Are you hell-bent on opening a restaurant and there’s nothing I or anyone else for that matter can do to talk you out of it? If that’s the case, just know that I was in your shoes ten years ago and it would be very beneficial to take a few moments to read this!
More Than Cooking
Firstly, don’t do it just because you love to cook. Owning a restaurant is a hell of a lot more than just cooking. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the business aspects of a restaurant, including management and service, are more important than the food. Skeptical? I can give you 10 examples of restaurants with excellent management, impeccable service yet profoundly mediocre food yet they are still profitable. However, for the life of me I can’t give you one example of a restaurant with horrible service, poor management but incredible food that happens to stay in business. If you’re going to do this regardless and you’re not a business-minded person then go find someone who is and partner up with them. Remember, half of a full pie is much greater than all of an empty pie pan!
Raise more money than you need and give yourself more time than you need. Whatever you think you’re going to spend, be assured you are wrong. If you think the hood and the grease trap are going to cost $25,000, then budget $30,000. Forget about your “hook ups” and those buddies who are going to give you a family deal. No one is your buddy and there are no family hook-ups. It’s not cheap to build a restaurant and anyone telling you otherwise is lying to you. There’s no shortcut and trying to find one will often times result in calamity and chaos. Get three bids for everything and if one of the bids sounds too good to be true then most likely it is! With that being said here is some more “good news”, there’s no magic construction wand to wave and finish your build-out. Unfortunately, with restaurants you’re often dealing with city and state agencies that operate entirely on their own calendar with a blatant disregard for you, your family vacations, or bank account. As I write this, I too am participating in a three-way battle royal with the planning department and the department of building and safety. If you think you can open your restaurant in 12 weeks, then plan on 16. If you manage it in 12 weeks, then by all means please send me pictures and then come and project-manage a restaurant for me; I could use your expertise!
Read this carefully…Get yourself a good lawyer. Get someone that knows restaurants in particular. All lawyers are not created equally so just because someone tells you they can do something does not mean they can do it well. I’m sure under sufficiently chaotic circumstances my good friend Jerry could perform an emergency kidney transplant but I’m also sure he would rather stick to dermatology. Get a restaurant lawyer and ask which other restaurants he or she has worked on. Get referrals and follow up on them. You are going to be signing a lease and it may be the single most important document you will sign so for the life of your restaurant, please have someone read it that knows what the hell they are doing.
Right after you get your overpriced restaurant lawyer get yourself a great general contractor. Not a good general contractor, but a great one. Get a restaurant general contractor specialist in particular; not your homie who builds houses, gyms or gazebo. Find out what they have worked on and go visit their prior projects. Do not screw this up! I’ve literally seen restaurants spend their entire budget and go bankrupt before they open. It sucks, is a bad story and a horrible look; don’t do it!
Ready to Roll
You’ve now partnered up with someone, have incredible food, an amazing wait staff, a good lawyer, sufficient money raised, and have built a beautiful restaurant with your incredible general contractor…you’re a success, right!? Not quite. You still have to figure out how to get people in the door. The old method was taking to a phonebook advertisement, using a cute picture and a blurb or two in your local periodical, and maybe if you were particularly adventurous, a bill board. I haven’t seen a phonebook in 10 years. I don’t read any local papers and billboards cost a lot of money and in my opinion have a very questionable return on investment (ROI). Where does that leave us? Social media and PR companies. I have very mixed feelings about PR companies. Some work, some don’t, but they all cost money. There have been times in the past where I have used them but more so for a specific event, opening, charity gala, etc. I have yet to use one on a regular monthly retainer, so for me the jury is still out on the effectiveness of a conventional PR company.
This brings us to social media. It’s the present and the future of restaurant marketing. If you haven’t already embraced this fact, then make it a priority today. For those of you out there feeling confident because you’re already on Facebook, you are barely scraping the surface of the benefits that can be reaped from a broad and comprehensive social media campaign. By the time you have read this there may be five new social media platforms so rather than taking the time to list the current ones might I suggest that you jump online and search them out; your time will be well spent.
This was just a brief intro, or another segment of a “Restaurant 101” if you will. Hopefully you were able to pick up a couple helpful bits for your budding new business.