When you jump into the competitive food service world, you need to make the best first impression possible. Folks get excited when a new eatery, bakery or fine-dining venture is about to open in their area; but if they're unimpressed with the service, food, atmosphere or virtually any other factor, poor reviews – online and by word-of-mouth – will follow. With a whopping 94 percent of American patrons basing their local and destination dining decisions on the comments of others, online reviews can make or break such a business, in short order.

Use a pre-opening restaurant checklist to reduce mistakes and streamline your leap into a pair of restaurateur shoes.

The First Course

When you first decide to become a restaurateur, it's easy to get sidetracked, thinking about the menu concept and clientele, but it's imperative to also focus on the preliminary (less romantic) necessities, such as:

  • Financial matters, including start-up costs, staffing and unexpected expenses.
  • Location analysis and how you plan to stand out from surrounding restaurants.
  • Lease agreements.
  • Business and food-service permits.
  • Insurance.
  • A liquor license, if applicable.

Creating a thorough business plan helps you keep the whole entrepreneurial shebang, including short- and long-term goals, in order, and encourages lenders or investors to take you seriously.

Restaurant Equipment Checklist: Supplies and Furnishings

Don't let an extensive list of industrial-grade equipment, supplies and furnishings scare you, let it inform and ready you. The type of items you'll need depends on the type of food service you'll be providing. Considering the mechanics of your establishment, from the front of the house (the entryway and seating areas) to the back of the house (where the food magic and office work happen,) your list might include:

  • Commercial deep fryer, range, oven, pizza oven, grill, microwave, warmers, steam table.
  • Freezer, refrigerator, cooler.
  • Stainless steel prep stations, sinks.
  • Dishwasher, dish tables, dish cabinets.
  • Tables, chairs, children's booster seats, waiting room seating.
  • Dinnerware, glassware, cutlery, table linens, artwork, accessories, window coverings.
  • Music system, speakers.
  • Bakery display case.
  • Deli display case.
  • Soda fountain, ice bin.
  • Meat slicer, French fry slicer.
  • Coffee machine.
  • Bar, bar stools, beer tap.
  • Pots, pans, sheet trays, mixing bowls.
  • Cleaning supplies – grill brush, bar mops, bin-sanitizing service.
  • Commercial dishes and utensils.
  • Hand-washing station.
  • Small appliances – toaster, blender, mixer, processor, scale.
  • Reversible cutting boards, knives, utensils.
  • Trash bins, recycling trash cans.
  • Aprons, chef coats.
  • First aid kit, fire extinguishers.
  • Kitchen manual, safety manual, food prep list, portion guide, standardized recipe book, catering manual, freezer pull sheets.
  • Cash register, point-of-sale system, accounting system.
  • Order pads, pens, menus.

Restaurant Marketing Checklist 

Marketing your new business might seem like a no brainer, but it's a bit more involved than just posting signs throughout the neighborhood or paying for a seconds-long television or radio advertisement. Additional ways to market your restaurant include:

  • Introducing yourself to and networking with other business owners in the general area.
  • Hiring a social media expert to develop a social media presence and a following.
  • Creating a website for hours of operation, contact information, location, menu items and suitable images of your establishment, meals and friendly staff.
  • Offering promotions and prizes, such as gift certificates, by email, in person or via your favorite social media platforms.

The Soft Opening

Included in your restaurant pre-opening checklist are the details of the all-important soft opening. Basically, this is a trial run held during week one:

  • Prepare your staff for serving the public. 
  • Invite several friends and family members to arrive hourly, allowing your servers and cooks to practice for the hard or grand opening. It's about more than practice, though; The initial opening provides vital information.
  • Graciously accept honest criticism from guests about the service, food, washrooms, seating arrangements, lighting and all other factors of the experience.  
  • Tweak whatever you have to before the official opening. 

What's on the Menu

You probably knew which meals you wanted on your menu within days of deciding to become a restaurateur. But did you:

  • Develop a list of core ingredients, spices, condiments and drinks? 
  • Choose your supply chains? 
  • Cost out each meal? 
  • Plan the plating? 
  • Hire a printing service to help you design your menu? 

Get on with these plans early to make a profit later.

Developing a Plan Pays Off

When you develop a detailed plan of action and a restaurant pre-opening checklist, you improve your chances of satisfying your patrons, receiving positive reviews, creating a more enjoyable entrepreneurial experience for yourself and staying in business for the long run. Isn't that what it's all about?