Food is a pretty universal source of joy and comfort. It spans all cultures, nations and even species — every living thing shows appreciation in some way for a good meal. The preparation of food is an integral part of every culture, and the reactions to it are nothing short of inspirational.
Watching my family and friends gather around the dinner table, eager, happy and excited to see what I had created for them, I felt that inspiration. It took a few hundred doses of, “wow this is delicious!” and “nobody makes it like you do!” to win me over, but it finally happened. I started planning to open my own restaurant.
Related: How to Start a Restaurant
As a serial entrepreneur, I entered the situation knowing that every business needs certain things, and it’s best to approach problems scientifically and with a plan. There are a few keys you’ll need to founding a successful restaurant — one that stays open for over a year. The first is, obviously, passion. No one should start a restaurant to make money. If that’s your goal, you’ll almost certainly fail. However, it takes more than heart and talent to succeed:
1. Perfect your menu.
I’ve always put my health as a high priority, and that’s only increased over time and through my growing involvement with Crossfit. I’ve fallen in love, over the years, with cooking paleo food that’s as delicious as it is healthy, which usually means creating colorful plates with lots of produce, along with high-quality meat.
While developing the menu for my restaurant, I’ve, as many entrepreneurs would, started talking about it — a lot. Probably more than my friends had hoped. I’ve noticed that while I’ve gotten a lot of great advice, I’ve also gotten a lot of personal preferences, and the two can be challenging to tell apart.
As a restaurateur, I want to make sure my business appeals to the audience I’m targeting. This is a good goal, except when it comes to designing the menu — if not reined in, it’s easy to end up with three pages of completely unrelated meals, or, possibly worse, many dishes that differ only in the slightest.
It’s tempting to rationalize a huge menu as giving guests many choices. The fact is, its usual effect is to overwhelm them and prevent many of them from actually finding a meal they would enjoy. All too often, they’ll simply pick the meals they most recognize and will never find the dishes that made you want to get into the restaurant business in the first place.
2. Pick great staff.
The people that make up your team will have just as much to do with the success of your restaurant as your food will. Rude or forgetful hosts or waiters, poorly trained chefs or even absent-minded bussers can cause the experience of a guest to go from great to poor in a sentence — or lack of one, especially when it comes to allergies and apologies.
As an entrepreneur, even without restaurant management experience, I can tell you that a common problem with any new business is finding great talent. Friends who have successfully started restaurants confirm this: while it’s easy to hire staff, it’s much harder to hire good staff.
Make sure you don’t skimp on the interview process, and always keep your feelers out for new potential hires. They’ll prove invaluable when you’re able to expand or suffer your first lackluster employee.
Training is also incredibly. It’s very likely that at some point very soon, you’ll come across a hire who has the potential to be a star player, but simply doesn’t know to do his or her job yet or how to do it in a way that works best with your restaurant. Build in training throughout the year, from recipes to safety, to make sure your team works in unison.
3. Choose comfortable furniture and appealing decorations.
I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but I always feel a sense of loss when I find restaurants that make amazing food but is so unpleasant to sit in that I would never take friends there. They may get my business, and a few others who happen to discover them, but they won’t get birthday parties or dates. They’re slowing down their own growth just by skimping on furniture.
If you’re looking to provide a place for your community to come and relax, bring their business partners, entertain romantic interests or even come to as a destination for special occasions, it’s best that you invest in high quality, comfortable furniture. Make sure your furniture choices are complemented by the rest of the room — from paint color to wall decorations and lighting.
You likely know better than to, for example, put leather wingbacks and a rich mahogany table under fluorescents, but if that’s essentially where your design knowledge stops, hire an interior designer. They’ll pay for their services within weeks.
Lastly, consider Instagram when designing your interior. Make sure there are plenty of picture-worthy scenes in your restaurant, from a well-decorated fireplace to well-plated sushi. Let your customers do your marketing for you!
4. Market your restaurant effectively.
I’m a bit ahead of the curve in this department as a web designer by trade, but I want to pass on this important tip: while a restaurant website, thankfully, does not need to be anything too elaborate — some of the best are only a page or two — it does absolutely need to have four pieces of information: address, telephone number, hours of operation and menu.
If you’re feeling more ambitious — and want to kickstart your marketing efforts on the right foot — make sure your menu is searchable and include extras such as:
- About us: Talk about the history of your restaurant, including who you are, who the chef is and why you opened its doors.
- Services that allow for reservations, if applicable. OpenTable is the most popular choice in many cities, but any service will work.
- Links to your social media accounts: Best to make these than not. Take lots of pretty pictures of your food and put them up and encourage your guests to tag your restaurant when they post about their experiences.
It’s also a great idea to claim your business on local search pages. The major ones are Google Places and Google Maps, Yelp, Swarm and Facebook. This will help get the word out as people search for their next bite. If at all possible, also get a jump on your social media accounts, and make sure to thank those customers that post about their experience as your guest! This will help build long-term loyalty.
Starting a restaurant is anything but easy, but it can be done. Get ready to dig in your heels and make sure that you’re as prepared as possible before you start out. We’re in this together. Now get chopping!