How To Open A Restaurant
Anyone that’s properly passionate about food and drink has probably fantasized at some point in their life about owning a restaurant. In my mind, it’d be a bijou little cave à manger called ‘Lucky’ where I’d always have a seat reserved and a plate of charcuterie immediately presented to me upon my arrival.
In reality, the restaurant industry is a world of tight margins, high stress, and gruelling hours. Opening a restaurant ain’t sunshine and rainbows and the chances of you being able to eat an endless supply of prosciutto in your bistro are second to none, even if you do own the place.
That being said, people still open restaurants. In fact, if you look at how many openings they’ve been over the last few weeks it seems like they’re opening them all the damn time. But just how hard is it to open a restaurant? How far will passion alone get you? And what steps should you take to make sure that your restaurant is a roaring success and not the sort of place that Jay Rayner crucifies in a national paper?
To get some genuine advice on how to open a restaurant, I reached out to some extremely talented restaurateurs across the country. These folks have all been there and done that and were kind enough to give me advice that spanned from finding the best staff available to scouting out a location that you know is destined for greatness. Always wanted to know how to open a restaurant? Here’s everything you need to know before you take the plunge.
"I often hear people in our industry say ‘I’m not good at accounting or understanding money/cash flow, I’m way better at the creative stuff’ and it’s nonsense. It’s a cop-out statement and it drives me crazy. You have to become great at both, otherwise, you’ll fail. Great food and wine alone are not enough to build a successful restaurant on, you need to have your financial knowledge in order. You need to know the cost of opening the doors every day, and how much money you need to make to break even and cover the operating costs just to keep your head above water.”
Jay is the co-founder of Legare.
"If you choose not to take investment, like us, here are some tips that have helped:
- Test your offering! We started with just £800 each for our first pop-up. We earned enough money for the next one and so on. These events helped us hone our skills, get feedback, build capital, build a following and find an identity. All without the risk of massive staff and rent overheads.
- Start small. We started with only the three owners, this kept overheads low while we grew a loyal customer base from the ground up. You can grow from there.
- Adapt. At Nest, we started with an a la carte, tasting menu and bar menu but soon focussed the offering due to the location and feedback. This strengthened the experience greatly. After the pandemic hit, we decided to close one of our sites & reopen with a new offering, FENN, which is proving to be a great move."
"Restaurants are living, breathing entities. Whilst having a core ethos, things do need to be able to be dynamic to suit your neighbourhood and guests, and the course of time. Restaurants are also very much communities in themselves – they rely on many, many people to make them a success, from the designer to the team to suppliers. They are a huge amount of hard work and commitment, so if you decide to embark on creating one, bear this in mind. Work on getting a team together that complements each other so that everyone can contribute to its success."
Chantelle is the chef-owner of Tredwells.
- Location – None of the rest will make any difference if you are in the wrong site.
- Be experienced – Don't think you can just walk into this industry with no experience and cash and make it work.
- Be humble – Start small and hustle.
- Get cash – Make sure you have enough money for when the bills start coming.
- Timing – A huge part of success is luck.
- Utility – Do your customers actually need your place at all?
- People – It’s harder than ever to find talent right now.
- Work hard – Obvs.
- Quality – If you don't do it right you won't make it.
- Discipline – It’s tempting to enjoy the after hours. Don't.
"Make sure you are one million percent committed to the project. Make sure you have enough funds for the project – plus a little extra on your budget – and if you are using investors, that all parties are completely transparent in what the crack is! You want to be as prepared as possible for any surprises.
It’s a tough one to say 'make sure you’re ready for it’, cause you won’t ever be ready for some of the shit life will throw at you when you think you are ready and you’re balls deep in building a restaurant and everything is against you.. just make sure you’ve got as little stress around you as possible so you can commit yourself completely to it.
Don’t cut corners as you’ll only regret it. Make sure your space is big enough for what you want to do and the size of the team you’ll need, especially back of house. We have massively outgrown our restaurant with our team and our equipment; we have 20 members of staff for a 30-cover restaurant, more equipment than you can imagine, and barely any space for it all. Hence why we are building a new restaurant completely bespoke to our needs now we are established. Jöro 2.0, it’s coming!"
Luke is the chef and co-owner of Jöro.
Very often one hears that the success of a restaurant depends greatly on its location but for me a lot depends on how passionate a restauranteur you are. Beginning something is the easy part but to grow and sustain a restaurant over a period of time is where the true test lies. Loving what you do and always remembering why you started are both very important not only to help drive business decisions but also be a guiding light when you need it the most.
There are a few main areas to think about, each of which is fairly daunting to begin with.
- Question – You need to ask yourself why you're doing this and make sure it’s for the right reasons. Opening a restaurant isn’t easy and the costs can be fairly mind-boggling. In some cases, restaurants are opened out of passion but they’re businesses too. As a business they need to make money to keep you and your team employed. So be careful before taking this jump and make sure you know and understand what you're letting yourself in for.
- Location – Find a location, lease, and landlord that works for you. A long lease will tie you down but too short a lease will leave you with little security. If it doesn’t feel right, don't feel pressured to jump into something. Make sure you ask ALL the questions and make sure you get everything in writing (i.e. email). You need to have a working relationship with your landlord.
- The Fit-Out – In terms of the basic restaurant fit-out, it seems there are two main routes. You can either pay someone to take control of everything (and pay a hefty commission) or you can go it alone, but perhaps deal with a little more stress and anxiety along the way.
- Your staff – Find a team that you can trust. Especially now given the current crisis in staff shortages it is crucial to have a team of reliable people. This works both ways, if you look after your team then they will look after you. Building a team from scratch is difficult so it is important to fill your key positions which will form your backbone.
- Licensing – Apply for any licensing in advance! However long you think this will take, it will definitely take longer. Make sure you give notice to your local authority that you will be starting a restaurant and register your food business. Be mindful of all the steps you need to take in order to operate and maintain a good level of food hygiene. Invite your Environmental Health Officer around once you’re open.
- PR – Get a PR team that understands your aims and ambitions and believes in you and your project.
- The menu – Practice your menu with people you trust and people who will give you genuine feedback. If a dish isn’t good enough you want to hear that. Make sure there’s always someone who tells you how it is. Do a decent number of test evenings inviting friends and family for feedback, again making sure that it’s honest.
- Website and point of sale – Get your website sorted so it’s easy to use and navigate. Make sure it’s straightforward to book and if working with a POS provider, make sure they’re the right fit for you and your business.
- Insurance – Get insurance, both public and employee liability.
- Hustle – Be prepared to work long hours but then consider the possibility that you have created something special.
Gabriel Waterhouse is the creator of The Water House Project.
"It takes a few months of work, sweat, and tears even before you’ve served your first ever customer. You will be dealing with a never-ending list of lease agreements, building works, council applications, licensing etc. Be patient, do your research before you start and try to come up with a strong and realistic business plan. Ask for help and get a few people to read it. Try to visualise what you want your place to look like and have a strong product that you and your investors believe in. People always tell you when you’re opening a restaurant that it becomes your home and your home becomes a place to visit in your spare time. My advice is to try and find a life-work balance even in the toughest times. You work to live, not the other way round and the first thing that goes out of the window when you are overworked is passion! That’s the worst thing that can happen to you as a restaurateur."
Avinash is the head chef at Pali Hill.
"I always remember when we opened our first restaurant in Paris, East Mamma. It was a Saturday for lunch, and there was a completely unexpected queue of 100 people standing there at 12 sharp. I was with our team of 20 Italians, and we felt like these people were going to eat us! Then, out of nowhere, one of the Italian guys went outside, opened the doors and yelled: “Benvenuti a East Mamma! BUONGIORNO!!”
What this story reminds me is that an opening is always very stressful. But, what is going to make it a success is if we actually enjoy it and have fun doing it as a team. Everything I focus on at an opening is to make sure my team is happy and enjoying what they do. The result is that this joy is then passed onwards to our guests."
Victor is the co-founder of Big Mamma.