How to Start a Steamboat Restaurant

by Felicia Greene; Updated September 26, 2017
Some steamboats have been converted to popular shoreside restaurants.

Steamboats helped to revolutionize passenger travel and commerce on United States rivers. The first steam-powered vessels appeared in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and meant that travelers and shipping companies no longer had to depend on currents and manpower to travel the rivers.

Some steamboats were outfitted as “showboats,” and traveled the rivers to bring entertainment to small towns. In recent years, older steamboats were refurbished and new steamboats were built to create floating restaurants.

Items you will need

  • Business license
  • Health Department cleanliness and sanitation standards information
  • Information on steamboat dock space
  • Listings of potential steamboats for purchase
  • Menu information
  • Health Department certificate
  • Grand-opening menu
  • Ad rates and information for ads
  • Steamboat Directory listing information
Step 1

Create your business structure. Consult an accountant with experience serving restaurant clients. Meet with a commercial insurance agent with similar experience, and preferably with marine experience. Visit your city or county clerk’s office for a business license. Meet with local health department officials to determine the criteria for meeting cleanliness and sanitation standards.

Step 2

Choose a dock for the restaurant. Locate dock space that meets three requirements: sufficient water depth and dock length for the largest possible steamboat; good public accessibility (including handicapped access); and excellent visibility within the surrounding business district.

Step 3

Find a suitable steamboat. There have been a number of excursion-type vessels built within the last few decades. Depending on size, configuration and condition some of these vessels may be appropriate for use as restaurants. In addition, there may be a few older steamboats with restaurant conversion potential.

Boats and Harbors magazine focuses on the commercial vessel market, and typically includes numerous display ads of vessels for sale. Some recently-built vessels may be for sale through their manufacturer; older vessels may be listed by private owners or through brokerage firms.

Step 4

Design the decor and menu. Work with an interior designer to create the desired ambiance for your steamboat restaurant. Choose traditional 1800s steamboat decor, elegant and understated furnishings or perhaps bold contemporary styling. To enhance the dining experience, hire a head chef familiar with several types of cuisine. Develop a menu that blends with your dining environment.

Step 5

Hire professional restaurant staff. Look for kitchen employees and servers that excel at their job and can communicate well with all types of customers. Find a steamboat historian to provide the staff with historical tidbits they can share with the restaurant’s clientele.

Step 6

Obtain health department approval. Make sure all food is appropriately stored and all surfaces and storage areas are sanitized as needed. If any discrepancies are found, remedy them immediately.

Step 7

Ring your grand-opening dinner bell. Create a sumptuous special menu and schedule live entertainment that fits your restaurant’s theme. Invite local business leaders as well as dining and leisure writers from regional newspapers and entertainment publications. Advertise the event in these publications as well. Finally, list your new restaurant in a nationwide steamboat directory.

About the Author

Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.

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