Launching a successful BBQ restaurant will require a combination of general business planning and specific product research and development. You can find an almost endless array of advice for opening a business from organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration and SCORE. Preparing the BBQ-specific aspects of your business will require more in-depth research on your part.
Evaluate Different Concepts
BBQ comes in many different styles. You can go head-to-head with similar BBQ restaurants in your area, or compete with a unique concept. Start by evaluating different regional types of BBQ, including Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Texas, Georgia and Carolina styles. Consider what proteins you will offer, which includes not only pork, beef and poultry, but also specific cuts of meat, such as brisket, shoulder, hams, and baby back, spare and country style ribs. Most barbecue uses indirect heat, but some restaurants use a combination of barbecuing, smoking, roasting and grilling. Research what type of cooking equipment you’ll need, which can include wood-fired smokers, grills or ovens, and what type of fuel source – including wood – will fit each concept.
Analyze the Competition
Review all of the restaurants in your area, including BBQ and non-BBQ restaurants. Visit the BBQ restaurants to learn their concepts, taste their food, examine their menus, see how they cook their meats, learn if they offer catering or to-go bottles of sauce, check out their prices and note their hours. Examine the price ranges of all of the different restaurants in your area, which you will use to guide you as you develop your brand and pricing strategies.
Create Sample Menus
Once you have narrowed down your concept, create different menus based on your proteins, side dishes, breads and desserts. Side dishes can make or break a BBQ restaurant. Decide if you want your sides to specifically go with a type of BBQ – such as pinto beans with a Texas concept or Brunswick stew with a Georgia theme – or if you will stick with local favorites your customers have already demonstrated they buy at other restaurants. Include a variety of breads, vegetables and desserts.
Price Different Concepts
Once you’ve narrowed down your concept to two or three choices, research the specific costs for each one. Having an expansive menu with beef, pork, chicken, fish and game might attract more customers but will require you to buy more proteins, reducing the economies of scale you get from specializing in only a few proteins. Contact suppliers and get their prices for proteins, asking them for suggestions regarding popular choices and year-around affordability. Price the cost of the ovens, grills or smokers you will need for each concept, including the fuel for them. Find the price and year-round availability of any wood you will need for your concept. Evaluate your side dishes to determine their a la carte purchase prices and what they will cost you if you have a “meat-and-three” concept that offers three side dishes with a protein.
Evaluate Sales Options
Adding catering, take-out, delivery and sauce sales can greatly increase your profits or drain your resources, depending on how you set up the operations. In some cases, it can mean the difference between making a profit or not. Catering and product sales will have different health department and licensing considerations. Decide if you will run restaurant, catering and product operations using different staff, and if each option might best be run as a different division of your business.
Test your Concept
Run your ideas by potential customers, avoiding asking friends and family if they like your concept. Many will say “yes” to encourage you instead of providing objective feedback. Survey potential customers about their BBQ preferences without telling them your potential concept to see if your market already has a preference. You can find survey respondents at shopping malls, churches or outdoor festivals and use a printed survey. If your area has multiple but similar BBQ restaurants and you are looking to offer a unique concept, look for the second or third choice of survey respondents to see what they might like. Test your recipes, including side dishes, asking focus groups to rate them on taste and price. Include dishes you don’t plan on serving and let focus group members know you are doing this. This can make your results more objective, since participants won’t feel they are critiquing items you have already committed to.
Create a brand based on your concept. Test different names and logos to see which might be the most attractive and memorable. If you are opening a restaurant based on a concept from another state, consider decorating your restaurant with items from that area. Enter BBQ contests and festivals to increase your exposure and credibility. Offer to provide free BBQ articles and recipes for local publications and websites. Put content on your website that provides BBQ cooking tips and menu planning.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.