So, you wanna open a restaurant?
Perhaps you yearn to open a little boîte where you can serve your neighbors your Aunt Betty's meatloaf. Or maybe it's a hip wine bar specializing in German rieslings that gets your entrepreneurial groove on. Or a funky café, a meditative tea house, a chic pastry boutique, an artisanal gelateria, or the world's first raw foodist dog biscuit buffet.
You have a unique vision. You are passionate about it. You know what you want to serve, what kind of experience you want to provide, and you're pretty sure that there are people out there who are willing to part with their hard earned dollars to buy your products and your services. In fact, you've even written up a detailed business plan laying out all the costs and assumptions on paper demonstrating that, in theory at least, you're going to make a profit. Right? Good.
How do you move from dream to reality? What are some of the basic first steps you need to take?
My first suggestion is to gain some experience working in the kind of place you want to open. It's not required, but it couldn't hurt, could it? Take me, for example. My driving goal for the past 10 years has been to open a small neighborhood restaurant, so I've focused my experience on working at the best of this genre, learning as much as I could from chef-owners whose values and vision I share. 10 years isn't necessary, though. Even a short period volunteering at a place that inspires you would be useful, allowing you to experience the daily routine of a restaurant owner or baker or bartender.
Another suggestion would be to learn as much as you can about the type of business you want to open. Read books, talk to business owners, join relavant professional associations, hire consultants, and take classes to learn from the experts. In my case, I attended culinary school. Then, years later, I took a class on opening a restaurant from my local community college. Then, more recently, I've been taking still more classes from the local branch of the Small Business Association. I figure you can never be too prepared.
A third requirement is financial. Make sure you have enough money to realize your dream. You don't want to add yourself to those statistics that say the biggest cause of business failure is under-capitalization. Line up investors, take out a second mortgage, max out your credit cards, sell your less vital organs, do whatever it takes. You've done your business plan, so you know how much you're going to need. In San Francisco, for example, the costs of doing business are incredibly high, perhaps the highest in the country, so you need to make sure you have enough to get you rolling. In my case, I let people take out futures on those vital organs. Which brings me to my final suggestion.
Get your head examined! There's a good reason I chose to accompany these restaurant-opening posts with a picture of a man bound up in leather straps with his hair standing on end. [That last sentence ought to bring in some exciting Google traffic, don't you think?] You have to be a little unbalanced to want to open a restaurant, especially in San Francisco. The food service industry is ridiculously competitive, has tiny profit margins, a high rate of failure, and, as a bonus, you get to stand on your feet all day. Have your shrink check that it's your passion and desire to serve your neighbors driving you, not some insidious hereditary disorder. In my case, the verdict is still undecided....
On a related note, make sure you have loads of psychological and emotional support from family and friends and colleagues. One of our city's most successful restaurateurs, Charles Phan of the Slanted Door, famously has his entire extended family working along his side. Though I am not quite so fortunate, I am grateful that I have a few close friends and a wonderful wife who are cheering me on from the sidelines. In particular, I'd be lost without the overflowing support and encouragement of my darling N.
Next up: Location, location, location (how to find a decent place to operate your business).
Read previous Wild Ride posts: Prequel, Intro
[Note: those who were expecting to read about business brokers will have to wait until the installment after next. I was getting ahead of myself].