How to Start a Restaurant

Every business needs a marketing plan, and your food-service business is no exception. But even as you consider various marketing vehicles, keep this in mind: Research conducted by the National Restaurant Association reveals that word-of-mouth is still the best method of advertising. More than four out of five consumers are likely to choose a table-service restaurant they haven't patronized before on the basis of a recommendation from a family member or friend. So make the foundation of your marketing program an absolutely dazzling dining experience that customers will want to talk about and repeat.

Ask every new customer how they found out about you, and make a note of this information so you know how well your various marketing efforts are working. You can then decide to increase certain programs and eliminate those that aren't working.



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A key question for restaurant owners is this: Do your marketing materials--menus, signs, table tents, ads and other items--send an accurate message about who you are and what you do?

The first step in creating a complete marketing package is to know your market, and it's not enough to gather demographic information once. Markets change, and food-service businesses that don't change their marketing strategies with population shifts are missing out on a lot of opportunities.

Next, step back and take a look at each element in your facility. Everything from the parking lot to the interior decor to the printed items contributes to your marketing message--and each should be an accurate reflection of what that message is.

One cheap and easy way to promote your food-service business is by giving away gift certificates--such as dinner for two, coffee and bagels for 10, or a free pizza. Call local radio stations that reach the demographics of your target market and ask to speak to their promotions manager. Offer to provide gift certificates or coupons to use as prizes for on-air contests and promotions. Your company name and location will be announced several times on the air during the contest, providing you with valuable free exposure, and it's always possible that the winner will become a paying customer.

You can also donate coupons and gift certificates to be used as door prizes at professional meetings or for nonprofit organizations to use as raffle prizes. Just be sure every coupon or gift certificate clearly identifies your business name, location, hours of operation and any restrictions on the prize.

Some other promotional methods you can try include local event or sporting team sponsorships, discount coupon books, frequent-dining clubs, menu promotions and contests.

Restaurant Startup Resources

  • Restaurant and More: Step-By-Step Startup Guide: Entrepreneur's official guide describes the ins and outs of starting and running a successful restaurant, pizzeria, coffeehouse, deli, bakery or catering service. Packed with tips on how to keep your restaurant growing and healthy, the book answers most commonly asked questions and covers the essential business basics.
  • The Menu Maker: Having trouble creating that memorable menu for your restaurant? This site specializes in spicing up menus to increase your profits, complement your eatery and reinforce your desired image. It also offers tips for menu presentation and helps determine your menu needs.
  • National Restaurant Association (NRA): Founded in 1919, the NRA is the leading business association for the restaurant industry. Its site offers access to an information service and library, various publications and industry research. It also provides networking opportunities and training, and emphasizes the ways in which local restaurants can contribute to their communities.
  • National Restaurant Association (NRA) Educational Foundation: This nonprofit organization is dedicated to fulfilling the NRA's educational mission. The site offers classes for professionals and listings of U.S. Food Safety Regulatory System laws and training requirements. Where available, county and municipal requirements are also listed.
  • PlanMagic Restaurant: This comprehensive package is geared toward startup restaurants. It focuses on methods for writing a successful business plan, and helps you figure out specific financial calculations to beef up your proposal.
  • Restaurant Associations (by State): Find out state-specific information regarding the restaurant and food-service industry.
  • Restaurant Business Plan from This site is a collection of resources and tools for starting a restaurant, including a restaurant industry report, sample restaurant business plans and a link to a local Small Business Development Center finder.
  • Restaurantfunds: This website allows you to order a package called the Restaurant Success Kit, which includes a restaurant business plan creation tool, restaurant financials creation software, and a complete e-book and user's manual to help answer all your restaurant questions.
  • Restaurant Startup & Growth magazine: Here you'll find resources to help you get organized, increase sales, reduce theft, control costs, improve service, hire better employees, safeguard your cash and much more.
  • Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE): To get some practical, real-world advice, contact SCORE and ask to speak with small-business counselors who owned or managed a restaurant. Find offices or counselors in your area by visiting the website.
  • Women's Foodservice Forum (WFF): The WFF is dedicated to providing women in the food-service industry with the resources to succeed. It offers leadership development programs, market research, and a regional partnership program for networking. The site also provides answers to FAQs, advice and a community of peers.

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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