Opening a restaurant: A comprehensive guide to success

Opening your own restaurant can be a rewarding experience that lets you share your passion and vision for all things food. However, it also represents a major financial and logistical undertaking filled with challenges.

Proper planning is crucial to give your dream the best chance of thriving. And in this step-by-step guide, we walk you through the entire process – from initial business planning to the grand opening and beyond.

Quick links
Market research and business plan
Location and layout
Budgeting and costs
Licences and legal requirements
Creating the menu
Staffing
Technology and systems
Marketing and branding
Opening your restaurant

Market research and business plan

Conducting thorough market research is an important first step before formalising any restaurant plans. Taking time to assess demand, scout the competition, identify niche openings and analyse your target audience demographic will pay dividends towards refining your restaurant concept and location decisions. Useful areas to research include:

  • Cuisine types and price points. What specific cuisine and price point combinations seem underrepresented in the area? Finding a niche that isn’t saturated will give your restaurant the best chance to thrive.
  • Customer demographic. Be very clear in defining who your typical customer profile is. This will guide everything from your menu options to decor and marketing tactics.
    Create surveys to get input directly from potential diners on what would incentivise them to dine at your establishment.
  • Competition assessment. Research existing dining options in the area, especially those serving similar cuisine. Visit them in person and assess how busy they appear, their customer satisfaction, unique selling proposition and potential areas you could improve upon with your own concept. Identify at least three direct competitors.
  • USP. With research on the competition completed, objectively assess if your envisioned restaurant concept offers your target audience something uniquely compelling compared to other options in the area. Perhaps it’s a speciality dish done to perfection? A transportive cultural theme or vibe? Hyper-seasonal, ever-changing menus? Being ultra-clear on this aspect is key.

Crafting a Business Plan

With initial research wrapped up, the next step is transforming your ambitions into a tangible business plan. This is a comprehensive roadmap that will guide your decisions through the entire restaurant build process.

Think about these aspects when crafting your business plan:

Executive summary
Provide a one to two-page, high-level overview, including:

  • Brief summaries of your concept
  • Target market
  • Competition
  • Founding team
  • Projected financing needed
  • Expected start-up costs
  • Financial projections

Concept and menu details
Expand on the overview. Thoroughly explain your restaurant’s vision, looking at:

  • Theme
  • Cuisine types
  • Signature dishes
  • Projected price points per customer
  • Typical customer experience
  • Special services like catering
  • Takeaway offerings

Doing so will help inform decisions like kitchen equipment purchases and front-of-house decor.

Market analysis
Dig deeper into your earlier demand and competition research with:

  • Local area demographics
  • Traffic patterns
  • Analysis of competitors’ offerings
  • Pricing

Demonstrate a clear understanding of existing marketplace opportunities.

Management team
Provide bios and highlights of key partners, staff members and consultants, emphasising any prior restaurant or hospitality industry experience. Investors will examine this section closely to see who the people are behind the business.

Start-up costs and financing
Itemise expected expenses pre-opening like:

  • Real estate purchases and leases
  • Licensing
  • Equipment
  • POS systems
  • Renovations
  • Initial staffing
  • Insurance
  • Professional services
  • Marketing

Lastly, detail how you plan to secure funding through financing options like loans, investors and crowd-funding platforms.

Financial forecasts
Project monthly and annual revenues, as well as expenses over several years. This helps inform staffing plans, purchasing budgets and more. Revisit and adjust as needed.

A thorough outline of the business is required before you can get going. Conducting in-depth market research will help inform the business plan, which, in turn, acts as your foundation for opening a new restaurant.

More information: Learn about how to write a comprehensive business plan.

Location and layout

Choosing the perfect restaurant location is one of the most thrilling and stressful parts of opening your dream restaurant. With so many factors to weigh up, take time to properly assess the various locations on the shortlist before taking that all-important real estate plunge.

Think about your customer base

Scoping out the daily foot traffic flow and area demographics should be priority number one. Do populations that match your target profile pass potential shortlisted sites during peak dining hours? What about parking options for drivers or local workers leaving offices at quitting time? You’re casting for your guests here, so make sure they can get to your venue without too much fuss.

Competition density

Opening your establishment where several other restaurants sit can create a popular dining hotspot for passers-by and actually increase the number of covers you serve. However, intense competition can also be challenging for a new restaurant. Therefore, it’s important to plan the location carefully and consider any pros and cons regarding sharing a space with other restaurants.

Transportation access

Proximity to public transport, such as key tube stations and bus routes, will help expand your potential customer base. Also, factor in nearby bike lanes and bike parking availability to ensure guests can easily get to your restaurant, especially in large cities where more people make use of cycles.

Delivery logistics

Convenient delivery access, parking, and loading zones allow for a smooth flow of takeaway orders, as well as equipment and ingredients delivery. This can ensure continued revenue without disruption.

Availability

Beyond an ideal location wishlist, look at actual available properties for lease or purchase that meet legal requirements for commercial kitchens within target areas that fit your budget. Finding a venue that meets your needs can be tricky, so you might need to compromise on some aspects, such as size or layout.

Layout

Carefully planning the layout and flow of your restaurant prevents operational headaches while giving you the chance to deliver great customer service in an optimised space. From guest capacity to staff support, there are a fair few things to consider regarding the layout of your restaurant.

  • Guest capacity. Map out the space and seating based on forecast demand and spending per cover to inform budgeting. Factor in takeaway and delivery order volume, too.
  • Kitchen configuration. Optimise kitchen workflow by strategically placing cooking stations with adequate ventilation, storage and rubbish and recycling access.
  • Dining areas. Create an inviting front-of-house space aligned with your brand vision through decor, seating, lighting and ambience. Also, look at aspects like the potential for outdoor space.
  • Staff support spaces. Incorporate properly sized break rooms, lockers, disabled-accessible toilets, and office space as legally required.
  • Customer toilets. Fit out baby changing and disabled-accessible toilets for guest use, meeting all legal requirements in the process.

Careful upfront planning helps to get your restaurant set up for success, while remaining nimble to make layout adjustments as real-world challenges emerge once you’re up and running can help mitigate issues faced along the way.

Learn from experienced restaurateurs about finding locations and managing restaurants.

Budgeting and costs

With your business plan as the guide, building an accurate budget is imperative for opening a financially viable restaurant. Calculate all initial and ongoing costs for starting your business and include realistic profit goals from the beginning to increase your chances of success.

Real estate

Purchasing or leasing a physical restaurant space is likely one of the largest startup expenses. Carefully research average square footage rates in your target locations and consult a specialised solicitor to fully understand long-term leasing contract lengths before trying to negotiate the best rate possible. Any needed renovations and furnishings should be tallied here as well. Consider investing in design features like customised booths or fixtures that reinforce your unique brand.

Kitchen and dining equipment

Outfitting a full commercial kitchen and dining space can easily run into the tens of thousands of pounds. Create a comprehensive checklist of every required equipment item and obtain multiple quotes to compare offers. Look into financing options to spread payments over time if necessary, and be strategic in phases of buying versus leasing pricier tools like dishwashers or espresso machines.

Licences and permits

There are numerous legal requirements involved in registering and opening a restaurant in accordance with local council and food safety standards. Expect fees for licences, permits, inspections and more. Build these projected costs into your budgets, as they can really add up.

Inventory and operating costs

Ongoing purchases needed to run full restaurant operations – food ingredients, beverages, kitchen supplies for cooking and cleaning, front-of-house tools, like point of sale (POS) systems and other tech platforms – are where tight cost control becomes necessary as it can all add up. Where possible, establish strong vendor relationships, inventory management and batch cooking policies to keep such costs sustainable.

Marketing

In an increasingly noisy digital media landscape, strategically investing in building brand awareness and attracting your diner base requires the allocation of real marketing pounds from day one. Develop a multi-channel marketing plan incorporating interior and exterior signage, printed menus, paid social media promotions, local PR campaigns, and influencer collaborations – be active across touchpoints that will help bring more guests through the door.

More information: Read the complete guide to restaurant marketing

Insurance

Running a restaurant involves substantial risks, from equipment breakdowns, guest injuries, employee incidents, and food storage and prep issues. Obtaining the right insurance policies is fundamental to protecting yourself and others. Work with specialised brokers to obtain quotes for things like general liability, workers’ compensation, spirits and liquor liability and food spoilage coverage. Doing so will safeguard your restaurants from potential issues and claims down the line, ensuring that you’re doing everything by the book.

Staffing

From kitchen teams to servers and hosts, factor in the recruitment costs and wages, as well as benefits, to your operating budget. The goal is to attract and retain the talent needed to deliver exceptional dining experiences, but the financial calculations need to add up.

With large sums needing investment across many categories, clearly defining these expected costs in your plan – while inputting realistic revenue forecasts – is integral to securing financing and ultimately giving your restaurant its best shot at being profitable.

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Opening and operating a restaurant in compliance with all relevant UK laws and local regulations is paramount for a strong and long-standing operation. From public health to safety standards, numerous licensing and compliance steps involve paperwork and fees from the outset. Working closely with your local council and solicitor from the start will help streamline the requirements into clear checklists.

Food safety training and certificates

Mandated food hygiene training and certification help guarantee that proper food prep, handling and storage procedures are followed in commercial kitchens, mitigating risks of contamination or the spread of illness. Per law, there is an obligation to provide proper food safety training, which can be fulfilled by obtaining a Level 2 or Level 3 Food Safety and Hygiene Certificate. Additional documents like allergen management plans may also be required depending on menu specifics.

Premises licences

Formal approval must be granted from local authorities before providing late-night refreshments or alcohol. This includes obtaining personal liquor licences for staff serving alcoholic beverages. Expect fees, mandated Responsible Alcohol Service training, a requirement to display proper licensing certificates on-site and more. Licences typically need to be renewed annually.

Fire safety

Fire authorities will thoroughly inspect restaurant premises to ensure that adequate safety provisions are in place. This includes:

  • Establishment of proper emergency exit routes and signage.
  • Functioning alarm systems.
  • Fire extinguisher upkeep and documentation.
  • Elimination of potential ignition hazards, such as the establishment of proper safety routes and exits.

Any deficiencies must be addressed before opening doors to the public.

Trade effluent permit

Explicitly permitted trade effluent discharge consent is likely needed from the local water company to cover proper grease trap fitting and cleaning if your restaurant concept involves preparing oil or grease-heavy cuisine with deep frying. This helps prevent blockages and accumulation in sewer pipes.

Health and safety best practices

Opening a restaurant involves many rules, including health codes, employment laws, and accessibility standards. This covers things like having proper restaurant toilets, preventing accidents, and reporting workplace injuries. There are also many insurance requirements to follow. Your solicitor can provide restaurant-tailored checklists highlighting what certifications and documented policies need to be filed.

The web of legal clearances and licences involved in opening a restaurant can quickly become overwhelming. Lean on your council and legal support team to map out every needed approval, renewal dates, training requirement and policy to put in place so your daily focus can stay on delighting guests rather than worrying about falling out of compliance with any key regulations.

Creating the menu

Curating an exceptional, craveable menu aligned with your restaurant’s concept is central to attracting and wowing guests. Take time upfront to strategise the menu’s direction, including pricing structures, dish options across courses, ingredients procurement plans and potential seasonal shifts.

Concept and cuisine style

Refer back to your core brand ethos and restaurant theme outlined in the business plan. Let this aspect guide all menu development decisions, be it cooking techniques and ingredients used, different flavour profiles and presentation styles. Your business plan, which includes the type of food you’ll serve, pricing, and what your customers expect, also guides your decisions about what dishes to offer.

Signature dishes

While your inaugural opening menu should offer an ample variety spanning different dietary needs, anchoring it to around two to three skillfully executed signature dishes makes marketing a more straightforward process. These become your hero creations – whether an exquisite duck confit, to-die-for tiramisu or melt-in-your-mouth fillet.

Dish prices

Understand the true input costs around proteins, produce, spices, sauces and other ingredients needed for each dish option. Then, factor in labour, utilities and allocated overheads to determine the minimum price points required to maintain profit margins across appetisers, entrees and desserts. It’s okay to have a few dishes that are priced low to attract customers, but overall, your prices need to be set in a way that allows your business to make a profit.

Menu format and layout

Take time to make your opening menu look good and easy to read – arrange dishes in groups, use clear descriptions, and add background images. Paying attention to these details can leave a great first impression. It’s also worth providing takeaway menus with dishes that are suitable for travel. Set up digital menus, too.

Seasonal shifts

Choose some main dishes that stick around all year for consistency, but also use seasonal ingredients to keep the menu interesting. Add summer salads and light dishes when it’s hot; serve heavier stews and root vegetables in winter. Regularly change the menu to feature local produce when it’s at its best.

Allergy and diet options

Offer a breadth of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and allergen-free dishes to accommodate the varying needs and preferences of guests. Clearly indicate speciality items while training staff on alerting diners to ingredients of concern like common allergens.

Trial runs

Host practice nights where your team can try out making the full menu on a large scale and get feedback from others. Refine dishes that are not up to standard, source any problematic ingredients, and adjust prep timing if bottlenecks emerge, such as dish preparation taking too long.

View your opening menu as version one, subject to ongoing scrutiny, customer input, reviews and staff feedback on things like what dishes to keep, replace or refine over time. But the most important first step for a good menu is to spend time in the initial stages creating appealing dishes that match your restaurant’s style and brand.

Staffing

Having a passionate, capable team in place is integral to delivering exceptional dining experiences once the doors open. Carefully assess staffing needs across both guest-facing and back-of-house roles. Develop hiring budgets and training programs accordingly.

Kitchen roles

Build out kitchen teams aligned with the menu specialities and cooking techniques involved, such as those on the grill, sauté, pantry and dish and prep.
Determine the number of lead chefs and sous chefs needed to oversee the workflow and maintain standards.
Include specialised non-cooking roles like expediters and dishwashers.
List specific credentials required per role, like culinary degrees.

Front-of-house service

Calculate the total number of servers and support staff like bussers, hosts and, hostesses and managers based on the forecasted guest capacity and traffic flow. Determine if any bartenders are required based on your liquor licence permissions, and write clear role descriptions outlining duties, guest interaction skills expected and physical demands like lift requirements.

Competitive wages and benefits

Restaurant profit margins can prove tight, but skimping on remuneration can hamper your ability to hire strong candidates. This may lead to quick turnover. Give yourself a better example of the hiring landscape by researching average restaurant wages per role and local “living” hourly rates. Factor in tips and gratuities splits as well. Include documents listing employment terms with incentives like staff meals, transport assistance or bonuses that attract standouts.

Recruitment channels

Cast a wide net when advertising openings, tapping into options like industry job boards, print ads, university culinary or hospitality job fairs or employee referral rewards. Be strategic with where you source different levels of experience – higher-end roles may call for specialised recruiters.

Onboarding and training

Once strong hires are secured, implement thorough onboarding and training plans. Here is where you need to think about everything, such as company culture, branding training, dish preparation and understanding guests’ needs. Schedule shadow shifts for new front-of-house hires to learn the systems and revisit training frequently with refresher sessions.

Management and oversight

Whether it’s an experienced manager or the owner in charge, there needs to be someone clearly leading the team. This person will make important staffing decisions, manage daily activities, quickly deal with problems and make sure the team maintains the restaurant’s standards through support and responsibility.

Keeping your restaurant fully staffed with minimal turnover is an ongoing effort. But making recruitment, competitive compensation, training and retention core priorities from the outset gives your team the solid foundation needed to achieve service excellence. Revise approaches over time based on real-world hiring patterns and staff feedback.

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Technology and systems

Implementing the right mix of back-of-house technology systems and front-facing customer experience tools and apps from day one helps streamline operations, delivery, payment processing, and marketing for your spot.

Point-of-sale (POS) system

Choose user-friendly POS software that integrates with payment processing, accounting, inventory management, online ordering and loyalty programs. Handy features include:

  • Order routing between kitchen and service stations
  • Bill splitting capabilities
  • Sales reporting
  • Staff login controls.

Tablet interfaces add more flexibility, too. Just don’t overcomplicate things from the get-go.

Payment processing

Accept all major debit and credit cards and contactless payments like Apple Pay right off the bat. Integrate hardware terminals with POS and install backup terminals in case issues emerge. Post signage around your restaurant that makes payment options clear. Enable ecommerce capabilities allowing bookings and gift card purchases online.

Online ordering and delivery partners

Even for dine-in-focused establishments, providing diner takeaway and delivery options through partnerships with major platforms like Deliveroo, UberEats or Just Eat can be beneficial, driving significant added value through takeaway and delivery orders.

Inventory management

Vigorous inventory management software will help eliminate the guesswork around food and beverage reordering, reducing food waste in the process. Frequent physical checks are still wise to verify system accuracy, given the unpredictability of restaurant operations and demand fluctuations.

Internal communications

Arm staff with company email addresses, instant messaging platforms and shared calendar access to seamlessly coordinate scheduling, event planning and internal announcements. Integrate with payroll, attendance logging and tip allocation tracking. This can all usually be achieved with a solid CMS that helps with everything from internal comms to sales.

Guest reservation and table management

Take reservations through OpenTable or your custom booking platform. OpenTable offers features like real-time monitoring of table occupancies and statuses, guest preference tracking, waitlist notifications and more. Manage floor plans and seating rotations efficiently, reducing walkout risk, and integrate no-show SMS reminder follow-ups into the system for added revenue recapture.

More information: See how restaurants use OpenTable to manage their daily operations.

Guest feedback channels

Make gathering guest feedback a priority from day one through email surveys, Google Business profile monitoring, comment cards and online reviews. Positive reviews are marketing gold, while constructive commentary helps nip issues in the bud.

WiFi infrastructure

Nowadays, strong public WiFi can be the difference for restaurants aiming to impress guests. Ensure password accessibility from tables and bars without dead zones for easy social posts or recipe look-ups from diners and give them a seamless browsing experience.

Thoughtfully leveraging the right technology from launch helps new restaurants hit the ground running. Re-evaluate your tech stack periodically to keep innovating alongside accelerating customer expectations and ensuring you keep up with the latest tech trends in the hospitality industry.

Marketing and branding

Promoting your new restaurant hinges on defining a distinct brand identity and messaging strategy. Clarify the key attributes and principles your emerging concept represents in diners’ minds through logos, taglines and branding guidelines before developing broader marketing plans encompassing online, print and in-person channels.

More information: Learn about restaurant marketing with this comprehensive guide.

Visual brand identity

Bring your vision to life with professionally designed logos encapsulating cuisine style and ambience. Incorporate your branding on business cards, staff uniforms, interior signage and menus. Craft unique graphic textures and colour palettes reinforcing the environment you intend to create for guests. Publish style guidelines for conveying brand consistency.

Messaging framework

Distil what makes your restaurant fundamentally special in a tagline – evoking location, dishes, and philosophy with concise messaging that becomes ubiquitous across touchpoints. Tell your story in descriptive paragraphs for the “About” section of the website, conveying your culinary ethos. The goal is to give your restaurant a tone of voice and distinct sound that people attribute to your spot.

Digital presence

Launch an information-rich website highlighting everything about your restaurant, from signature dishes to menus and how to book a table. Include large photography aligned with the brand’s personality. Build audiences on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms through geo-targeted ads and organic social campaigns featuring behind-the-scenes creator content reinforcing what makes the guest experience delightfully different. Also, don’t forget the importance of regular communication, using methods like email marketing to stay in touch with guests.

Influencer marketing

Invite important local food reviewers and bloggers who match your target audience to a special preview meal. Suggest working together on fun projects, like making a special menu item that supports a charity. This can be a cost-effective way to quickly spread the word if they like it.

Community engagement

Make genuine relationship building within the neighbourhood home of your restaurant a focus from the outset through local partnerships – donate excess food, host job fairs or fundraisers benefiting community causes, attend merchant mixers and more. Position the business for catering opportunities as well. This community goodwill proves invariably viral.

Grand opening promotion

Generate excitement around the launch through creative print and digital campaigns. Strategise one-day only sneak peek dining specials or gift card incentives that entice early visitors to spread their reactions while supplies last. Share staff bios spotlighting credentials like award-winning pastry chefs to pique interest.

Conveying what makes your restaurant experience meaningfully different takes both showcasing excellence and listening to customer feedback. Implementing brand building and marketing fundamentals from the outset channels that distinctiveness into memorability.

More information: Learn what’s required to build a marketing plan.

Opening your restaurant

Finally, after months of renovations, licensing hurdles and recipe testing, opening day arrives. While it’s an exciting moment, start things off in steps, paying close attention to what works and what doesn’t so you can keep getting better.

Soft opening

Host a series of complimentary “Soft launch” events for friends and family before officially opening the doors to the general public. Work out operational kinks from kitchen flow to table turn times. Gauge realistic guest capacity and gather honest feedback to address weak dishes or service issues.

Grand opening

Coordinate messaging with marketing initiatives, building major hype leading up to the big public reveal. Mark calendars for the launch with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting photo opp. You should also consider special promotions like gift cards or prix fixe menus available for the first few weeks to drive traffic.

Ongoing quality reviews

Schedule weekly team meetings focused on gaps you’ve observed since opening – both highlighting successes and areas that require refinement through group brainstorming and additional staff training. Be willing to edit menus, eliminating less popular plates in the process. Solicit guest feedback through surveys and monitoring online reviews. Empower staff to flag concerns.

Revenue assessment

Check your finances every week. Look at how much money you’re making from different things like dine-in, takeaway, and delivery orders. Look for unusual patterns or small trends that can help you make decisions, like adding menu items that people often buy together.

Staff additions and turnover

Expect to remain in an ongoing hiring cycle for months post-open, fine-tuning team size and structure as customer traffic stabilises. Maintain a bench of qualified candidates to fill gaps quickly should turnover emerge in key roles like lead line cook. Budget accordingly.

Start your restaurant with an open mind, ready to try new things. Be eager to hear what guests think and willing to look at your own work critically. To turn new diners into regulars, keep improving based on your initial ideas. Stay flexible and always think about how to make your restaurant even better. “Version 2.0”, if you will.

Summary: Opening a restaurant

A new restaurant doesn’t open overnight, and you’re bound to have the odd stumbling block here and there. But with proper planning, you can reduce the stressful factors, get in the right frame of mind and focus on opening a restaurant, taking each step in your stride and evolving from an idea for a cool new spot to a fully-fledged restaurant.

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