Seven rules to successfully open a restaurant

By Diane Chiasson

Opening a new restaurant from scratch is a lot more complicated than you think.  My parents had a restaurant together and later on, my mother opened a small bakery. From my years of helping hundreds of operators successfully start, different types of foodservice operations, and for those who are thinking of opening a new restaurant, just know that no restaurant succeeds without a great location, a great concept and a great chef. Follow these important steps for a successful foray into the restaurant industry:

Work in the industry first

To really understand what goes into a restaurant business, try to work a few months or even a year in a busy restaurant.  Ask your boss if you can cook and clean in the kitchen, and later on try to have some hands-on experience working with floor and bar staff and doing table service; this will tell you quickly if you are in the right business.

Do your homework

Look around and go to a restaurant that you would like to own and operate and make notes.  Write everything you like and dislike about this operation and start making a plan. Find out what customers like about this place, and the price they are willing to pay. Travel, research and ask others for input on your new concept.  What you like doesn’t matter because you are not the customer, and what matters is what your customers like. As Gordon Ramsay has said: “The secret of a good local restaurant is knowing your customers and catering for them. Do your research.”

Define your concept

These days you need to have a unique food concept in mind when planning on opening a restaurant. Are you planning to open a steakhouse, pizzeria, seafood restaurant, sandwich shop, family restaurant, coffeehouse, casual-dining restaurant, upscale restaurant, bakery or an ethnic restaurant? Don’t go crazy with this, and don’t try to appeal to everyone. Try to identify an unfilled niche in your local market and stay focused. Create something better than anyone else, something different and unique. Don’t be blind-sided by too many options; you can always add and change little by little as you go to stay fresh and up to date. Once you have decided on a food concept, then you can start working on your location and your menu.

Find a good location

It is vital that you properly search for the right location, and it is often best to use a real estate expert in assisting you with market analysis and zoning laws and regulations. Find an appropriate location in a good market with high visibility, sufficient parking, convenient access and other positive attributes which are more critical today than ever. Don’t divulge the type of concept with this expert until you finalize the best location; you don’t want your competition to know about your concept.

Research the cost

Plan on having five to eight months of working capital from the start. There is nothing worse than running out of money before you open. It is imperative that you are fully aware of how much your new restaurant is going to cost you. You will be amazed by how quickly the expenses add up and how long it takes for a new restaurant to acquire regular customers. Do your homework. Talk to other restaurant operators. Find out about permit costs, construction, insurance, rent, as well as labour and food costs.

Choose a good chef

A restaurant owner’s best investment will always be in a good chef. Your chef has to be able to communicate well with each staff member, your management team, and yourself. Your chef has to be a leader and a motivator, and at the end of the day, should make you money.

Design your menu

Long menus are confusing for everyone. Don’t try to appeal to everyone and don’t build your menu solely around food items you like to eat. You will end up with too many food items on your menu, an overly complicated kitchen, and very confused customers.  Make sure you limit the items on your menu to a number that your chef can execute well each day. Start with a simple and non-complicated menu, try to focus on consistency in your kitchen, and always use fresh quality produce. Spend some time on doing a thorough food cost breakdown on every entrée. When this is all done, it’s time to establish recipes and procedures.

About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as the industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or [email protected], or visit

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