Are you thinking of when and how to open a restaurant? This might just be the perfect time to do it.
2020 was not the year we dreamt of—some would say it brought about one of the worst nightmares our world has ever experienced. COVID-19 not only threatened the lives of millions of people but also forced the world to come to a halt. Much of what we called everyday life had to abruptly change—and some of those changes persist to this day.
The figures vary but over 100,000 businesses in the US were shut down to brace for the COVID-19 impact. The ones that managed to stay open struggled to keep afloat. The food industry was one of the hardest-hit sectors.
But the story is not all gloomy. With the lockdown lifting and the circulation of the vaccine globally now in play, the world can begin to return to life as we knew it. Businesses can reopen, and startups can find new space in which to thrive. And this is especially the case for restaurants.
If anything, the global pandemic has shed light on how precious are the things we often take for granted. Time, freedom, health—and even eating out at our favorite restaurants—all have newfound value.
Opening a restaurant now would represent a step forward out of the shadows and provide something of inestimable value to people.
And if you are an existing restaurant owner thinking of expanding the frontiers of your culinary work to new locations, you would be doing a great deal of good to your business and the people who will come to know and love your brand. This is the time to step out and stand in the light.
But deciding to start a restaurant is not the same as knowing how to open one. If you want to run a restaurant that works and will thrive for a long time, there are some essential factors you must pay attention to. One critical factor is the location!
Having a great business idea and a unique selling point won't do you much good if you're doing business in the wrong location. And there are some key factors to consider in choosing the right location. Here are seven important things to consider when choosing the best location to open a restaurant.
Physical location is crucial in setting up a restaurant. When you think of this, think of the importance of different soils in nurturing seeds. Not every seed will grow in every soil. Most require certain conditions to grow and thrive to their full potential. Your restaurant is a seed that needs the right "soil" to thrive and be all that you have envisioned for it to be.
So it would be foolish to pick a location just because of what is available or because you take a fancy to a place. There are essential questions you should be asking:
In planning to open your restaurant, you must learn to step back and get an overview of things beyond the passion and drive to start. You may find yourself personally inclined towards a location that isn't right for your restaurant. If there isn't substantial traffic of people there, you would be cutting your restaurant off from the lifeblood it needs to thrive.
Also, it's essential to pay attention to how many people live close by to the location and how many businesses do. Not every location facilitates business growth and this is especially true for a restaurant.
Area zoning laws are an important factor in selecting your ideal restaurant location. You'll need a space that is zoned commercially rather than residentially. Some areas are zoned as mixed-use for residential and commercial enterprises—if you are looking at a mixed-use zone, you want to understand what is allowed within the area and how it affects your concept.
You should also look at the laws and regulations that work in the locations you're considering. These laws dictate what can be established in certain zones, and if you don’t pay attention to this, you may invest a lot of money in a location that the regulations eventually force you to quit.
Just how accessible will your restaurant be? And this doesn't only apply to your customers but also to your employees and business suppliers.
You want a location where people don't have to go out on a limb trying to reach you. If your restaurant is more accessible than others, customers and suppliers will pick you first every time.
Think of the different kinds of people who will want what you offer at your restaurant. Does the location have adequate parking space? Is there consideration for people with disabilities? How do weather patterns like rain and snow affect the location? Are there bus stations, train stations close by?
The best locations are the ones people readily and regularly see as they walk or drive by. You want as much visibility as you can get. The more people see you and know how to access you, the bigger will be the pull to check out what you offer. Curiosity and visibility will do wonders for you if you get your location right.
Demographics are critical when creating your ideal customer profile. Creating this profile helps you narrow down who your restaurant will be serving.. You will need to know who they are, what they like, what they do, and where they live. This is important when thinking of how to open a restaurant. You don't want to open the best all-you-can-eat beef burger joint in a community of vegetarians. That's the simplest way to explain the critical role demographics play in choosing your location.
Look at the demographics of the community around the locations you are considering. Which portion of the community fits your customer profile? Does the community have a solid and stable economic base? How versatile are the people? Is there an overdependence on a particular economic source? Are they traditional? And will a new restaurant be welcomed or seen as an encroachment?
You should also pay attention to the past businesses that have operated in your chosen location, if there are any. Many times people develop affinities and dislikes for specific locations because of past experiences that may have occurred.
If you get the location right, you've done half of the work—now you will need to get the building itself right.
You should pay attention to how the building was built. How old is it? What's the structure, and will that in any way affect the free flow of your restaurant business? It may take a lot of work to get an older building up to speed with contemporary workplace and hygiene standards.
You also want a building that has adequate electrical services. The plumbing of the building should be in order. And if it Isn't, is it something you will spend a lot of time and money correcting?
Look into the ventilation system of the building and telecommunications as well. Does the building pass the city's health code? Some of these questions you will find answers to on your own. But where possible, it would be a great idea to bring in another set of eyes. Even better, get a professional or an independent engineer to do this for you.
Like it or not, your vision and personal vibe play a vital role in how you open a restaurant and keep it running.
You will need to take some time and adequately define what you are aiming to achieve when you open a restaurant. And if you are thinking of expanding into new locations, this is equally important.
Your restaurant needs to have a unique identity that makes it stand out from the pack. People will buy your story more than they buy the Sunday afternoon special. Why? Because they want to belong, to be part of something new, creative, and most of all, something that has a future.
Your restaurant can give them "the experience”. Your restaurant can provide a different air and ambience from everything they've ever known and seen before. This is why you need to hone in on your vision and the unique vibe of your restaurant. You don't have to copy. Why go for a copy when they already know where the real deal is? The real question is, Can you create a unique enough space and experience that your customers won't find anywhere else but on your table?
It's also essential to be clear in your own mind about the extent of your commitment to this enterprise. When you find the location that best fits your restaurant, what commitment will you make towards it? Will you be buying the property, or will it be a lease agreement? And if it is a lease, how long do you plan to take it out for?
Making this decision is essential when thinking of the long-term goals of your restaurant. Will you want to be where you are three, maybe five years from now? Will the demographic make-up and geographic features of your location change over time? Will the focus of your restaurant change in a couple of years?
You should also pay attention to the facility. Is it worth acquiring as a permanent property? Is investing in a long-term lease the wise decision, or is a short-term lease a better option? Whatever decisions you make, you are going to have to live and work with them.
For our last point, it's time to face the elephant in the room.
Your previous experience provides a wealth of knowledge and expertise in choosing the location for your restaurant. If you've been in the restaurant industry before, some of these things will come easy to you. Because you've been on the merry-go-round before, you will have foreknowledge about the pitfalls and issues a person thinking of how to open a restaurant might face.
You will need to draw from these experiences in the decisions you make. It would help if you had reflective hindsight into what you did that worked and what didn't, which action steps helped you the most in setting up your location, and which ones did little or nothing to help you.
From past experience, you can tell at what scale you should attempt to expand your restaurants into new locations. While many people may not always see it, humans are creatures of habit, and patterns can be replicated to produce the same results. Better yet—they can be amplified to get more results.
And if this is your first trip on the merry-go-round, don’t worry, you are not at a disadvantage. You can draw from the wealth of experience of others who have done what you want to do. It's also crucial that you are thorough with the actions and decisions you make. You need to take responsibility for them whether they work out or fail. You should embrace every step and every winding path as a lesson worth taking in making your restaurant all that you have imagined it to be.
We want to be the first of many to congratulate you on this amazing adventure you are about to embark on—how to open a restaurant and keep it thriving. There are many decisions you will have to make and a lot of pathways you must learn to navigate and master. But you don't have to do this on your own. With the right people working with you, your restaurant can become all you want it to be.
We can provide a wealth of expertise and resources from helping you to learn how to hire the perfect team for your restaurant to the best management practices and systems that will get you up and running in no time.
Last but not least, learning how to open a restaurant is a journey of constant learning and exposure, and we wish you all the luck.
“In the labor numbers, we were reporting about a $300 to $400 difference than what we were getting through Push!”
-Tara Hardie, ZZA Hospitality Group, 16 locations