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What to do before opening a restaurant

Opening a new restaurant can be a risky business venture, but with the right planning, financing and plenty of hard work, it’s definitely doable.

Owning a successful restaurant could be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of your life. So what are you waiting for?

Determine a food concept. A food concept is the first thing to consider when planning on opening a restaurant.

Are you aiming for a family-style steakhouse, upscale French cuisine or a quick-service ethnic restaurant?

Having a food concept will give your potential customers some idea of what they can expect from your restaurant. Determining a food concept from the get-go will also help you to structure and organise other aspects of your business.

Some potential food concepts include: seafood, steakhouse, family-style restaurant, casual-dining restaurant, ethnic restaurant, pizzeria, sandwich shop, coffeehouse or bakery.

Once you have decided on a food concept, you can begin crafting your menu. Don’t worry about pricing or exact recipes to begin with, just try to get a sense of how your menu can best reflect your chosen food concept.
Some things to consider when planning a menu include: what potential competitors are offering, where you will source the required ingredients, special equipment or layout requirements for the preparation of menu items and whether any special personnel skills will be required.

Consider the ambiance.The ambiance or atmosphere of the restaurant is another important factor, relating to the food concept.

Many varied factors contribute to the ambiance of a restaurant, such as furniture, lighting, dish and glassware, servers’s uniforms, music, serving style and clientele.

Having an idea of the ambiance you wish to create is important, as it will help to guide you during the decision-making process. Always keep an image of what you aim to achieve in mind.

Plan on a serving style. Your food concept, target customers and location will all play a role in deciding on a service style. There are three main service styles: quick-service, midscale and upscale.

It is important to decide which category your restaurant falls in to, as this distinction will help shape future decisions, such as staffing requirements and pricing.

Quick-service restaurants, or fast-food restaurants, are known for their low-cost menus and quick preparation. Examples include burger joints, pizza restaurants and ethnic foods.

Midscale restaurants fall halfway between fast-food and upscale restaurants. They offer full service and good value menus. Some midscale restaurants include buffets and salad bars.

Upscale restaurants pride themselves on providing excellent food and high-quality service. Fine-dining establishments are the fanciest type of restaurant available — they offer the best quality food at the highest prices.

Research the cost. It is imperative that you are fully aware of how much your new business venture is going to cost. Do your homework. Talk to other restaurant and local business owners. Find out about rent, insurance and permit costs. The more information you have, the more financially prepared you can be.

Choose a location with proper zoning. It is vital that you research local zoning ordinances and regulations before deciding on a location for your restaurant. Zoning ordinances deem that a commercial property, such as a restaurant, cannot be located in a residential zone.

Therefore, you should contact the town manager to find out if your potential property is properly zoned for a restaurant, before contacting the landlord about lease options.

Zoning laws also regulate how you intend to use the space within your property, along with any renovations or improvements you plan on making, so it is important to understand all of the ins-and-outs of the zoning laws regarding that specific property before you commit to a lease.

If you intend on having a bar in your restaurant, be sure to ask about serving alcohol in that particular area as well. Some towns prohibit the sale of alcohol in certain zones.

Clean the place up according to local safety laws. Once you’ve determined the location to be in the proper zone for a restaurant, you need to know how safe it is.

A local building inspector or code enforcement officer can walk you through all the safety requirements needed to pass a building inspection.

Along with a fire suppression system in the kitchen, the building may require an entire sprinkler system. The code enforcement officer will also look at the general safety of the building to decide if it is fit to operate as a restaurant.

Register your business. A business licence is required by all restaurants. It essentially grants you the permission to open your doors for business. Generally, business licences are issued by the city or local municipality.

Go to the city office to apply for the business licence. There you will be required to complete an application and pay a licensing fee.
Take care of any licences and permits.

You must obtain certain permits and licences before opening the doors of your restaurant, including a health permit, a liquor licence and a music copyright licence.

Look at your own resources. Take a good look at the assets you have at your disposal, you probably have more than you realise. Consider your savings and retirement accounts, any equity you might have in real estate, valuable vehicles or other belongings, along with any other investments you’ve previously made.

It may be possible to sell these assets, or you can use them as loan collateral. You should also have a discussion with your bank about your credit line — they may be able to offer you enough credit to get your restaurant up and running.

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