meal. Take part in any restaurant weeks in the area and consider having a soft opening. These events can help get the word out and allow a dry run without putting the pressure on a full-on opening night.
If you’re opening during a holiday, consider having a fun event that corresponds with it, like a costume contest for Halloween or an Easter egg hunt for the kids. There are many inexpensive ways to get potential customers to notice you. If it’s in your budget, consider hiring a marketing firm. They can help you with a website, newsletter, and other upscale advertising to make you one of the places to eat in town.
8. Finalize Your Menu
When it comes time to finalize your menu, you’ll of course, want the bulk of it to contain dishes that align with your theme, such as Italian or Asian Fusion, but don’t forget to have a few more basic offerings, including a kids section for people who may not be fans of a specific cuisine but still want to be a part of the dinner party and catering service. Next, consider having a diverse menu that includes appetizers, salads, soups, and desserts. Some people may not be looking for a full meal, and having those options can be just what they’re looking for.
Consider adding a few signature cocktails and tasty non-alcoholic drinks so everyone feels included. Use high-quality, locally sourced items to support other local businesses like farmers and seafood markets. Consider serving a few vegetarian and vegan dishes to make your menu inclusive. Don’t be afraid to switch them up every so often by adding seasonal dishes. A successful restaurant will also have options for take out and catering. You want to reach as many as possible.
Owning a restaurant can be a dream come true for chefs and food enthusiasts alike. It gives you a chance to hone your craft and share your gifts with the community. If successful, a great restaurant can be lucrative and a source of employment for many. The more planning and preparation you put in before opening, the better chance you have of succeeding. So take your time, hire reputable contractors, and market yourself and the establishment.