Fish-and-chip shops are a staple in the United Kingdom because of its access to fresh fish. It is, after all, surrounded by water. According to the National Federation of Fish Friers (a real organization that exists in the U.K.), there are around 10,500 specialty fish shops in the country, and Brits eat a whopping 382 million chip-shop meals every year. That's a lot, but what about stateside?
In the United States, which is rife with Chinese food takeout and pizza delivery, chip shops aren’t nearly as much of a cultural staple, but that doesn’t mean a fish-and-chips business can’t succeed. Fish and chips are tasty, and launching a small takeout operation doesn’t really require a huge amount of overhead. It’s an easy business to launch and hit the ground running.
The first step to a solid fish-and-chips business is a solid plan. When launching your own chip shop, you’ll likely be choosing between two business models: a small takeout business or a sit-down restaurant.
Takeout chip shops are the British classic, newsprint and all. Traditional chip shops use newsprint as takeout containers, folded into a cone so you can walk and eat at the same time (perfect for a stroll along the coastline). They have a deli-like takeout counter and probably only a couple of seats and tables at which people can wait or eat. This has a much smaller overhead than a traditional restaurant because it can utilize less square footage.
A sit-down restaurant does require more overhead, especially because you need more square footage. You’ll also have to hire waiters and servers rather than just a chef and cashier, but you can have a bar and sell alcohol for an additional revenue stream. Consider making your full-service, fish-fry restaurant cozy like a traditional pub. Alternatively, you can do a hybrid of both business models and offer takeout options while having a casual dining space.
Location can make or break any food-based business, so you’ll want to choose wisely. The demographics of an area really matter, and the average household income of the location you choose matters a lot. For example, fish and chips are generally a lower-cost, fast-food type of business. This does quite well in lower-income or working-class neighborhoods where people might be short on money and looking for a quick bite after an exhausting day of work.
A classic chip shop might not succeed as well in a higher-income area. You’ll certainly need to source higher-quality ingredients. In these types of towns, a sit-down restaurant might be a better option.
Beyond demographics, you’ll also want to consider things like foot traffic and competition. Since chip shops are generally takeout businesses, they thrive in places with a lot of foot traffic, like busy main streets and town centers. Unfortunately, these places also have a lot of competition. Make sure you don’t open your fish-and-chips shop too close to another establishment that does exactly the same thing. If you do, offer different options.
Regardless of the fish-fry business plan, all chip shops need similar equipment. You’ll need:
- Commercial fryers
- Large fridges
- Display fridges for drinks and snacks
- Heated food display
- A large storage freezer
- A potato-peeling machine (unless you’re using frozen, pre-cut fries)
- Chip scuttle (a hygienic unit that stores fresh chips)
- Batter mixer
- A point-of-sales system
These are the basics, and depending on the size of your restaurant, you’ll need extras like tables, chairs and utensils.
There are a lot of legalities in starting any business let alone a restaurant or food-delivery business. You’ll need to obtain the following:
- A business structure: For a restaurant, you’ll likely want to form an LLC. This helps protect you against lawsuits, protects your personal wealth and prevents your company from being taxed twice.
- A federal and state tax identification number: This can be obtained through the IRS and allows you to properly pay taxes on your business’s income. You should get this once you create your LLC.
- A business license: You can get this from your local government, but you’ll need the proper insurance first, like general liability insurance.
Depending on your state, you might also need additional permits like a building or construction permit (if you’re making any changes to your establishment before you launch) or a sign permit (if you plan on putting up a large sign in front of your restaurant).
Regardless of whether you’re operating a takeout fish-and-chips business or a sit-down restaurant, you're still going to need to get a permit in accordance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This can cost anywhere between $100 and $1,000, and it might also be dependent on the size (or number of seats) of your restaurant and the number of employees.
The requirements vary from state to state. For example, New York City requires a food service establishment permit for any business selling food and drinks or using a shared kitchen. It costs $280 and requires annual renewal. If your restaurant has a frozen dessert machine, you’ll also need a frozen dessert manufacturer permit.
Regardless of the state, you can apply for a permit from your local health department. You’ll first be required to pass an inspection to make sure your chip shop is up to code. Anyone on your staff who handles food will also need to take a test and obtain a food handlers' license.
No matter how sound your fish-fry business plan, you won’t succeed without quality suppliers. Decide whether you want to work with fresh or frozen fish and start the search. The two most common fish used in traditional U.K. chip shops are cod and haddock, but look into sustainable options. It might be cheaper to avoid sustainable fish now, but it won’t be affordable a couple decades from now when all the cod have been farmed out of existence.
You’ll also need to find suppliers for your frying oil. Traditionally, you’ll want to use rapeseed oil, beef dripping or palm oil, which have their pros and cons. The oil is essential for having crispy chips with fluffy centers and fish batter that isn’t soggy, so you’ll need to find a great wholesaler. Ask around at local chip shops or seafood restaurants, search online or consider looking in a trade magazine.
Marketing should already be worked into your fish-fry business plan, so don’t overlook it. You could have the best staff, the best food and the best service in the world, but if no one knows you’re open, no one is going to come inside.
Consider launching with a grand-opening event and advertising in local papers and church bulletins. Also sign up for Yelp and Google My Business and promote yourself using social media. Facebook and Instagram ads are an inexpensive way to get the word out online.