Running your own restaurant can be hugely rewarding, personally and financially but it is ridiculously high risk… why? 90% of new restaurants and cafés don't even make it to their first anniversary, so, what on earth is going on? And how can you avoid the pitfalls?

Starting your Dream

You need to get your figures straight and be honest with yourself. It would be great to start your own top quality high end restaurant, but first, can you afford it? It is very, very expensive starting at the top. Often successful restaurateurs have a lot of experience behind them, which entices financial backing. Have you thought about starting slightly further down and working your way up? Prove yourself, gain experience and then financial backers will have something solid to judge you by before investing heavily in you and your business.

Business is business, whatever business you are in, there are a few easy rules that everyone has to follow. Understand your market. Where are you and who is your customer? How many customers realistically will you be able to serve each month, how much profit is there in each dish. Who are your competitors? Where are they, proximity? What is your price point? How does this compare to your competition? Do your competitors also include take away? How about ready meals from local stores, is that also competition?

Is your offering unique? Is there a demand for your offering? Go out and actually talk to people (potential customers) in the area, do they want what you are offering (Check your demand). Can your customers afford your offering? Would they book a table right now? It is always worth speaking to potential customers before you finalise your offering. If they've had a say, then they can feel a part of your venture. 

Know your Numbers

Week in, week out, know what keeps your restaurant afloat. Profit. What is the profit margin on each dish? Where is the best profit within your business (so that you can ask your staff to push these slightly more). Don't forget to add in your running costs into your margins, each meal has to pay its way.

Your dishes don’t just cost the ingredients, it also costs a proportion of your rent or mortgage electricity, gas, staff costs, business rates, ingredients and their delivery costs, print costs for menus, internet and social media costs and anything and everything else, just be honest with yourself and your costings.

Top restaurateurs always consider costs before putting a dish on the menu.

Timing is so Important

How long does each dish take to make? How often are they ordered? Do the fresh ingredients stay lively and fresh longer on one dish than another. How long can you keep your larder full without throwing away wilted greens (for example). It isn't just starting your own business that you can have a timeline for. Every dish has its own timeline - but do you know what it is? Each dish needs ingredients so how often is each dish being ordered? If it doesn’t work for you, take it off the menu and replace it with one that does pay its way.

“Failure to plan is planning to fail”. Quite simply, when you are thinking of starting a restaurant you have to be meticulously organised, every detail needs planning, each detail needs putting into a time line. Plan everything on a calendar. Most people find that a wall calendar helps keep them on track. When you create your time line, allow more time than you think it will take, because when one item takes longer than you thought (and it will), that’s probably ok, you can borrow time from other jobs and keep yourself on track. Plan. Organise and Plan again.

Knowing your numbers for each coming week can help, keeping good books for each service each day can help you predict the future. When are your busy days or services? What about certain months, do you know which weeks you need more staff in and which weeks you can scale down without any negative impact – you probably don’t need 20 staff in all day long for 7 days a week all year round, so organise your shifts according to your needs, your customers’ needs, but not your staff’s needs – they would rather have a regular safe job than earning more and having to find a new position when your restaurant can’t afford to carry on.

The right staff doing things the right way

Staff are incredibly important. There are still a lot of people out of work, but there are not enough skilled staff in the industry, not enough chefs, not enough top quality service staff.

So, you have to look after your staff. Keep them motivated. Manage them but don’t micro-manage them, if they are good at their jobs let them do their jobs. Empower your staff and praise them when necessary, but don’t ever forget who is the one paying the bills and taking all of the risks.

Train your staff, not everyone that comes to you will know how you want things to be done, so teach them, train them.

Can you spare the time to train? Do you have the right expertise? Does a senior member of staff that you trust have time? If not, can you make time for them? It is always good to hire for personality and potential if you can train them properly.

Even if you are working perfectly, and everything is superb, you still need to be ahead of the game, customers change, consumer demands change so what happens if you don’t change with these, or ahead of these trends. You should keep trying new things, new coffee roasts, new beers, new ideas for flowers, new specials on each course, anything and everything needs thinking about, and putting into action.

You will work long hours, and when you set up your restaurant or café, you will work really long hours. Don’t forget that there are things that you can do to make things easier for you, like using Print Waiter to design your menus, it’s quick and easy but they look great and work brilliantly, they are great value and they arrive where you want them when you want them, and with help lines that are open for most of the long hours you’ll be working, it is perfect.

Starting a new restaurant or café requires all of your time, it becomes priority number one. So, if you have any other priorities or other plans, can they take second place for a while? Or can you put off starting your restaurant until it can be your number one priority? These are all very serious questions, life changing questions. And if you do go for it, don't forget to publicise properly before you launch.

Open for business before you’re open

You’ve completed your local research, you’ve asked potential customers what they think, what they want, you’ve offered them samples? You’ve already shown your excitement, enthusiasm and dedication. Have you?… or have you focussed on getting it open? It’s sometimes difficult to keep an eye on the prize when preparing a new restaurant (the prize is often happy repeat customers). Everyone in your area is a potential customer, be excited and confident about what you are bringing to their area, treat these people as though they were already in your restaurant, the job of being fully booked starts before the restaurant opens its doors. This goes for yourself, your friends and family, your team, the painters and decorators, everyone around you.

And Finally...

The final piece of advice for starting a new restaurant is not to take it too seriously, it is incredibly important, but have a sense of humour.

Not everything will go exactly as you planned, you can guarantee it, but as long as you have everything planned with a little bit of extra time planned in, you can get things back on track so try not to sweat the small stuff.

Work hard and keep an eye on the details.

Customers eat with their eyes first. Beautifully designed menus that are clear always help boost sales.