Armed with practical experience, you're ready to decide what you want to do and put together your business plan--the most critical element of your restaurant. Map everything out on paper before you buy the first spoon or crack the first egg. Melman says 80 percent of what makes your restaurant a success will take place before you ever open the doors.
Your business plan should include: a clear definition of your concept; a description of your market; menu and pricing; detailed financial information, including start-up capital (amount and sources) and long-term income and expense forecasts; a marketing plan; employee hiring, training and retention programs; and plans to deal with challenges restaurateurs face every day. Bill Ellison, 30, and Frank Perez, 31, co-own and operate Frasier's, a sports bar in Apopka, Florida. Ellison recommends including an exit strategy. "Know how you'll get out if things go bad, as well as how you'll get out if things are going good," he says.
Be thorough, but don't write your plan in concrete. "You have to go into it being flexible," Ellison says. "Don't say 'This is what I have to offer; take it or leave it.' Open with an idea, then evolve to what the customers want."
Putting the Plan Into Action
Once you've decided on the concept and market, begin scouting for a location. Issues to consider when choosing where to put your restaurant:
- Area demographics: Do the people who live and work in the vicinity fit the profile of your target market?
- Traffic: Consider foot and vehicle traffic. How many pedestrians and cars go by daily? How accessible is the location to passers-by?
- Parking: Is the parking adequate, convenient and safe?
- Nearby businesses and other elements: What's around the location, and how might it affect your operation?
- Future development: Check with the local planning board to see if anything, such as additional buildings or road construction, is in the works.
If you're considering a location that has been the site of another restaurant, study its history so you know why the previous operation failed--and be sure it's something you can overcome.
The Franchise Option
A viable alternative to starting a restaurant from scratch is buying a franchise. There are a variety of options in the food-service category, from fast-food operations and ice cream shops to fine-dining restaurants and everything in between.
The benefits of a franchise include a proven format, marketing and operations support, and at least some degree of name recognition. But if you have your own ideas for the concept or menu, you may find a franchise too restrictive.
Franchise consultant Gene Getchell says the most important thing to look for when considering a restaurant franchise is that the concept is new and unique. "Look for quality and creativity, something that stands out, that's not a 'me, too,'" he says.
The unique element may be the food, the building or the presentation--whatever it is, it needs to be different enough to fill a gap in the market and attract the consumer.
For a winning restaurant franchise, Getchell recommends that the franchisor:
- Have a proven track record of success
- Demonstrate financial stability
- Have a clear expansion strategy
- Be very selective about who can purchase a franchise
- Not put any pressure on you to make a fast decision