How to Start a Restaurant

As you put together a plan for your food-service business, be aware of some of the trends in terms of menu content and design: These factors could--and, in fact, should--influence the type of food-service business you open.

Restaurant operators report that vegetarian items, tortillas, locally grown produce, organic items, fusion dishes (combining two or more ethnic cuisines in one dish or on one plate) and microbrewed or local beers are gaining in popularity. Pita dishes and wraps continue to be in high demand, too, as an easy-to-consume alternative to sandwiches. You will also see a strong demand for bagels, espresso and specialty coffees, and "real meals," which are typically an entree with a side order. Consumers are also eating more chicken, seafood and beef dishes than they have in recent years. At the same time, people expect to see meatless alternatives on the menu. Consumers are also demanding "comfort food"--the dishes that take them back to their childhoods, when mothers baked from scratch, and meat and potatoes were at the center of each plate.

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Menus are also showing a number of ethnic dishes and spice-infused offerings. It's not surprising to find Thai, Vietnamese, Creole, Tuscan and even classic French cuisines on the same menu and even the same plate.

At the same time, be sure to keep the kids in mind as you plan your selections. If families are a key part of your target market, you'll want a range of four or five items in smaller portions that youngsters will enjoy. If you serve snack items as well as entrees, note that kids are choosing healthier snacks more often than they did a few years ago, thanks to concerned parents. For example, while both sweet and salty snacks remain popular, yogurt is the fastest growing snack food based on consumption frequency among kids ages 2 to 17. While most restaurants still offer fixed kids' meals, you might consider allowing your young diners to choose among a selection of nutritious options.

Though menu variety has increased over the years, menus themselves are growing shorter. Busy consumers don't want to read a lengthy menu before dinner; dining out is a recreational activity, so they're in the restaurant to relax. Keep your number of items in check and menu descriptions simple and straightforward, providing customers with a variety of choices in a concise format. Your menu should also indicate what dishes can be prepared to meet special dietary requirements. Items low in fat, sodium and cholesterol should also be marked as such.

Safety Regulations
Though we don't think of food service as heavily regulated an industry as something like medical services or public utilities, the reality is that many aspects of your operation are strictly regulated and subject to inspection. Fail to meet regulations, and you could be subject to fines or get shut down by authorities. And if the violations involve tainted food, you could be responsible for your patrons' illnesses and even death. Issues such as sanitation and fire safety are critical. You must provide a safe environment in which your employees can work and your guests can dine, follow the laws of your state on sales of alcohol and tobacco products, and handle tax issues, including sales, beverage, payroll and more.

Most regulatory agencies will work with new operators to let them know what they must do to meet the necessary legal requirements. Your state's general information office can direct you to all the agencies you'll need to be concerned with.

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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