Always dreamed of opening your own restaurant but weren’t sure where to start?
Of course, there are many factors that go into planning your restaurant. But, getting the basics right is absolutely critical to success.
Let’s look at 5 of the most important steps you can take to get off on the right foot and set yourself up for years of success in the restaurant industry.
Step #1: Get your back office in order
Before you take any steps with your restaurant, you want to get all of the legal and financial stuff sorted out. The worst situation to put yourself in is trying to scramble to figure out your accounting procedure 6 months after the restaurant is open.
Get the basics figured out now and you won’t have to worry about them down the road.
Register your business
Before you get started with domain names, social, or even location, it’s important to make this business official. This means doing the necessary administrative work to register the business.
This includes three main steps:
- Register your business entity - Steps for USA or Canada
- Register for your tax ID - Steps for the USA or Canada
- Register for business licenses - Check with your state/province for specific information
Invest in accounting software
Before you start hiring, spending money, or tracking all of your finances it’s a great time to find an easy-to-use business accounting tool. This tool should connect to your business banking accounts, credit cards, payment tools, and everything else under the sun!
Free Option: Wave Account
“Not only is Wave the best free small business accounting website, but it's one of the best online resources period for its target small business audience.” - PCMAG.COM
Paid Option: QuickBooks Online
“Of all the accounting software we reviewed, QuickBooks Online offers some of the best pricing, with four service tiers designed to accommodate the needs of different business types.” - Business News Daily
Step #2: Claim your place on the web
We all live in the 21st century, so it should be obvious that one of the most important parts of running any business today is having a web presence.
Most important: Your domain.
You need a website that lists your hours, your location, your menu, and other details that will help diners decide they want to stop by. And that information lives on your website and other business listings.
Register your domain
Choosing the right domain name can have a huge impact on your web presence--and your entire business. You want something that’s short and memorable, but you also have to compete with other businesses all over the world to find just the right one.
There’s a good chance that your first pick--TylersTacos.com--is probably already taken.
So you’ll need to get a bit creative in coming up with just the right domain name to capture your brand without making it so long or complex that it’s impossible to remember.
There are a few factors to keep in mind when making the right choice.
Length: Is it easy to remember? Keep it as short as you can.
TLD (top-level domain): the characters after the “dot”. Examples would be .com, .ca, .food, etc. Now with more than a hundred TDL options to choose from, you can get really creative with the domain name you choose for your restaurant.
Of course, getting a “.com” is probably still your first choice. But people are quickly getting used to other domain endings, so don’t be afraid to try another option.
Price: Domain names should range from $9.99 to 59.99 for most common TLDs. This will cover your domain registration for 12 months. If you’re looking at a “premium” domain that will cost a lot more, you may want to wait until you have established your business further.
Keep in mind that you can update your domain in the future. So, settling for something that’s less than perfect now may be a smart choice until you can get the name you really want.
Set up your business listing
When you start any new business, people will come out of the woodwork trying to sell you products and services to help you with marketing. One of the most common services you’ll be pitched is reputation management or setting up directory listings.
You can pay people to help you with this. But, to start, it’s probably best to at least do the initial setup yourself so that you understand how it works.
So which directories and websites do you care about?
The big five are:
- Google My Business - Set up your listing
- Yelp - Set up your listing
- Zomato (formerly UrbanSpoon) - Set up your listing
- TripAdvisor - Set up your listing
- OpenTable - Set up your listing
- Allmenus - Set up your listing
Of course, there are a million other sites out there that maybe could list your restaurant. But these are the most popular and they’re critical to set up as early as possible.
Step #3: Decide how to build your website
Buying the domain name for your website is really only the first step to getting set up online. You also need to build your actual site--or have someone build it for you.
You need to decide what kind of site you need and how it should be created.
Custom vs CMS vs website builder
Without getting too technical, there are 3 main ways to build a modern website:
- Custom-built website - Hand-coded web page that is designed and uploaded directly to your web host
- Content management system (CMS) - Web editing software that lets you update content on your website just like you’re editing a text document; can use either pre-built templates or 100% custom designs.
- Website builder - Drag-and-drop or WYSIWYG editor that lets you build a website from pre-designed templates and sections.
There’s no clear-cut winner on which one is best for every situation, but there are some key considerations that can help you decide which one is best for you.
When to go custom-built: Probably the best use case for a custom-built website without a CMS would be a “brochure” style website that you plan to build once and rarely (or never) update. Usually, changing things on a custom-built website will require changes to be made in the actual code, so it won’t be easy to do unless you’re tech-savvy.
When to use a CMS: CMS is a great middle-ground option that lets you build a custom-looking website that you can easily update or change. So, if you plan to update your menu or post your newest specials each week, you can have a web developer build a custom theme/template for a CMS like Wordpress and then you can update the website content using the backend editor.
When to use a website builder: The easiest (and cheapest) option for setting up and maintaining your website is the WYSIWYG website builder like Wix or Squarespace. Especially if you are tight on funds and just want a basic website, this could be an easy way to get things up and running. The downside is that you’ll be working from templates and the website may not be 100% customized how you want it.
Step #4: Establish your social media presence
Looking beyond just your website, you also need to start to build a brand for your restaurant online. You probably know that social media is a great way to connect with potential diners, share updates, and market your business.
For step 4, let’s walk through the basics of establishing your presence on social and what you need to know.
Decide which channels are for you
It seems like every week, there is a new app or social site that is taking over the world. Resist the urge to jump on every new trend or fad.
Don’t register for every social media platform under the sun. If you’re like most businesses, you don’t have the time, focus, or resources to successfully manage more than 2 social channels really well. Since on social media it’s better to do nothing than haphazardly do very little, choose 1-2 channels wisely and focus all of your efforts here.
For a restaurant, Instagram and Facebook are pretty straightforward choices.
If you’re ambitious or you have a mobile food business, it may make sense to use a real-time platform like Twitter or Snapchat. But don’t feel compelled to use them if you’re not comfortable and familiar with them already.
Choose a handle
When it comes time to select your social media accounts and set up your online presence, keep these few tips in mind to choose the perfect handle for your business.
- If possible. use the same handle across all channels. For example: facebook.com/AwesomeRestaurant, @AwesomeRestaurant on Instagram & Twitter, and “www.awesomerestaurant.ca” on the web. It’s just good for branding.
- Double check the exact same name is available with all other channels you’re going to use to grow your brand before registering an account with any platform. With any marketing or branding strategy, consistency across all channels is key.
- Don’t choose a handle that is too far from your original business name. For example, @thebestgrilledcheeseintoronto may seem like a smart or cheeky Twitter handle, but if your restaurant is called Cheese Junction, it will probably just be confusing.
Step #5: Find the right talent
Finding, hiring, and retaining the right talent isn't’ an easy task for any business. It has become an employee’s market--meaning there are currently more open available job positions being posted than there are top candidates available to fill these positions.
As employers, we can’t and won’t ever win on compensation alone.
That means getting smart about where and how you look to find team members.
Write a Great Job Description
If you want to attract the best talent this starts with writing the best job description, clearly outlining an employee’s duties and salary expectations.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your job descriptions--you’ll never be the only fish ‘n’ chips place, or even the place that pays the most, so what makes your location unique and attractive?
Sell your vision and this opportunity to prospective employees.
Do you share and pool tips, go on frequent team-building outings, or offer a mentorship program? Be sure to let people know!
Post Your Job in the Right Places
Most people choose to list job postings on every free available job board.
While yes, you may get more applications this way, you’ll then have to weed through hundreds of applications spread over several different platforms to determine the top quality candidates for your industry
Find the right job board and focus your effort using 1-2 selected platforms to get better quality over quantity candidates.
Some platforms to check out:
Remember that when it comes down to it, people will make or break your restaurant.
It doesn’t matter how cool your concept is or even how great your food tastes, if you don’t get the right people in the building, you’ll never keep customers coming through the door. So, focus on finding, hiring, and keeping the right people.
So, while all of these steps are critical to getting your restaurant off the ground, it’s especially important to spend extra time figuring out your recruiting and hiring practices.
To wrap things up, just remember to keep yourself focused on the different steps involved. First, get your back office in order so it won't become a nightmare later on. Then, you can focus on establishing your business in the eyes of your customer by claiming a website and building a social media presence. Lastly, you need the right people. Figure out your recruiting, hiring, and training processes so everyone can get off on the right foot.
Of course, it can be overwhelming and confusing when trying to start a restaurant.
But it can--and should--also be incredibly exciting.
Best of luck!