Whether it’s an elegant white tablecloth affair with tapered candles, a down-home pub-style restaurant or a family-owned ethnic eatery with authentic street food, thousands of people dream of opening their own restaurant. Many will fail, in part because of poor planning or unanticipated needs. Reviewing the things you need to start your own restaurant can help keep your diner, taqueria or trattoria in the black.
You'll need a sizable amount of legal documentation to start your own restaurant. Apply for a business permit, tax identification number and liability insurance. Permits for preparing and serving food will be necessary. Alcohol remains a separate entity; permits for serving beer, wine and hard alcohol are much more costly and harder to obtain than permits for just beer and wine. To start your own restaurant, apply for a retail permit if you plan to sell goods such as aprons or coffee mugs emblazoned with your logo. Restaurants offering cooking classes or special events, such as weddings, will need to meet additional permitting requirements.
Restaurants need a good location to survive. As with any business, a safe location with big storefront windows, adequate parking and pedestrian traffic are ideal. Building spaces must be zoned for restaurant enterprises, especially if you plan to serve alcohol or have live entertainment. Look into locations that will strategically support your customer base; for example, locating a deli sandwich restaurant near an office building makes sense for attracting lunchtime clientele. An Italian restaurant may want to locate within the city’s “Little Italy” neighborhood to take advantage of existing customer traffic, wrought iron lampposts and Italian-themed art galleries.
Restaurants require equipment to store, prepare and serve food. Walk-in coolers store meat, cheese, produce and other perishable items. Shelving stacks pans, mixing bowls and cooking accouterments. Plates, saucers, bowls, coffee mugs and utensils will be required. In the dining room, you'll need tables, chairs, a hostess stand and benches for waiting customers. Art pieces and plants should be selected to complement menu items and the restaurant's theme. The restaurant office should contain computers for scheduling, a fax machine for vendor orders and a safe for storing cash and credit card slips before deposit. Don't forget mops, brooms, sponges and solutions for cleaning.
Your restaurant will require experienced staff members to succeed. For the back of the house, hire a chef, cooks, prep workers and dishwasher. The front of the house staff includes servers, bartenders if desired, a host or hostess and workers to bus tables. Valet and coat check staff may be desired for upscale locations. Your office will require an accountant, a general manager and a bar manager.
Successful restaurants rely on marketing materials to get the word out. To go menus, flyers, business cards and a website let people know where you’re located and offer food pricing examples, a chef biography and showcase upcoming special events.
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.