If you are interested in starting up a food business, but want to test the waters first before committing too far with your money, a pop up or supper club could be a good way to assess the market.
However, if your ultimate aim is to open a bricks and mortar restaurant, then you really do need to be prepared as it can be an expensive venture because the initial capital required can be high due to the rental cost.
Don’t be put off though, as with the right planning and guidance, you can achieve your ambition of being a restaurant owner. We asked Suzanne Tiega, an expert in customer service and the restaurant business, with experience working in management at top restaurant chains; Nando’s and Garfunkel’s, to share 10 things you need to consider before opening a restaurant. Here are her tips, in no particular order:
- Try out your idea
This might seem logical but it’s always good to be reminded of the basics. You can start by doing tasting sessions with family and friends. Then go further by organising supper clubs or popup events open to the public. By organising one-off events, you will be able to gather precise data. Every event will be an opportunity to:
- Create a client base even before the opening of your restaurant;
- Figure out which menu items are popular or aren’t and why;
- Understand the customers attracted to your cuisine;
- Try out different pricing systems and perfect your pricing strategy;
- Develop a marketing strategy
All the data collected during these events will be invaluable when it’s time to write up your business plan for your restaurant.
- Tell a story/Connect
Starting a business has never been so simple and yet challenging at the same time. You will have to be very focused as it’s unlikely that you’ll have the budget of a well-established restaurant, but at least you have social media! Start to build a relationship with your future customers. Share your story on social media platforms, particularly with the audience that you want to attract. There’s nothing like telling your own story in your own words. At this point you probably don’t even need to engage a social media person yet. Don’t only sell your idea though. Take them backstage. Share the process you are going through to open a restaurant. Are you recruiting? Share it. You are building a buzz around your venture and gathering a tribe of supporters. You don’t have to share everything about your life but people are always intrigued about a story and what goes on behind closed doors. It is a simple and cheap way to connect with your audience.
- Recruit and train a great team
Nothing is more challenging in the hospitality industry than finding the right people to work with. It really helps if you are able to recruit and retain experienced and talented staff. It is crucial that you secure a great team especially at the beginning, as they will set the tone for your service and food quality.
Even if it’s your family or friends helping out, make sure you train them to the standard you want to set for your restaurant. Do not rush this part. The first reviews you will receive can either help you attract more customers or do the exact opposite.
- Start small
If you are a chef you probably have a book full of recipes and you can’t wait for people to try every single one. As much as you want to show off all your culinary skills or share your love of food, hold on to those recipes. If you’re not convinced here are few reasons why starting small is better.
- A too-big menu suggests that not all your meals are homemade and fresh. It always astonishes me when I see a menu with six appetizers, 10-15 mains, five-six sides, five salads and the list goes on and on. Who can cook that many dishes in less than 30 minutes?
- Smaller menu = less opening stock needed = less money needed. As a new business, you will appreciate this.
- A smaller menu also means less training time required. It means that you can make sure your team works on perfecting those recipes, and then you can build up gradually.
- Decide what type of restaurant owner you want to be
Not everyone gets into the food business for the same reasons. Some of you are chefs and want to share your cuisine, some others just love food but aren’t necessarily chefs and other’s still, think of their restaurant as simply a great investment. Depending on which camp you fall in to, the time you invest and the strategy you adopt just won’t be the same. If you’re an investor and have no plans to take care of the day-to-day management then your management team must be top notch, but this will be at cost. If you wish to be completely involved, either in the kitchen or as a manager, then be ready to have virtually no life for a while.
- Choose a concept that sells not what you like
This one is a tricky one. How can you sell something that you don’t like? I hear you. But remember your business is about feeding other people so you should be pandering to what your customers want. Put your ego aside. For example, I hate okra (lady fingers) but how can you have a Nigerian restaurant without okra on the menu?
Your market research activity should help you narrow down your best-selling items. Also, if you wish to introduce your guests to more unusual dishes, you might want to introduce them as specials so you don’t need to stock big quantities.
- Buy a Point-Of-Sale system: POS
You may not have a big budget for software and administrative related tasks yet and you might be tempted to cut corners here and work without one. But that’s a bad idea in my opinion. You don’t need a £10K POS system but you definitely need one. Your POS system is the hardware of your business. Your forecasting and monitoring will be easier thanks to it. It is the tool for doing your ordering, stock and labour control or sales forecast just to name few.
- Decide what type of business model you want to go for
Do you want a casual dining, a fast food or a mixed service restaurant? Franchise? Independent? Do you plan to sell it at some point? There are so many types of food business models that you could adopt. You need to give this real thought. Your choice will determine your menu or the other way around. There’s certainly no right answer here. Choose the model that best suits your goals and aspirations for your business and yourself.
- Try to appeal to a large audience
You might have read elsewhere that you need to find a niche and here’s me telling you to cater to a large audience! Well, let me explain! Consumers in the UK spend on average of £17.30 per week on restaurants and cafés (Office for National Statistics for 2016). In order for you to attract all these hungry people your offering has to be familiar enough for them to feel comfortable enough to eat your food but original enough for them to have a different experience. Bring them authenticity but not weirdness as I say. Let’s assume your cuisine is on the spicy side. Why not tone it down and offer a spicy chilli sauce on the side? The trick here is to find the balance between the flavours’ authenticity and the palette of your guests.
- Don’t sell yourself short
Competition is fierce in business. Restaurants are no exception. In order to add value, a lot of restaurants offer discounts to attract customers. A free meal for the kids? Or maybe 20% off your food bill? The discounts offers are endless. But what’s the message you may be giving to your customers? When you pitch yourself as a discounted brand, your customers will always expect to have a discount on their food. As an independent restaurant, you will never win the price race against big names. Instead don’t sell only food, sell a holistic experience. Help your guests create unforgettable memories. Build a space where they’ll feel home, welcomed and happy. A space they’ll love to share with their loved ones.
Contact Suzanne Tiega on Instagram: @SuzanneTiega