Opening a restaurant is difficult work.
It takes months, if not years, to get a new concept off the ground, burning capital all the while. Once the doors are open, it takes longer still to break even — which isn’t, sorry to say, the same as turning a healthy profit. That’s elusive; for many restaurant operators, the day never comes.
As a new restaurant owner, you want to do everything possible to shift the odds in your favor. You, your team, and your patrons deserve nothing less.
Here’s how to make the hard work of getting your eatery off the ground a little bit easier on yourself.
Cultivate Connections Early On
Most new restaurant owners don’t have unlimited funding or infinitely patient mentors standing over their shoulders.
They need to cultivate connections on both fronts. That’s how the young CEO of Vandelay Hospitality Group grew a modest seed investment into a multimillion-dollar portfolio of restaurants in Texas — and how you’ll turn your restaurant dream into reality.
Put Your Business Plan in Writing
This is another crucial step in your “dream to reality” journey.
Putting your business plan isn’t just important to convince your funders that you know what you’re doing and give them the confidence to invest, though that’s most certainly true. It also keeps you accountable to yourself and ensures that you don’t get off track. Ideation and execution are two very different things; a sound business plan links them forever.
Create an Operations Manual Before You Open Your Doors
Execution is challenging for many new restaurant owners. That’s not because they’re not good at what they do but because they can’t do everything for everyone else. And no matter how well you hire, you’ll fall short if your team isn’t clear on what they’re supposed to be doing.
That’s where a comprehensive operations manual comes in. This manual needs to exist before you serve your first dish and needs to cover every aspect of your restaurant’s operation, including troubleshooting anticipated problems.
Hire Experienced Hands to Run Your Kitchen and Front of House
Your GM needs to be amazing. So does your head chef, or whatever you call the person who’s ultimately responsible for the kitchen’s product.
Ideally, these people should have years of prior restaurant experience. You should be willing to pay them accordingly — if the product is good, your customers will pay for it.
Use a Food Cost Lens to Build Your Menu
It’s tempting to go all-out with your first menu. Unfortunately, your first menu is precisely the time to keep your imagination in check.
Not your creativity. Your imagination. Because it takes a lot of creativity to devise an interesting menu that doesn’t accelerate your cash burn.
Keep food costs in check and you’ll give your restaurant a chance to grow.
Promote Early and Often
Start promoting your restaurant as soon as you’ve selected its site. Yes, even if you don’t expect your soft open for many months.
Create social media handles and start posting. Build a Google My Business listing and get added to Google Maps. Set up a waitlist and offer legitimate incentives to early sign-ups. Start prospecting partnerships with other local businesses, even local celebrities, to build buzz for your establishment.
You want people to know that you exist before you open and to be excited about being among the first to dine there.
Schedule for the Business You Want Tomorrow, Not the Business You Have Today
Labor is an even bigger value drain for restaurants than food, but you can’t run your restaurant with robots. In fact, you should run your restaurant with an abundance of labor to start — staffing for the volume you want, not the volume you may have on your first night open. (Although if you’ve done a good job promoting the place, you might be surprised.)
Don’t Make It Too Hard on Yourself
Running a restaurant is a commitment. It’s not something you wake up one morning and decide to try out for a little while. If you’re serious about opening and growing your own dining institution, you need to throw your whole self into the endeavor.
That doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up at every opportunity though. You need to be in this for the long haul. Being too hard on yourself is a sure way to raise your burnout risk.
If you can consistently follow these strategies to make yourself and your restaurant team more efficient and productive, you’ll feel less temptation to pile on. You’ll find it easier to put in the work and turn your establishment into something you can be proud of. And you might even have fun in the process.