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Developing Your Restaurant Start-Up Support Team

Developing Your Restaurant Start-Up Support Team

Originally Posted on FoodableTV – By Doug Radkey 10/21/2016

You’re determined, positive, confident, adaptable, and you crave learning experiences. Being an entrepreneur — or more specifically, a restaurateur — combines an enormous amount of passion and vision for creating food, drink, experiences, and a drive to be undeterred by a high level of unprecedented risks.

Ask any restaurateur and they will tell you it’s hard to give up a certain level of control on decisions being made during the start-up phase. After all, this is your dream and your vision. Successful restaurateurs, however, will also tell you not to do it all yourself and to let go of the smaller tasks while working with an expert on the overall bigger picture.

Simply said, here’s who you need in your supportive start-up cast to save time, money, stress, and most importantly, your sanity.

Work with a Mentor

Do you have someone locally within the industry who you look up to? Ask them if they’d be interested in being your mentor throughout the start-up process. Turn to them to lean on for tough questions surrounding concept, menu, staffing, and marketing ideas. Remember though, they likely can’t be there for you every minute of the process, as they’re most likely operating a successful restaurant themselves. Work with them but use them sparingly, for the most important questions.

Hire a Consultant

If you’re looking for a project manager and someone with hands-on experience to provide day-to-day leadership plus a non-biased, educated opinion combined with a solid strategy plan, this may be the route for you. A reputable restaurant consultant will also provide an array of resources, relationships, and value while working with you on your start-up project. But keep this in mind: Don’t let them take full control. This is your project. Your consultant should work in tandem with you and you should still have the final say.

Hire an Accountant

Many aspiring restaurateurs wait until they’re ready to hire their start-up staff to find themselves a bookkeeper and accountant. In reality, you should do this at the very beginning. Once you have your location, or even before, work with an accountant to stay on top of your expenses. You want to control your costs, not cut them. A seasoned accountant will ensure you stay on budget, leaving you adequate financial resources for opening week.

Trust a Commercial Lawyer

It’s no secret that lawyers are costly, but so is overlooking an important piece of information on your property lease, partnership agreement, corporate registration, or investor agreement. Budget approximately $2,000-$4,000 for a commercial lawyer when completing your business plan and if possible, look for a lawyer with restaurant-related experience.

Hire a Designer

Being creative is fun and this creativity is a reason why so many people love the restaurant and hospitality industry. However, if you want to create an unforgettable image in your graphics, interior layout, and curb appeal, consider hiring a professional designer to give your restaurant the edge it needs to stand out from the competition. Remember, the restaurant industry is unique, so consider hiring a designer with a strong foodservice-related portfolio who can also complete 3-D renderings for you to visualize your concept.

Consult Qualified Engineers

If you’re taking on a large restaurant renovation project, you definitely need an engineer and architect to complete the necessary drawings for city approvals and to direct your team of sub-contractors. Just like designers, it’s best practice to look for engineers (and renovation team members) who have worked with restaurants and understand the industry specific HVAC, plumbing, kitchen exhaust, fire safety, and electrical requirements.

Collaborate with a Certified Chef

If your strong point is not in the kitchen, ensure you work with a chef, consultant, equipment specialist, and/or hire your chef ahead of time to not only develop a winning menu your market wants and needs, but also to ensure the correct equipment and smallwares are purchased and expertly laid out to maximize productivity.

Listen to Bar Experts

This same practice can be used if you’re experienced in the kitchen, but not in the front of house. If the plan is to have a wine, cider, craft beer, and/or cocktail-focused bar that will deliver an experience customers won’t soon forget, consider hiring a sommelier or bar expert for proper pairings, equipment, and productivity layout.

Thank Your Friends and Family

Arguably the most important of all, make sure you have the support of your immediate family and friends. There is undoubtedly going to be some stressful days, weeks, and even months during the beginning phases of your startup and after you’ve opened your restaurant, where you’re going to question if it’s all worth it. It’s critical to lean on them for support — but not answers. Leave that to the professionals within your team.

There is no shame in asking for help and collaborating on a project with a variety of qualified professionals. Build your supportive cast, lead your sub-contractors, and delegate your areas of weakness to make your restaurant start-up process a less stressful, more positive experience.

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Building Restaurant Buzz Before Opening

Building Restaurant Buzz Before Opening

Originally Posted on FoodableTV by Doug Radkey – 10/04/2016

The restaurant start-up period is a hectic three to four months, sometimes more. With a lot of moving components, it’s easy to get caught up in it all, but an area that you simply don’t want to overlook is your restaurant’s pre-opening marketing and promotional-based strategies.

As with much of your start-up phase, it is mostly about proper planning, budgeting, and execution.

The worst thing you can do is start your marketing and promotional tactics one week before opening, like a majority of independent restaurateurs do, or expect a “if you build it, they will come” type scenario. (Hint: This doesn’t work.)

If you don’t start one to two months before opening, you may just have to wait three or four weeks, maybe even more, before seeing a full house, list of reservations, or profitable level of phone and online related take-out orders.

Marketing comes down to three things: creating awareness, increasing revenue per customer, and ensuring a return customer. The goal of your pre-opening effort is to create as much awareness as possible, all while building on the foundations for sustainable marketing and promotional efforts for the many weeks and months after opening.

Let’s look at eight ways to generate buzz throughout your community with very little investment!

Be Creative & Imaginative

People are bombarded with advertisements and marketing-related messaging each and every day from a variety of businesses and industries. The advantage you have is that you’re new and people will take notice of you more easily — at least at first. However, how will you plan to be memorable and stand out from the others as time goes on? Start early and be creative, imaginative, and bold in all of your efforts.

Create Suspense

Using the above creativity, ensure you build suspense and anticipation. Keep the community and target customers wanting to know more about you and what you will be offering. Use creative temporary window and road signage while the renovations are being completed in addition to other community and online efforts. Remember, though, don’t give away all of your secrets too early or the suspense will fade away.

Reach Out & Amplify

A key piece to marketing and advertising is amplification. How can you reach the maximum number of targeted customers with the least amount of spending? Reach out to leading bodies within your community in addition to industry professionals in your area, including restaurant-related bloggers. You also want to reach out to local community-focused publications and invite them for a tour, tasting, interview, and photo opportunity before you open.

Establish Online Presence

This should not be a surprise. Start your social media presence very early, right when leasehold improvements begin. Share photos and videos of renovations and other behind-the-scene moments to capture the interest of your local audience while creating the aforementioned suspense.

It’s important to create content and posts that will generate engagement and dialogue about your concept, and make sure you respond to each and every comment to further build community relations. It is very easy to have hundreds or even thousands of online advocates before you even open!

Equally, you want to create a website that is intriguing and suspenseful with a call-to-action to gather even more data before opening. Along with your site, begin setting up your other online directories and review site profiles two to three weeks before opening so they’re up and properly indexed for your opening weekend.

Pre-Opening Reso’s

If your concept plans to accept online reservations, why not accept them long before you open? Create a waitlist so that you can plan more accurately for the first week or month. This is also an excellent method to create an email list with other marketing-related data! Use effective social media, partnerships, media relations, and web campaigns to drive this traffic.


Create dishes and drinks so picture-worthy, they just need to be shared online! Get your start-up staff to share photos and videos online to their personal network after scheduled menu testings. This will entice their friends to share with their network as well, leading to brand amplification. Create dishes the local publications will want to add to their content, too. These memorable plates should be so alluring that guests during your soft opening will be proud and excited to share what they just enjoyed, helping spread the word early.

Execute a Solid Soft Opening

Your restaurant’s soft opening is an excellent way to further spread the word before you open. Create methods to maximize your soft opening with engaging and consistent messaging within the four walls of your restaurant.

Make sure each of your soft opening guests leave with a way to help spread the word for you after their departure, and with an experience to bring them back in the following months.

Get Involved

Hit the pavement with your team and introduce your brand to the local community. Give local businesses a copy of your menu, or better yet, a sample or two of the delicious food off your menu!

Consider creating a campaign alongside your soft or grand opening that will generate donations for a local charity or cause that you and your staff are passionate about supporting.

This is an opportunity to generate solid public relations.

Use these simple, cost-effective strategies in the weeks prior to opening to create the buzz you want (and need). These methods will also maximize exposure and revenue opportunities during your upcoming honeymoon period.

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Restaurant Location; Where to Build & What to Consider

Restaurant Location; Where to Build & What to Consider

Originally Posted on FoodableTV by Doug Radkey – 09/20/2016

Choosing a location for your restaurant can be both an exciting and daunting task. Mistakes happen, and many scenarios within the start-up phase can be fixed later, but the same cannot be said in terms of your location choice.

Once you’ve signed your lease, you’re typically locked in!

Completing an accurate and detailed feasibility study is the first step in finding your ideal location. This study will help you determine the most opportune neighborhood for your startup and will outline your primary and secondary target markets, in addition to matching it toward specific demographics within a hyper-local area of your host city. Needless to say, this information is vital in determining where to begin your property search.

The next step is to complete your concept development plan and begin visualizing your restaurant, while understanding the square footage needed to deliver on productivity and revenue-generating opportunities. This process will assist in developing your property wish list.

Overall Requirements

How much square feet do you anticipate needing? What is your budget, not only for the start-up phase (renovations and leasehold improvements), but for ongoing operations (lease payments)? What is your break-even point? How many transactions do you need? Is there going to be a bar or patio? Do you need a liquor license? How will you maximize the space in terms of revenue per square foot? These questions need to be answered in detail with strong projections (knowing what you can afford) to help define your property search parameters.

Kitchen / Bar / Counter Size

Once you’ve also determined the details surrounding your menu and overall concept, it’s best to outline each piece of kitchen, bar, and counter equipment needed to deliver your menu. With proper research, you can lay out your kitchen and know the square footage needed to deliver consistent service. A rule of thumb is to keep your kitchen between 25 to 35 percent of your overall space requirements.

Exhaust Hood & Ventilation

Based on your menu and equipment needs, does your restaurant need an exhaust hood? This is an expensive decision and piece of equipment that requires a lot of engineer drawings and installation approvals. If you’re a startup on a tight budget, it may be ideal to look for a space that was previously a restaurant that comes with an existing (and working) hood and ventilation system.


These requirements alter between each province and state, but washroom requirements are typically based on your square footage, seating, and overall capacity. Depending on the number of staff you plan to have, you also need to have staff-dedicated facilities. Contact your local building department once you have an idea on size and seating to receive requirements for washroom facilities. This information can be added to your search and be budgeted for accordingly, if you need to build out more room.


You obviously want the best visibility for your restaurant, but what type of visibility do you need? Are you going to be a destination restaurant or will you be located in a downtown area? How about in a plaza with numerous other businesses and high-pedestrian traffic? What is the traffic like in the morning, afternoon, and evening? Pull vehicle traffic reports on your possible locations (yes, these are often made available online) to develop the best case-study for your future restaurant.


Limited parking can deter guests from visiting your restaurant. Where will your guests park? How many spaces would you need if your restaurant was at full capacity? Where would they park during peak hours if you’re a take-out restaurant? Where will your staff park? Where will your suppliers park to make deliveries? Answer these questions and add them to your property wish list.


Let’s hope at this point that you know your direct competitors. Most aspiring restaurateurs think they need to be a fair distance away from the competition. Don’t shy away from being located near them. This is where a strong S.W.O.T analysis, competitor profile, and understanding of unique advantages are essential. Is the market large enough for you to enter and be sustainable, profitable, memorable, and scalable?


What is the history of your possible location? Did it previously host a restaurant, and how many restaurants has it been prior? If the location was a restaurant, what type of concept was it and why did it close? Complete your due diligence on the space in addition to the property managers. There may be underlying issues that need to be addressed.

When looking for a location, know your wish list but keep an open mind as you may need to weigh a variety of options. Once you have these answers and a specific location in mind, complete the remaining portion of your business plan (financial projections) to ensure this space is 100 percent feasible.

Finally, consider hiring a commercial realtor to assist you in negotiating specific concessions and exit clauses. Following these steps will ensure your choice of location is not a daunting one, but an exciting milestone for you and your entrepreneurial dreams.

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9 Ways to Build Your Restaurants Opening Day Team

9 Ways to Build Your Restaurants Opening Day Team

Originally Posted on FoodableTV – By Doug Radkey 09/06/2016

Your restaurant is only as strong as the team that operates it. It’s no secret — people are everything. They must get the vision and feel the passion for your concept to consistently execute on a day-to-day basis.

It’s best practice to begin interviewing and onboarding your opening day team 5-6 weeks prior to your restaurant’s official opening day so that you ensure having adequate time for administrative duties, orientation, training, and your soft opening.

Before you interview and hire your team, it’s ideal to have a strategy plan in place, along with a staff budget completed not only for training, but also for at least the first 6-12 months of operations.

This strategy plan will also help establish a positive reputation from the start.

Complete Your Value Statement

Walt Disney once said, “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier!” This couldn’t be more true during the onboarding process. What qualities and characteristics are you looking for in your team that speak to both your personal and business values? Define these values and look for them during the interviewing process to ensure you’re building a team that matches your vision.

Complete Your Culture Statement

Create a balance of education and experience within your team. Create an environment that fosters learning and being innovative. Create a system that involves your staff, rewards your staff, and creates loyalty among your staff. Define how you will recognize your team on a consistent basis and how you plan to be involved within your local community.

Design Your Staff Start-Up Kit

Save confusion, while consistently communicating the same message to all new staff, with an effective operations manual. Create expectations by outlining your training schedule, day-to-day standards, service expectations, and the restaurant’s disciplinary code.

Ensure they initial or sign each page to hold accountability in the future.

Within this kit, also include their staff performance review schedule, a copy of their application, tax forms, banking information, and a copy of any certificates, plus a signed uniform policy, social media policy, cellphone policy, and whatever else you deem necessary.

Know Your Staffing Requirements

Once you know your concept and menu, you need to outline your culinary, service, and mixology team. What positions do you need? What experience must each position hold? Does anyone in your team outline need specific education or training to execute certain product?

How many of each position will you need to deliver a consistent product throughout the week? How will you install a system for growth, innovation, and education? What will happen if someone is sick or on holidays?

Define these questions to build a fundamentally strong kitchen and front-of-house team.

Know Your Traffic Flow

Once you’ve outlined your values, understood your target market, and have defined your concept, you can begin determining your traffic needs. You need to analyze your seating capacity, take-out out-put, average transaction, and average length of stay or delivery time.

Each restaurant will be different, but analyzing your Revenue Per Available Transaction will allow you to determine how many servers, hosts, bartenders, counter staff, and/or other service staff you will need to deliver quick, friendly, consistent, and effective service.

(Note: This also applies to your kitchen team)

Complete Your Wage Structure

Now that you have identified the above, you need to determine wages for each position that correlates with your concept, menu, service style, and budget. Define what their starting wage is and their schedule for wage increments based on performance reviews. How does it correlate with your budget – do any adjustments need to be made to ensure you’re staying below industry benchmarks for staff costs.

Complete a Mock Schedule

Put together a schedule for an average week to determine how many team members you will need to hire to deliver on your service promise. Put each position’s wage into the schedule to calculate approximate staff costs.

Compare these numbers to your projected sales to determine if the percentage fits within the industry’s key performance indicators for staff.

Write Winning Ads

Making your ads stand out in a crowd of others will assist you in receiving the most qualified leads for employment. Tell a short story about the concept and the culture you’re building.

Outline the benefits of working with you and your concept. Be descriptive in the needs and requirements for specific positions. Write out an ad template for each specific position to use as a guideline now and for the future.

Bulletproof Questions

Now that you’re ready to interview, ensure you curate a list of bulletproof questions. Ask questions with meaningful answers. Don’t ask questions that the applicant is prepared for. For best results, conduct your interviews in a relaxed chat platform and look for position specifics in addition to your listed values. Take notes after each interview to cross reference, compare, and rate each applicant to build the strongest opening day team possible.

Completing this strategy plan will allow your restaurant to develop a winning culture and save on staff turnover, administrative costs, and financial hardship, all while protecting your brand from potentially negative reviews from customers.

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Hidden Restaurant Start-Up Costs; How to Prepare for the Unexpected

Hidden Restaurant Start-Up Costs; How to Prepare for the Unexpected

Originally Posted on FoodableTV – By Doug Radkey 08/22/2016

If you’ve always dreamed about starting your own restaurant, it’s imperative that you understand expenses. Even with thorough research and planning, an unexpected or slight oversight could happen, resulting in costs being added to your ever-expanding, start-up budget.

One of the many headaches aspiring restaurateurs face is the simple fact of running out of money before the restaurant opens. There are obvious expenses when starting a restaurant, however, you can’t ignore the often hidden costs that arise — ones that could total well over $20,000-$50,000.

Here are some hidden start-up costs you should address while you’re in your planning stages.

Permits and Licenses.

Make sure you receive the full list of permits that your local municipality requires for starting a restaurant. Unfortunately, like everything in life, many of these are not free. Visit your city clerks office to receive the entire list, their associated fees, and timeline for approval.

These include business licenses, overall building permits, zoning adjustments, occupancy certificates, electrical and plumbing permits, outdoor signage permits, health and safety inspection certificates, liquor licenses, and others. Each municipality, province/state, and federal government will be different, so ensure you receive the correct information for your specific location.

Next, one of the most often overlooked costs is the design approval from an engineer, even if you’re doing fairly simple renovations. Ensure a certified engineer (an additional cost) reviews and approves that your plumbing, electrical, and hood/fire suppression system will efficiently work and meet local codes.

The last license that 9 out of 10 startups overlook is music. Without a music license, you simply cannot play music in your restaurant or bar, even if you purchased a CD album or legally downloaded the song.

In Canada, you can receive your license through SOCAN and in the United States, you can receive your license through ASCAP.

Hood, Ventilation, Fire Suppression, and Washrooms.

Whether you’re planning to take over an existing restaurant space or build up from an empty shell, ensure you have budgeted for inspection, repair, and/or installation of these four costly areas.

You also need to confirm the number of washroom stalls your facility needs based on size and capacity, the correct air-flow calculations, and size of hood + suppression system.

Prior to signing your lease, have an experienced contractor or engineer walk through the space with you, making you aware of any further potential costs.

Hidden Deposits

Starting your first restaurant will result in the need to leave plenty of deposits, which are often an oversight when developing a budget. For all of your major utilities, prepare to pay a deposit for setting up a hydro, gas, and water account; for example. A majority of insurance providers, realtors, and accountants will also have an account ‘set-up fee’ or required deposit.

When taking over an existing space, ensure you receive confirmation that there are no longer any outstanding utility bills (debts) on the property from the previous tenants or any claims against the property with your provincial/state liquor control board that could result in surprise costs down the road.


Unless you are planning on picking up the kitchen and bar equipment, tables, and chairs yourself, prepare to pay for freight/shipping costs. When completing your budget for equipment, don’t just add up the basic equipment costs and taxes. Consider how it will be delivered to your restaurant, as well – something can cost well over $1,000.

Training Costs

Simply estimating this cost will often result in inadequate training. It’s best practice to complete a mock training schedule during your planning and budgeting phase to determine staff training costs.

You also want to include food and beverage costs for training. Whatever the budget is, add one more week’s worth in case your training needs to be extended.

Credit Card Processing Fees

When completing your budget and operational forecast, don’t overlook the credit card processing fees which often range between 1.5 to 3 percent of the transaction. Know your target customer and average transaction in order to budget accordingly. Don’t be afraid to receive quotes from different merchant vendors to receive the best rate and service possible.

Clean Up Costs

When the interior renovations are completed at your restaurant, it’s ideal to have it professionally deep-cleaned before getting started with your training and soft opening. This may seem odd since everything is new, but there is a lot of dust and other particles that will land on your new walls, light fixtures, furniture, windows, and your new flooring. This will often set back a startup approximately $1,200-$2,000, depending on the size of establishment. If you’re lucky however, this may be included in your contractors list of services.

Operating Capital. 

You don’t want to open your restaurant with no money in the bank. This is setting yourself up for early failure. It’s ideal to have a minimum of 1-3 month’s worth of operating expenses for opening day capital.

You also want to budget for a possible extension in renovation time, in case anything during the start-up phase is delayed; for example any permits, approvals, deliveries, or unexpected structural problems.

Include expenses such as lease payment, utilities, loan payment, insurance, and any other administration costs into this budget.

Don’t allow your dream to become a nightmare before you even open.

Complete your feasibility study, concept development plan, and overall business plan with accurate financial projections and budgets. Review these numbers with industry experts or an accountant to feel confident and be prepared for the unexpected!

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7 Tips on Pitching Your Restaurant Concept to Investors

7 Tips on Pitching Your Restaurant Concept to Investors

Originally Posted on FoodableTV – By Doug Radkey 08/09/2016

You’ve developed your restaurant concept plan, you’ve completed a feasibility study, and you’ve written a pretty solid business plan. Or maybe you’ve been successfully operating a restaurant for years and are looking to expand. Fantastic! But now what?

Due to the high level of risk for independent restaurant related start-ups, the traditional bank loan is never an easy option. A majority of food service start-up or growth projects need an investor or business partner with the financial means to assist an aspiring restaurateur through the development stages.

However, you cannot approach an investor or potential partner without being prepared with factual research, a strategic forecast, and an execution plan. Investors are looking for opportunities that present scalability, profitability, consistency, and sustainability-related characteristics.

Here are a few tips to assist you through your first pitch!

No. 1 Perfect Timing. 

The first thing to keep in mind when pitching to an investor is their time. They will likely not want to read through the 100+ pages of feasibility, concept, and business planning content you’ve accumulated.

You need to first develop a “pitch deck,” a 10-15 page document (print and/or slideshow) that showcases the most relevant and important data from those plans. These points should quickly attract the investors attention, further exciting them and engaging them in key points of conversation.

No. 2 Being Prepared. 

Delivering a winning presentation starts with practice. Create a series of “pitch tests” to speak in front of friends, family, and other business or restaurant industry acquaintances. Adjust your timing, look for questions the investors may ask, and receive feedback on your presentation style (voice level, eye contact, posture, and more).

You can also watch episodes of “Shark Tank,” “Restaurant Startup,” or other investor-related shows and look at the questions they ask of the pitchers. Formulate a list of frequently asked questions and ensure you know the answers to them for your restaurant…quickly!

No. 3 Being Passionate.

As much as you’re selling the restaurant concept and explaining the gap it will fill within the market, you are also selling yourself. This is the opportunity to tell your story — a great way to start your presentation. Show your passion for food, beverage, hospitality, and general business.

Quickly highlight your education and industry experience. Why do you want to open or grow this restaurant? What makes you the best fit for this concept? Why did you choose that specific name? If there is a story, tell it!

 No. 4 Simple & Memorable. 

Include only key points within your pitch deck while using photos, graphs, and even quick video clips if it’s a digital presentation to help visualize and explain. Use investor and industry-related keywords while also leveraging any current food and beverage industry related trends.

If possible and safe to do so, have a small sample of your proposed and unique food or beverage offerings for the investor(s). This will help drive your value proposition points while indicating to the investor an element of your secret to success.

No. 5 Strategic Content. 

Keeping it simplified, along with it being approximately 30 minutes in length, will force you to concentrate on the most important points. Ensure that you identify the following:

  • The gap within and size of the market
  • How you will deliver a solution to the market
  • Your secret(s) to restaurant success
  • The overall concept and revenue model
  • Your unique F&B menu options
  • The summary of your marketing plan
  • The current competitive landscape
  • The structure of the management team
  • Your projected key performance indicators
  • Start-up or development costs plus exit strategies

For each key point, formulate three levels of time for discussion. Each point should be delivered or described in 5 seconds. However, you should be prepared to explain the point in detail over the course of 30 seconds and also 90 seconds if the investor would like to discuss it further.

No. 6 The Numbers.

Ensure you know your numbers. Know your market size, ideal customer counts, break-even points, seasonal fluctuation, total square footage needed, total kitchen size, detailed start-up costs, value of assets, interest rates, return on investment, food costs, labour costs, and the list goes on.

Yes, it’s hard to memorize all of this data. Most investors will not penalize you for having a ‘cheat sheet’ with all of the summarized data points for yourself. Include the most important ones within your pitch deck.

No. 7 No Guarantee. 

Nothing in life is ever guaranteed. If your pitch fails, don’t be discouraged. Note areas of concern for the investors, learn from any lessons during the presentation, and adjust your pitch for the next one. Look for other investors, visit local start-up incubators, attend industry-related trade shows, and build your network within the industry.

First impressions count, but good things also come to those that work towards a second opportunity!

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Executing Your Rock-Solid Restaurant Soft Opening

Executing Your Rock-Solid Restaurant Soft Opening

Originally Posted on FoodableTV – By Doug Radkey 07/26/2016

Planning, execution, consistency, adjustments, training, and timing. These are all keywords you will hear during the start-up phase of your new restaurant.

There is no better way to test your restaurant or bar on these keywords prior to “officially” opening other than what is called a “soft opening.”

What is a soft opening? It is a series of fully operational shifts over the course of 1-2 weeks prior to ‘officially’ opening, in which only pre-selected guests can enjoy your new establishment. Soft openings are essential for many reasons and need to be viewed as an integral part of your start-up strategy.

It is an opportunity to review the fine details of your service standards, communication systems, and point-of-sale systems – along with your food & beverage timing and presentation standards (expediting).

A soft opening also gives you an opportunity to review lighting, sound, signage, and any possible confusion within your menu. It gives you an opportunity to make adjustments before it truly counts.

Skipping this stage is setting yourself, your staff, your suppliers, and your investors up for failure. Imagine adjusting the above after you’ve opened and after customers have left poor reviews? Here are some tips to consider for your soft opening to make it, and your restaurant, a success!


As with anything you do in business, it’s best to have a predetermined set of goals. What do you want to achieve with your soft opening? For example, how many hours of practice do you want your service staff to accumulate, how many platings do you want your kitchen staff to prepare, or which stations may need the most attention before you open to the general public?

Remember that this is all about training, adjusting, and monitoring the systems you should have put in place.

Pro Tip: Create a soft opening checklist with a scoring chart and then go over these benchmarks with your management team and front-line employees. Communication is essential to ensure you’re all working towards the same set of goals.


Ensure you have developed a budget for a soft opening in your start-up expenses. Spending money here will save spending double to triple the costs after you’ve opened in needing to fix potential mistakes. Consider food and beverage costs, staff costs, special invite costs, and/or special giveaways for your invited guests.

Pro Tip: Work with community partners and suppliers to receive samples and to reduce your soft opening costs. They are often willing to assist you because they want to build a long-term relationship with you and your restaurant.


There are a couple of ways to look at this. You could offer limited items to test on certain days of the soft opening, or you can offer your full menu each of the days. It also depends on the size of your menu. However, let’s hope you’re already following the need for smaller, more compact menus.

Pro Tip: It’s best to offer your full menu. This is what you will be offering your customers once you open, so get the practice now for service, timing, and point-of-sale use.


There is no winning price-point formula for soft openings, but generally, your food options and non-alcohol related beverages should be at least 50 percent off or free, and alcohol related beverages should be full price (which may be a requirement by law, depending on your region).

Pro Tip: If properly planned & budgeted for, offer your food menu for free. In return, ask guests to leave a donation to a pre-selected charity ‘to pay’ for their meal. Then during your grand opening week, present the local charity with a cheque. This creates an immediate community relationship plus an opportunity for free media exposure!


Consider privately inviting your close friends and family, plus any of your employees’ immediate family members and others who have helped you through this journey, for the first 1-2 soft opening shifts. They will be the least hard on you if there are early-stage mistakes. You should also consider inviting any contractors, suppliers, city officials, and public service workers throughout your soft opening period. It’s best to have a day off in between each shift to remedy any mistakes and allow for proper preparation.

Pro Tip: You want to slowly increase the number of invites. For example, if you have a 60-seat restaurant, on the first night, host 20 guests over two hours. The next night, 30 over three hours, and the next night, 50 over two hours. Gradually build it up to ease your service staff and kitchen into it. By the final night, your team should be prepared to consistently deliver a full house.

Team Meetings.

Before each soft opening shift, brief your staff on the specifics of what you’re looking for that shift, what they should work on, and the goals for the shift. After each soft opening shift, debrief with your staff and go through the checklist scores, plus any customer reviews from that shift.

Pro Tip: Engage with your staff; ask them what challenges and successes they each endured! They will offer a different point of view from that of yourself and your invited guests.

Bonus Pro Tips: Ensure all guests receive a way to leave feedback for you, whether through a comment card or special website link. Make adjustments as you see fit during the off days in between soft opening shifts. Try to deter guests from leaving social media reviews. (Unless of course, it’s 100% positive.) 

Lastly, have a social media-only night near the end of your soft opening period for a select number of guests, such as a contest through your Facebook page. This will help generate online buzz prior to officially opening.

Following these steps and maximizing these pro-tips will undoubtedly ensure you have a rock-solid soft opening that will leave your restaurant prepared for opening day and the many days after. Remember, you don’t get a second chance for a first impression. Make it count!

by krghospitality krghospitality No Comments

Strategies to Save Time & Money During Start-Up

Strategies to Save Time & Money During Start-Up

Originally Posted on FoodableTV – By Doug Radkey 07/12/2016

Going through the motions of starting your first restaurant requires an incredible amount of time and financial management.  Discovering opportunities to save on both will effectively result in less stress and a generous opening day budget.

Effective Planning

Before officially getting ‘started’, ensure that you complete a feasibility study, concept development plan, and business development plan. Although developing these can be time consuming (approximately 30-45 days, sometimes more) it will allow you and your potential investor to avoid financial pitfalls.

Feasibility study | This study informs you whether to move forward with your dream restaurant / bar or if you should re-evaluate your idea to fit and support the specific market space and start-up budget.

Concept development | This plan gives your proposed venue an identity with visual design components and a list of potential suppliers and contractors that can execute your vision in addition to the framework for your menu and the equipment that’s going to be required.

Business development | Outlines your action plan; including the details of your restaurant, the permits you will need, the time-frame for completion, operational strategies, marketing strategies, and the venues overall budget and financial projections for the next 3-5 years.

Saving Time

During start-up you want to save time, but you don’t want to cut corners or take uneducated shortcuts leading to future complications. Utilize and trust your developed plans and any expert advice.

Supporting Cast | First and foremost, don’t try to do everything yourself. Whether you’re building a small bistro or a large full-service 150 seat restaurant, you want to build a supporting cast and delegate tasks based on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Pro Tip: Work with someone who has ‘been there, done that’ in terms of starting a restaurant, for example a consultant, development agency, or close friend to be used as a mentor.

Checklists | Complete a start-up milestone checklist with S.M.A.R.T time-frames for completion, in addition to listing who is responsible, and the budget for each task. 

Pro Tip:  Hold weekly meetings and consider using an online project management dashboard to promote effective communication and organization within your start-up team.

Saving Money

Money management during start-up is vital. Numerous start-up restaurants overspend during this stage leading to a delay in opening, zero to minimal funds for marketing & advertising, minimal funds for training (paying) staff, or a combination of the three.

Hire an Accountant | Prior to signing a lease or hiring a contractor, build a relationship with a trusted accountant. This is your opportunity to stay on-top of budgets and control your spending.  

Pro Tip: Hold weekly meetings with your accountant to review, adjust, and then communicate the financial status with the entire start-up team.

Lease negotiations | First, always review your lease with a lawyer. Look for additional concessions, for example:  ‘free rent’ opportunities (for renovation period + first operating month), lease transfer opportunities (in case the restaurant fails), and negotiate other property maintenance & fixture costs (ex. air ventilation systems).  

Pro Tip: When seeking a new location, ensure it is feasible to be zoned for food service operations prior to signing.

Permits & licenses | Receive all of your permits and city requirements by visiting your municipal clerks’ office. Review federal, regional, and municipal requirements for operating a commercial food service business. Receiving a surprise infraction two weeks prior to opening can be costly and detrimental to your start-up. Receive each permit’s time-frame for approval, its initial fees, and any ongoing or future fees. 

Pro Tip: Work with a trusted architect who understands commercial food service requirements and building codes to complete drawings that will be quickly approved by your municipality.

Contractors & vendors | Ask nearly all experienced restaurateurs and most will say their largest headache was contractors. The most ideal situation is to hire an experienced general contractor that will lead a team of plumbers, electricians, mill-workers, HVAC professionals, and fire safety specialists through the project while managing the renovation budget. The best practice is to receive 2-3 or more quotes based on a specific and similar ‘job scope’ while measuring their level of experience, value, references, and overall cost. 

Pro Tip: Though you’re likely on a tight budget, don’t always go with the least expensive option. Sometimes, it will lead to higher costs or project delays later on.

Kitchen & Bar Equipment | A key tip to remember is that not all of your equipment needs to be brand new. Consider used prep tables, deep fryers, and lightly used refrigeration & freezer units. Depending on your start-up budget, consider equipment leasing opportunities versus purchasing upfront. There are pros and cons to this strategy in terms of assets, depreciation, and tax write-offs so it is best to work with your accountant. 

Pro Tip: Ensure your menu concept is developed and a chef is part of the kitchen & bar development process to ensure maximum efficiency in terms of food & beverage production.

Menu Development |  Customers today are seeking smaller menus; ensure that you engineer a small menu with re-purposed raw ingredients;  leading to less waste, easier training, and reduced start-up inventory costs. 

Pro Tip: Discuss payment terms with your food & beverage suppliers and don’t be afraid to ask for samples to reduce start-up training costs.

HR Management | Refrain from hiring your entire kitchen and front-of-house team until you have a very clear start date. This is likely 3-5 weeks prior, allowing for effective training, and for administrative tasks to be completed. Hiring your team too early will lead to increased administrative costs and time in potentially needing to re-hire. 

Pro Tip: Holding a job fair not only assists in time management, but if you execute it in an organized manner, it also works as a marketing tool to develop community awareness for your new restaurant.

POS Systems | Ensure you set aside a budget for a point-of-sale system prior to opening. It is surprising how often this is overlooked. 

Pro Tip: Look for speed and user friendliness plus a detailed revenue, staffing, & inventory report system that provides customer service support and no hidden costs for future POS updates.

Effectively using this list will undoubtedly save you and your start-up team hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in unexpected costs; leading to a larger and speedier return on investment.