How to Start a Restaurant

Before you can begin any serious business planning, you must first decide what specific segment of the food-service industry you want to enter. While there are many commonalities among the various types of food-service businesses, there are also many differences. And while there is much overlap in the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful, your own personality and preferences will dictate whether you choose to open a commercial bakery, a coffee cart, a fine-dining restaurant or another type of operation. Then, once you have decided what business best suits you, you must figure out the niche you'll occupy in the marketplace.

For example, are you an early riser, or do you prefer to stay up late and sleep late? If you like--or at least don't mind--getting up before dawn, your niche may be a bakery or a casual breakfast-and-lunch operation. Night owls are going to be drawn to the hours required for bar-and-grill types of restaurants, fine-dining establishments and even pizzerias.

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Do you like dealing with the public, or are you happier in the kitchen? If you're a people person, choose a food-service business that gives you plenty of opportunity to connect with your customers. If you're not especially gregarious, you'll probably lean more toward a commercial type of business, perhaps a bakery or even a catering service, where you can deal more with operational issues than with people.

Some other types of questions to ask yourself include, Do you have a passion for a particular type of cuisine? Do you enjoy a predictable routine, or do you prefer something different every day? Are you willing to deal with the additional responsibilities and liabilities that come with serving alcoholic beverages?

As you do this self-analysis, think about your ideal day. If you could be doing exactly what you wanted to do, what would it be?

Once you've decided on the best niche for you as an individual, it's time to determine if you can develop a niche in the market for your food-service business.

Working in a Restaurant
Dealing graciously with customers and playing the role of elegant host are only part of a restaurateur's many duties. Food-service business operators spend most of their time developing menus; ordering inventory and supplies; managing personnel; creating and implementing marketing campaigns; making sure their operation is in compliance with a myriad of local, state and federal regulations; completing a wide range of paperwork; and performing other administrative chores. Certainly the financial opportunities are there--as are the fun aspects of the business--but starting, running and growing a food-service business is also hard work.

Regardless of the type of food-service business you intend to start, the best way to learn the ropes is to work for a similar operation for a while before striking out on your own. Doing so will give you significant insight into the realities and logistics of the business.

Successful restaurateurs agree that the best preparation for owning a restaurant is to work in someone else's first. Think of it as getting paid to be educated. Certainly you should read books and take courses, but you should also plan to work in a restaurant for at least a few years doing as many different jobs as possible. And if you're not actually doing the job, pay attention to the person who is--you may find yourself doing it when your own restaurant is unexpectedly shorthanded.

Ideally, you should work in a restaurant similar to the type you want to open. You may find you don't like the business. Or you may find you're more suited to a different type of operation than you originally thought. Hopefully, you'll discover you're in exactly the right place.

"As soon as I started working in a restaurant, I realized this was my passion," says Scott Redler, "when you have a busy restaurant, and you're watching everything happen as it should, it's just a wonderful feeling of satisfaction." Redler has worked in various restaurants for 11 years, he opened a Chinese fast-food place at the age of 26. That venture failed within eight months, then Redler went to work for a large restaurant company, where he eventually advanced to the position of senior vice president, overseeing 15 operations. But he still yearned for his own place, so he developed the concept that became Timberline Steakhouse & Grill in Kansas (which he sold in 2011). He recognized that the fast, casual segment was gaining momentum, so he created Freddy’s Frozen Custard, which offers hot dogs, hamburgers, and (as you might expect) frozen custard. Freddy’s Frozen Custard is now a franchise operation with 60 stores in nine states.

How to Start a Restaurant

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The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

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