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Restaurant Success: The Main Ingredients

Restaurant Success: The Main Ingredients

Eileen Figure Sandlin | Entrepreneur Magazine

Do Some Time

There’s a lot more to running a restaurant than schmoozing with your clientele and testing new recipes. That’s why industry experts advise working in a food-service environment first to learn the rhythm of the business and experience its inner workings. Any restaurant experience can be valuable, provided you spend enough time learning the ropes.

“It’s imperative to have hands-on experience in the many departments that make up a restaurant,” says Pete Hanning, 37, vice president and co-owner of The Red Door in Seattle, which had 2006 sales of just under $3 million. “I started in the restaurant industry at 15 as a dishwasher and learned by working fine dining, restaurant/bars and pizza places. You can’t quantify the amount of overall experience you need to succeed, but it’s hard to understand all the facets of the business unless you’ve worked them.”

In addition to this hands-on experience, you should surround yourself with people who understand the industry, from seasoned servers to an experienced operations person. A restaurant consultant can also be very helpful—but expensive, too. So you may want to turn to your local SCORE office, which provides expert business counseling on small-business issues at no charge. If they don’t have a former restaurant executive within their ranks, they may be able to refer you to someone who can answer your questions and dispense a little gratis advice.

Do Your Homework

Before you start planning menus, you also need to write a viable business plan. This recipe for success must outline your plans, goals and strategies in detail. It should include a detailed description of your concept (i.e., Indian, continental or sports-themed); a description of your proposed menu and pricing; a description of your target market and the marketing you’ll do to reach it; a discussion of staffing and how you’ll train and retain employees; and the pièce de résistance—an in-depth discussion of your financing, from startup funding and monthly cash flow to long-term income and expense forecasting.

“It’s way more romantic to think you can open a restaurant by the seat of your pants, but in reality, planning goes a long way,” says Michael Curcio, 29, owner of Pyrogrill in Jupiter, Florida, with projected 2007 sales of $2.2 million. “A business plan takes a ton of guesswork out of the startup process and is a good guide for getting your place off the ground. Make sure the plan is fluid and adaptable to market conditions and challenges.”