How to start a restaurant business
Follow these simple steps to start a restaurant
We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.This article was co-authored by:
Is it the food that you love? The sensory chaos of a busy kitchen? Or perhaps all you crave is the gratitude of another satisfied customer…
Why do we ask?
Well, before you tuck into this how to start a restaurant guide, you need to know why you chose this over anything else. It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be tough, and you’re going to have to work harder than you ever have before – but ultimately, it’ll be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.
This full-course guide will cover everything you need to know about how to start a restaurant, from research and regulations to recruiting staff and finding premises.
It'll also clue you in to the kinds of things you need to consider when opening a restaurant post-pandemic, including restaurant management and order at table software – two products that will help you to manage bookings and orders, and operate as safely as possible.
More information on these products can be found in our utilities section.
However, while we can tell you how to do it, to run a restaurant business successfully, you need to have more than just a plan. You need to have passion, grit, and ideally, some experience actually working in restaurants…
Does this sound like you? Then let’s get cooking!
How to write a restaurant business plan
The business plan. Often missed by the over-eager, over-confident, or lazy, but a vital document for every business.
It’s essentially the recipe for your restaurant. And, like a classic recipe, there are steps and ingredients that can’t be missed, and those that can be amended and adapted to personal preference or different circumstances.
After all, the best chefs know how to make the classics, but they also know when to add their own flourish.
So, what is the recipe?
- Executive summary – a brief overview of your restaurant and the contents of your business plan
- Your concept – details about your restaurant concept, the food you’ll be serving, and the inspiration behind the concept; an overview of your serving style (will it be counter service or table service?) and your USPs
- The market – detail the state of the market both locally and on an industry level, and explain why you see an opportunity for a new restaurant
- Competitor analysis – provide details about your competitors and how you will sit within the market
- Target market – explain who your target audience is, and how your concept will appeal to them: how old are they, where do they live, and what’s their income?
- A sample menu – to give an idea of the kind of dishes you’ll be serving, including prices
- Design – you probably won’t have premises or even finished designs to show, but try as much as possible to give an idea of the style and atmosphere you want to create
- Location – highlight potential areas and localities, and explain why they would provide a good location for your business. Also explain what you’re looking for in terms of square footage, visibility, parking and access, etc.
- Management team – include a brief overview of yourself and the team you have hired so far, highlighting your relevant skills, qualifications, and experience
- Marketing – provide a comprehensive marketing plan, explaining how you are going to market your restaurant both pre- and post-launch
- Business model and business structure – explain your monetisation strategy, including your price point/expected profit margins
- Financials – this is a key section and one that you must get right, particularly if you’re seeking investment or funding. Many people employ the services of a professional accountant to help them with this area. Within the financials, you’ll need to include:
The above is merely a brief overview of what to include. Read our guide on creating a restaurant business plan for a more in-depth look.
Need help organising?
Starting a restaurant is a long process with a number of steps to complete.
We recommend that anyone looking to get started considered project management software. It can help you stay on track, assign roles, and keep tasks streamlined.
Restaurant market research
Like the stock in a good casserole, market research is the foundation of a successful restaurant.
Below, we investigate the state of the current UK restaurant scene, and explore how you can use market research to refine your proposition.
UK restaurant industry analysis
According to a recent whitepaper by RG Group on changes and challenges in the restaurant sector, the UK’s estimated 86,000 restaurants are worth a combined £38bn and employ 988,000 people.
That’s a major contribution to the economy.
However, a fairly gloomy report from UHY Hacker Young in September revealed that restaurant insolvencies have increased by 25% in the last year alone. Over that same period, the UK’s top 100 restaurants made an £82m loss.
The chartered accountancy firm put this down to a “Brexit-related blow to consumer spending,” as well as a collapse in the value of the pound.
And while big name chains have led the headlines – Jamie Oliver, Byron, and Gourmet Burger Kitchen, to name a few – hundreds of small independents have also become insolvent.
It’s a bleak picture, but there are lessons to be learned.
Peter Kubik, turnaround and recovery officer in UHY’s London office, says:
“Good restaurants and bad have all struggled from over-capacity, weak consumer spending, and surging costs. Having a loyal following is great, but if that loyal following stops going out, then you have a problem.
“For those businesses that are suffering distress, aggressive management of cashflow will be key in the coming months. For example, renegotiating payment terms with creditors, and cutting unnecessary expenditure. Unfortunately, the sector can’t really expect banks to be as generous with their lending, especially as the sector’s current problems are so well known.”
Restaurant trends 2019
The RG Group report also highlighted a number of trends that current and aspiring restaurateurs should have on their radars. These include:
- The influence of tech – EPOS systems and restaurant management software are revolutionising the way eateries manage stock and data and streamline operations
- Vegetarianism, veganism, and flexitarianism – it’s hard to find legitimate figures, but you’d be a fool not to pay attention to changing dietary preferences by offering suitable dishes
- Experience dining – many diners are after more than just a good meal – they want something unique and memorable when they go out to eat
- Transparency, sustainability, and trust – consumers are becoming much more concerned about the social and environmental impact of the brands they choose, and expect them to be accountable
However, be aware that the restaurant industry is plagued by ‘trends’, in part driven by social media. Investing in every new food or decor fad that comes along is a waste of time and resources. It’s better to identify trends that align with your culture and objectives if you want to cultivate a consistent brand image and build customer loyalty.
Consumers prize authenticity and transparency above all else – and that’s unlikely to be ‘just a fad’.
Restaurant competitor analysis
If you want your restaurant to succeed, you’ll need to be able to compete with the other restaurants in your area with a superior, or suitably different, offering.
For example, if there are already a huge number of vegetarian restaurants in the area, you might be entering a saturated market. On the other hand, if there are no restaurant ideas like yours in the area, ask yourself why.
It could just be that no one has had the foresight to open this type of restaurant yet. But equally, it could be because nobody wants a Japanese-English fusion restaurant with a Burmese twist…
This should involve more than just a quick Google. Go out and get stuck in – survey people on the street, and stuff your face while visiting the competition.
Restaurant competitor analysis checklist:
- Compile a list of competitors in your area – both direct (restaurants with a very similar offering to yours) and indirect (those that cater to the same target market)
- Conduct an operational analysis – concept, service model, opening hours, covers
- Conduct a menu analysis – dishes on offer, range of dishes, dietary requirements catered for, price point
- Conduct a marketing analysis – promotional method, offers, deals, events, channels
- Conduct an analysis of competitors’ customer reviews – positive and negative online reviews
- Conduct a SWOT analysis – assess their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in relation to your proposition
Collate this information in a spreadsheet, analyse it, and use it to improve and perfect your offering.
Who are your potential customers? Where do they live and work? How much can they afford to spend?
Identifying your target consumer will allow you to:
- Survey them to find out if there’s a demand for your concept
- Tailor your branding to appeal to them
“People tend to go with what they enjoy, rather than what there are the right resources for. Too many people say ‘I know what I like’, when it’s rather more a question of marketing and the quality of your product.” Ian McKerracher, National Restaurant Association.
Proving your concept
If your concept is quite ‘out there’, you could test it with a market stall before making a huge financial investment in an unproven idea.
A market stall is relatively low cost, and will allow you to prove your concept without too much risk. It’s also a great way to interact with potential customers, do some preemptive marketing, and get direct feedback on your product. Read our guide on how to start a market stall here.
Alternatively, you could opt for a ‘pop-up’ restaurant by renting short-term space for as long as necessary. This will allow you to more faithfully test the dining experience you eventually hope to create.
Appear Here has a range of temporary spaces available for days, weeks, or months.
Read our market research section for a full explanation of how to conduct market research.
Restaurant ideas and branding
Hopefully you’re here because you already have a unique restaurant proposition, and your market research has proved that there’s a demand for this concept in your area.
Now it’s time to bring your restaurant to life by creating a compelling and recognisable brand.
Your restaurant name might be the first thing prospective customers learn about you.
It should therefore reflect your brand, help you stand out in a competitive market, and appeal to your target market.
What makes good restaurant names? It should:
- Leave a lasting impression
- Be easy to pronounce and/or spell
- Reflect your concept
Oh, and it’s also advisable to avoid existing, well-known and trademarked names. Even if your family name is McDonald, you really shouldn’t be calling your restaurant that (or anything that sounds similar) unless you want to give the impression that you’re trying to imitate your competitors. You could also be sued.
Creating a restaurant menu
Your menu design is a reflection of your restaurant as a whole, and it’s one of the main things potential customers will base their decisions on.
A well written, simple restaurant menu design should be descriptive, easy to read, and not too cluttered. It should also complement your theme.
Golden rules for a restaurant menu:
- Break your dishes down into clearly identified sections
- Highlight special or popular dishes
- Pay close attention to your dish descriptions – explain what dishes are in an eloquent way that really sells them (but is also accurate!)
- Include allergy and dietary information
As a general rule, we’d advise you to avoid:
- Clip art – why not try Shutterstock instead?
- Too much technical jargon
- Too many disclaimers – you want to tell your customers what you can do for them, rather than pointing out all the things you can’t!
- Difficult to read fonts
- Laminating your menu (looks tacky)
- Making your dish descriptions too long
Restaurant layout, interiors, and design
Your restaurant layout will have a significant influence on your customers’ experience, so judicious use of space is paramount.
There are a number of factors that come into play here. You want the maximum number of covers the floor space allows for, without sacrificing the comfort of your diners, or impeding the flow of staff and customers around the restaurant.
To learn more about restaurant design and layout, we spoke to Lauren Woodhouse from West Yorkshire-based LW Interior Design, who specialises in restaurant, bar, and hotel interiors.
Basic restaurant layout
If you’re buying an existing establishment, or if you’re constrained by structure, you might not have the luxury of deciding exactly where everything goes. That said, as much as possible, you should follow these basic restaurant layout rules.
“The bar should always be the focal point of the room. You should be able to see it from all corners, and it should make an impact on the customer as they enter. It should be well lit and attractive.
“However, if your idea is to have a feature kitchen where your diners can see the food being prepared, then this should overtake the bar as the focal point, allowing the chefs to take centre stage.
“Otherwise, the kitchen should be situated at the back or at the side of the room, and staff should have a good walkway through the tables so they’re not holding plates over other diners heads in order to get through.
“Any stairs in a restaurant should be towards one of the outer walls, so that if anyone is going up/down, they don’t have to walk through other diners to get to them. Customers should be able to enter the restaurant and turn right or left to find the stairs, and have good access through.
“The toilets should be situated towards the back of the restaurant, or downstairs. They should, where possible, have a good lobby/entrance vestibule so that the door doesn’t open from the toilets onto the restaurant, and diners should not be able to see into the toilets when the door is open.”
Restaurant table layout
As we mentioned above, there’s an art to finding the perfect ratio of seating to floor space.
Woodhouse explains how you can find the ideal balance:
“This completely depends on the size of the space: you don’t want to have too many tables and your diners to feel cramped, but you also don’t want to have too few and your space to feel empty even when all of the covers are full.
“As long as your customers can get around without bumping into others, and have enough space between their chair and the diner behind/to the side of them in order to sit comfortably and enjoy their meal, then you have the perfect number of covers.”
Restaurant interior design
Unless you know yourself to have a keen eye for style and detail, it’s worth finding an interior designer. Find someone who’s keen to work with you to bring your vision to life.
“Ambience plays a key part in a customer’s feelings towards a restaurant. It’s good to play on the five main senses; sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell all play a huge part in helping someone to decide whether they love or hate your restaurant.
“Many trends can work well together, but you also have to be careful not to use too many in one space!
“Deep, luxurious velvets are huge at the moment – they look and feel stunning, and can take a restaurant from fast food to fine dining easily! Nature is a huge trend as well. Greenery, whether faux or real, can create a sense of the outside within, and can be used to section off areas of the restaurant without a wall. Rattan style furniture and earthy tones are also used to a similar effect, and can make diners feel more relaxed.”
Lastly, is there anything you should avoid?
“Cold colours and textures! A restaurant is supposed to be a place that you can go with friends, family, and loved ones; somewhere that you can feel comfortable and enjoy a meal and drinks in your own time. Cold colours and textures include bright colours, too much white, and lighting…
“Don’t get me wrong, all of these things can look amazing when used correctly, but all together they create a cold atmosphere and the feeling of ‘fast dining’. They don’t make customers want to stay around and take their time.”
Restaurant website design ideas
Custom building a website with a developer can be extremely expensive.
Using a website builder, you can now get a professional-looking restaurant website up and running in a matter of minutes.
It’s a bit like buying a ready meal.
What’s more, many of the top platforms offer specific templates that are tailor-made for restaurants. You can see our choice of the best restaurant website providers below.
See a template you like the look of? To sign up, simply click on one you like the look of!
You can find a more comprehensive guide to designing a restaurant website here.
Choose for stylish templates and online booking capabilities
Anyone after a stylish, high-spec restaurant website should stick with Squarespace. Its online booking functionality and EPOS integrations are major ticks on the list, too!
Choose for affordability and premium features
Whether you're looking for a basic restaurant website or one with bells and whistles, Wix offers a free plan option and affordable premium plans
GoDaddy's template range may be limited, but with the option to integrate the system with OpenTable, you'll be able to take reservations online.
Buying restaurant premises
Imagine that feeling when you sign on the dotted line and receive the keys to your restaurant premises… That first concrete sign of your dreams coming to life. Your restaurant incarnate.
But that feeling can quickly fall apart if you don’t have the right place. This will depend a huge amount on…
We spoke to Thibault Bouquet de Jolinière and Youri Michel, two of the co-founders of The Initiative Group, who know a thing or two about buying restaurant premises.
The Initiative Group are a French team who have launched and managed an eclectic range of hospitality outlets, from five-star hotels to nightclubs, in London and across the world over the last decade.
According to Bouquet de Jolinière and Michel…
“Location is always the most important factor in the decision. You should be aware of both good and bad competition around you. Being alone in the area of your choice will increase the time needed to become profitable, whereas if there are already a few successful restaurants nearby, then people will already be travelling to and from the area to eat.”
The easiest way to obtain premises for your restaurant is to take over a pre-existing establishment. If you’re lucky, you might even find one with a fully-kitted out kitchen and a bar.
BusinessForSale.com has a dedicated section for restaurants, which lists the asking price, current turnover, and net profit (often on request). Rightmove also lists restaurants for sale, where you can just buy the premises or commercial unit.
It’s vital to ascertain the reason for the sale, although the previous owner may not be forthcoming with that information.
But what questions should you be asking?
Bouquet de Jolinière and Michel: “We would normally ask how long the lease on the property is for (if new). With the current state of affairs in the property market, we wouldn’t buy any restaurant with a premium, unless it’s in difficulty, in which case we might buy the assets left over from the previous business after they have been evaluated.
“We would always ask for both the rent and business rates, and we would also request to see the current license on the property. We would recommend never buying an existing company, as often there is the risk you will end up finding hidden debts. Also, by taking over an existing company, you will also be taking over the staff – a cost and a risk you don’t want to inherit.”
Bouquet de Jolinière and Michel also stress that the location you choose may influence the concept of your restaurant…
“Don’t bring a concept to a location – instead, build a concept around the location you have chosen. You might be able to adapt your original concept, but you should always do proper market research to find out what else is in the area, and how it will affect your original plans.
“From there, we would recommend the production of a profit and loss statement. Always add 30% extra costs and 50% extra time into it, just to be safe.”
What rules and regulations are involved in buying or taking over a restaurant premises?
“Regulations are straightforward. For a start, you’ll be needing the previous restaurant's profit and loss statement. You should also find out about the previous tenants of the property, including how many there have been before, and what concepts have been there already.
“Check if there is already a license in place, and if there is any opportunity to change it. We would also always recommend a full survey of the premises, including the equipment, the extraction system etc. Doing your due diligence is always very important.”
What about buying a unit that has not previously been used as a restaurant? What do you need to do before it can be repurposed?
“This can take a long time, but often can turn into a good deal if you are willing to do the work to change the property over. If the unit needs converting, the main problem is that there can be a lot of pre-acquisition costs.
“For example, you might need to work with a number of professionals, including a planning consultant, lawyer, interior designer etc., as well as all of the things like licencing that we've already spoken about. With any property, never sign until you know the full picture. It can take months, sometimes years to find and agree on the right space.”
Restaurant supplies, utilities, and catering equipment
Once you’ve signed the lease on your premises, it’s time to start kitting it out.
Restaurants are hectic, messy, yet finely-tuned operations, relying on a combination of essential equipment and talented people to keep them running smoothly.
And it all starts with having the right gear.
Restaurant supplies and equipment checklist
Cleaning and hygiene
- Cleaning equipment (eco-friendly if possible)
- Toilet hygiene
- Pest control
- Safety signs
- Table linen
- Service trays
- Disposables (paper napkins, paper straws etc.)
- Food labels and wrapping
Clothing and uniform
- Chef uniform
- Staff uniform
When fitting out your kitchen, you’ll need to have enough equipment to service the number of covers you have, so that you can cope with demand when you’re at full capacity.
There’s no end of strangely specific cookery equipment available (egg cookers, potato ovens, rice cookers…), but you don’t need everything. The following should be enough for a basic restaurant kitchen setup.
- Deep fat fryer
- Stainless steel tables
- Dishwashers and glasswashers
- Chopping boards
- Food processor
- Pasta maker
Choosing restaurant food suppliers
Having a reputable and reliable supplier is essential for running a restaurant. Late deliveries could be the least of your problems if you opt for a bad one – unhygienic packing and transportation of perishable food products poses a genuine health risk to you and your customers.
So, how do you choose a supplier carefully? Ask the following questions:
- Are they registered with the local authority?
- Do they have any certification or quality assurance?
- Are they recommended by other local restaurants?
- Do they store, transport, and pack their goods in a hygienic way?
You can also carry out your own spot checks on temperature and quality to make sure.
REMEMBER: You are legally required to keep a record of all food products you’ve bought, where you bought them from, how much you bought, and the date of purchase. Keep this information safe in case it ever needs to be presented to an inspector or enforcement officer.
Another thing to bear in mind is sustainability. Consumers are, rightly, becoming a lot more discerning about the environmental impact of their eating habits.
We spoke to Dominic Hogg, founder of Tried and Supplied, an initiative designed to help food buyers and restaurateurs find and order from the very best sustainable and local British suppliers:
“According to Curren Goodden Associates’ (CGA) latest quarterly Business Confidence Survey, optimism in the restaurant sector is at its lowest since November 2017, with only 30% of industry leaders optimistic about the future. On top of this, fears are mounting that this already struggling sector will be hit by further price increases and shortages of fresh food and key ingredients in the wake of Brexit.
“The changing economic environment offers restaurants, especially independent ones, an opportunity to start catering for an increasingly environmentally-conscious customer base by creating innovative menus which use alternative, local ingredients.
“It certainly pays for restaurants to be open minded about the ingredients they use on their menus, and there are certainly some weird and wonderful ingredients being grown and farmed in Britain.
“For example, you can get fresh wasabi from The Wasabi Company – the only fresh wasabi commercially available that is grown in Europe. You can get Tomatillos (known as Mexican husk tomatoes) from Bedfordshire-based Edible Ornamentals, kohlrabi from Riverford Organic Farmers, and Edamame from Namayasai in East Sussex.
“Another way to embrace sustainable dining and bring loyal customers in is to change menus seasonally. Consider using special boards to save on paper, or you could choose to wow your customers with a digital menu at the table, like Inamo in London.
“You can also keep an eye on the winners of local awards, which is a good way of picking out the best produce in your local area. Following local foodie hashtags and influencers on Instagram can also bring a number of suppliers to your attention.
“The fears felt by the restaurant industry around the potential impact of Brexit are very real, but it’s not all doom and gloom. With a little bit of creativity, we could end up with a much healthier, more diverse and environmentally-friendly food system.”
Restaurant gas and electricity
Thanks to the constant use of appliances for cooking, storage and lighting, restaurants are hungry beasts when it comes to energy consumption.
That’s why it pays to be a savvy consumer, and to make sure you’re on a fair tariff.
Most energy comparison sites can help you directly compare restaurant specific tariffs from top providers.
Before you do, read our guide on small business energy comparison to get to grips with the market.
Restaurant energy conservation
As well as finding a competitive tariff, there are small things you can do to reduce your energy bill:
- Maintenance of appliances – well-maintained appliances are much more efficient than old ones
- Energy efficient lighting – use low-consumption LED bulbs and install sensors to automatically turn lights off in unused spaces
- Educate staff – introduce energy-saving policies, and make sure all staff are aware
Find a local commercial laundrette to collect, wash, and deliver your uniforms, napkins, and table linen.
On-demand services like Laundrapp have a corporate operation that will collect, clean, and return your clean laundry seven days a week.
Find out more about Laundrapp’s London restaurant service here.
Restaurant management software
Restaurant management software is the collective term for a range of tools and platforms that assist with the day-to-day running of your business. These tools are often included in electronic point of sale software (EPOS) packages from the likes of Square, iZettle Food and Drink, and EPOS Now, so there's no need to invest in separate software packages.
Head on through to our full reviews to find out what these packages could offer your new restaurant business.
These are just some of the features that EPOS packages offer:
- POS system
- Table management
- Waiting list software
- Inventory management
- Accounting software
- Food cost calculator
- Cash flow management
- Restaurant analytics
- Employee management
The advantage of having all these features tied into one system should be clear: you end with an integrated, end-to-end software that ensures consistent and smooth processes.
Find out everything you need to know about restaurant management software here.
Order at Table (OAT) software
To be used alongside or instead of restaurant management software, OAT software enables customers to view and order menu items from their mobile phone at their table. This helps to reduce customer and staff movement throughout the restaurant and makes the ordering process far more efficient.
In order to access your digital menu, customers either scan a QR code or download an app. Most OAT software providers will give you the option to have your customers order-only or order and pay. Once the order is confirmed it is sent to the kitchen display unit. The unit can be supplied as part of an OAT package or an integrated third party device.
We've got more information on OAT software and how it works on our best POS systems for restaurants page.
Restaurant waste disposal and management
Restaurants are big producers of waste, which can broadly be broken down into the following categories:
- Food prep waste – off-cuts and peelings
- Spoilage – out-of-date or ruined items
- Uneaten food – anything that comes back on a customer’s plate
- Excess food – left over from large batches or sent back untouched
- Recyclables – cardboard, plastic packaging, glass
In these days of heightened environmental awareness, you need to have a strategy in place for dealing with your waste food. That means ensuring excess food is eaten by staff – or, even better, given to the homeless – and that recyclable materials are recycled. Our in-depth guide will tell you everything you need to know about business recycling.
Overall, consumer expectations are encouraging a trend towards sustainability in the hospitality industry. According to UKHospitality’s Food Service Management Market Report 2019, 100% of businesses surveyed are now introducing alternatives to single-use plastics, while 90% are training staff in waste management.
Your restaurant premises are ready for action. You’ve fitted all the necessary equipment, and your utilities are sorted.
Now for the final – and arguably the most important – ingredient. Your restaurant will sink or swim on the quality of your employees, so you need to hire dedicated, hardworking, and enthusiastic front and back of house staff.
You won’t always get it right, but you need to be very clear about the qualities you’re looking for when hiring. And don’t be precious about getting rid of bad apples. Customers can have hundreds of wonderful dining experiences in your establishment before a bad one completely sours their opinion.
The Initiative Group’s Bouquet de Jolinière and Michel give us their top tips on hiring decent restaurant staff.
What are the best channels for recruiting front of house and kitchen staff?
“There has never been such bad staff shortage in the UK as there is now. Staff turnover has dramatically increased, and with Brexit around the corner, things are just going to get worse within the hospitality industry.
“Agencies can be an option for executive staff members, but if you choose to use an agency, then their commission should not be higher than 15%. When it comes to recruiting staff members, we put job adverts online, while LinkedIn and referrals are also really practical.”
What qualities should you look for in front of house staff?
“Payroll costs are one of the largest expenses for restaurants, especially during the first six months after opening. We will always balance our front of house team using experienced management and young, dynamic employees at a lower level, who are keen and willing to learn.
“We invest a lot of resources into training the teams to enhance each guest’s experience, with a focus on brand standards, and more importantly, service quality. We look for less experienced front of house employees who have not been affected by extended training, or who haven’t picked up bad habits in previous jobs that may affect their induction to our company.”
What qualities should you look for in your chefs?
“Back of house is a very important piece of the puzzle. We always require a skilled chef who is willing to learn, and who can adapt to any sort of food. We run incentives that keep the team challenged, and we offer new career opportunities to all of our staff. In every new venture we look for a mixed team filled with young creative chefs, as well as experienced chefs that can mentor and bring consistency.”
Never forget: your primary focus should be giving your customers a great experience.
There are few marketing channels as powerful as good word of mouth in your local area. However, if word goes round that the newest restaurant in town is dreadful, it can be difficult to shake a bad reputation – deserved or not.
Kicking your marketing efforts off with a big launch night can generate a lot of buzz for your restaurant. Invite local influencers and journalists along for a free evening of food and drink, and encourage them to broadcast their experiences on social media.
This will require a significant budget, but if it gets people to come and dine and talk about how great the evening was, it’s a great way to secure free advertising and PR.
What’s more, developing a good relationship with the local press can prove beneficial going forward, as they will be more willing to promote your business as you grow.
Inviting customers to sign up to your mailing list is a great way to build loyalty. You can contact them with offers that are available at certain times – for example, deals that are only available during quieter periods or on special occasions.
You can also send out emails if you have a menu overhaul, or just to provide updates about what’s going on to keep customers engaged.
Unsurprisingly, given the presence of very hot and very sharp things – not to mention the potential to poison your customers – restaurants are subjected to quite a lot of red tape.
There are a number of licenses and certificates that you need to acquire in order to remain compliant with the relevant regulations.
- Food Hygiene Certificate – this certificate proves that you are aware of, and are operating under, the appropriate food hygiene and health and safety regulations. This is an essential, legal requirement for any restaurant. It goes without saying that food hygiene laws are extremely comprehensive. With this in mind, when you’re setting up your restaurant business, think very carefully about where you set up and what equipment you buy. Remember that Environmental Health Officers make regular, often unannounced, visits to food-based businesses. If they think you’re not up to scratch, they have the power to close you down!
- Pest control regulations for restaurants – you have a legal requirement to have “adequate procedures” in place to ensure pests are controlled. Read more in the Government's legislation on The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations.
- Food Premises Approval – if you restaurant handles any meat, fish, egg, or dairy products (so all restaurants aside from strictly vegan ones), you must be inspected and approved by your local council in order to obtain Food Premises Approval. You can apply for this license here
- Restaurant insurance – you’ll need Public Liability Insurance to protect you in the event of legal action if your customers suffer personal injury or property damage because of your business. This insurance will cover your legal expenses, or any compensation claims
- PRS for Music license – if you play music for your customers or staff, you need to obtain legal permission from the relevant copyright owners. For this, you will need a PRS for Music license
- Alcohol licence – if you plan to offer alcohol on your menu, you’ll need to obtain an Alcohol On-License, which will allow you to sell alcohol to be consumed on site. You’ll need to visit your local council website in order to find out more and apply for this license
- Building Permit – if you decide to build your own bespoke premises, or make additions or alterations to an existing structure, you’ll need a construction permit. Again, this will be obtained from your local council
- Planning permission – in addition to gaining permission to make physical changes to a building, you will also need to check you have permission to use the building as a restaurant. Often, you will need planning permission to change from one ‘use class’ to another (if the building was not previously a restaurant). The standard ‘use class' for a restaurant is A3, which is defined as ‘Use for the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises.' See more in the Government's legislation on use class classification
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the body appointed by the government to oversee all food safety standards. When you’re starting your own restaurant, they’re a great source of information and guidance. Their Safer Food, Better Business guide will help you to ensure you’re fully compliant, and that your premises are safe for the public.
So, there’s a lot to do, and you can expect some challenges along the way. That's why you always need to keep your reason for starting this restaurant venture close to your heart.
If in doubt, you can always refer back to this guide, as well as our many other helpful pages that can tell you everything you need to know about running a restaurant. You’re not the first person to do this, and nor will you be the last, so don’t be afraid to ask successful restaurateurs around you for help and guidance.
We have a number of other, more in-depth pages on specific aspects of starting a restaurant, which you can find here:
You could join the Association of Independent Restaurants (AIR), which has been championing the interests of independent hospitality businesses since 2008.