Archive for November, 2012

How to Open a Restaurant: 10 Steps to Success

Do your 2013 goals include opening a new restaurant? If you’ve always wanted to create your own food service brand but were never sure where to even start, this checklist will help you take action to launch and grow your new business.

1. Define your concept.
Creating a brand will serve as a foundation for all other decisions you’ll make as you open your new restaurant.  It will define who your target audience is, what types of cuisine you’ll offer, if you’ll serve alcohol or not, and what equipment you’ll need.  You will want to do some market research to see how many competitors in that niche you’ll have in your community and if your neighborhood will be a good fit for your concept.  Reapply the concept in a new way for your target customers, so you’re offering them something different that they can’t get anywhere else.  This first step will lead you to the right size space (seating for 20 or 350? full kitchen? bar area?) and help direct every single subsequent step you’ll take, so make sure you put a lot of effort into establishing your concept and brand.  It’s the basis of your entire vision.

After you decide on your concept (fast-casual, fine dining, sports theme, family friendly, bar-focused, etc), then you can create your restaurant’s name.  Be sure to survey some people or ask your potential customers to help you choose on the best name.  A bad name can turn diners away before you even get the chance to win them over.  Picking the right name is crucial.  It may sound easy, but it’s often not.  You want a name to be clever, tell what type of restaurant you are, and be easy to remember.  If you are going to experiment with a different spelling, make it really obvious.  Or you’ll be forever talked or written about incorrectly.  A good name is a key element to success.

Once you’ve developed your concept and given yourself an awesome name, your entire brand will start to come together.  Your look, your message, your values – the perception you want others to have when they see your name or logo is very important.  How do you want them to feel about you? What do you want them to think of immediately?  You have to decide what exactly your restaurant stands for, then stay consistent with how you communicate that message to your constituents and community.

A graphic designer can help crank out a logo and color scheme that meets your brand’s expectations.  Start using it immediately, even through the planning stages, to start creating brand recall in the minds of those you’re marketing to.  Write some key messages that you can also repeat on all collateral you produce for distribution.  Incorporate those colors, messages, and overall branding into the rest of what you do.  Knowing who you are as a business helps others know and remember who you are, too.  And people knowing who you are is important for the bottom line.

Sometimes it is months to years from concept to grand opening, so be patient and plan accordingly.

2. Write a business plan.

Now that you know more about the business, you can write its plan.  The plan is a great “guide” to getting your business  launched and will be what you share with potential investors in order to get the backing you need to move forward.  Here are the parts of a basic business plan:

  • Executive Summary – State your objectives.  Summarize your business plan into an introduction statement. State your restaurant’s mission and vision statements. Include what makes your restaurant different.
  • Company Summary – Include founder biography(ies), your proposed restaurant name and logo, and take the entire concept you defined in step one and put it into writing.
  • Market Analysis Summary – Include charts and statistics from the initial market research you performed.  Include resident demographics in the geographical area you’d like to open your new place.  From the totals, show which market share you assume your business will be able to target and gain. If there are opportunities you can identify to collaborate with a competitor or another small business to capture more market share, list it here.
  • Strategy for Implementation – State where you will look for property to lease/purchase. Share how you will recruit and train staff, and give details about your management strategy. Discuss your ideas for integrating technology and promotions. Provide a 5-year outlook and any additional expansion goals you may have.
  • Financial Plan – Show the numbers.  How much do you need for upfront costs?  What are your expected monthly expenses?  When do you think you can begin repaying loans?  How much do you expect to gross in the first year, in the first 3 years?  What is your pay-off schedule?  What is your expected revenue?  An accountant or marketing forecaster can help you with writing a solid financial plan for your business.  This section will be the most interesting to your potential lenders, and therefore, it may be the most critical if you’re not the one fronting all the costs to start up.
  • Appendix – Provide any referenced materials, additional research, sales forecast charts, etc. in the back of the report.

3. Get funded.
Identify potential investors and consider all your options for small business loans, if needed.  Take your plan, and let your brilliant concept do the talking.  Negotiate, beg, hope for a good outcome, and be sure to stick to your promises and pay-off schedule.

4. Consider technology.
Technology drives any business model in today’s world.  Even in food service, technology is a critical consideration – and often a necessary investment.  Here are some common questions you will want to explore:

  • What will you use as a point-of-sale (POS) system? Do you need an advanced computer and cash register system, or can you incorporate a square card reader on your phone?
  • What online directories can you be added to?  What restaurant directories?
  • Are you setting up a website, or just using Facebook?  Who will manage your online presence?
  • How will people find you on their mobile devices?  Do you need to be added to dining apps?
  • How will you recruit staff?  Track hours and pay staff?
  • Will you integrate social media into your restaurant design?
  • Should you offer online ordering? Online reservations?
  • Is there an app you should develop for your restaurant?

5. Create a menu.

Most likely, you already have an idea of what types of food you’ll be serving up in your new restaurant.  Now, it’s time to make it official. If you’re not serving as the Executive Chef yourself, you need to recruit one, who can then in turn recruit other talented kitchen staff.  It’s the chef and their staff who need to develop a menu that can be replicated meal  order after meal order consistently and deliciously.

The menu should fit the brand and concept perfectly.  If there’s something on the menu “just because” someone likes it, but it doesn’t fit the overall theme, then nix it.  Keep the menu relatively small at first and really get down a few specialties before expanding your menu offerings.  Experiment with item names and descriptions, so your brand reads well throughout the entire printed menu.

When creating your menu, consider your suppliers.  Will you be able to get fresh ingredients from your local farmers or fish markets?  What do you need to order from your food service company(ies)?  Also consider cost.  Make sure your expenses are kept low and price out your menu items accordingly, so you have a reasonable profit margin on each of your menu items.

Don’t stop at main courses.  Think about which appetizers, beverages, and desserts tie well into the overall restaurant concept.  If you’re a family friendly joint, don’t forget a separate kids’ menu.

Beyond what you’ll be serving, do you know how you’ll be serving it?  Do you want basket foods, or will you be using fine China dining ware?  Maybe you’re offering family style meals?  Or want to serve it up on something unique? Perhaps everything comes in a bowl, or your sandwiches come ready-to-assemble, or you’re going Asian and need to have a supply of chopsticks?  Presentation will be an important consideration as you create your tasty menu.

You’ll be developing your menu during the whole planning process, but your final menu changes should be in place a month before the grand opening, to allow time for you to secure the right suppliers and get your menu in print for opening day.

6. Design your space.
Congratulations! You have the funds and menu in mind.  Now you need to lease or purchase your property – whether that’s an urban bar, a family restaurant, a mobile food truck, or a street cart.  If you will have restaurant seating for your guests, space planning can be very helpful in determining how many people you’ll be able to seat and which size tables and types of chairs you’ll use.  You’ll also want to consider the entire layout and flow of the space you have.  Whether you’re launching a coffeehouse or opening up a saloon, your space needs to reflect your brand.

We recommend being in a space and getting your equipment and furniture ordered approximately six weeks in advance of opening.  Depending on what the space requires, the lead time for furniture delivery, or the licenses/permits you’re applying for, your time frame may need to fluctuate accordingly.

7. Hire and train staff.
Determine how many staff you’ll need, and what their individual functions will be, in order to run a smooth, effective business.  Then, recruit trust worthy, dedicated employees and turn them into a team.  The first thing you need to train them on is your overall brand and your key messaging, so they can also be brand advocates with each of your customers.  If you need to recruit professionals to train your staff, do it.  Your staff will be the link between your business and its customers, so they need to be the best you can afford.

8. Promote your opening.

It’s almost time to open your doors for the first time!  Most restaurants start with a soft opening, in which attendees are by invite-only, and you can give your team a practice run in taking orders, making the new menu items, and serving up a great time.  When you’re ready to open to the public, you want to start your business with a bang.  Pull out all the stops. Consider what fun entertainment or offers will entice your new neighbors to give you a try.  Don’t forget to spread the word.  Here are some ideas to get your restaurant name in headlines (or potential customer status updates):

  • Hand-deliver a news release and media kit to local newsrooms, along with a tray of samples featuring your signature item, asking for pre-opening publicity and a food critic/blogger review the first week you’re in business
  • Book your chef on a news segment a week before your opening, and offer to have him/her prepare one of your menu items live on air
  • Book your front end supervisor or most outgoing host/hostess on a round of radio interviews – be sure to arm him/her with all the branding messaging you’ve developed
  • Schedule a live remote during your opening
  • Team up with your local sports venue, shopping mall, or charity event to pass out samples to a mass number of guests at once while inviting everyone to come to your grand opening for more – exchange the free food at their event for a mascot appearance at yours, or negotiate a similar deal

9. Engage with customers.
It’s opening night.  You’re busy.  You have a lot to do.  Make sure that includes talking to your customers.  Encourage your staff to ask your customers questions.  Provide multiple ways for customer feedback.  Then, listen.  Get to know your customers on a personal level, and be sure to say thank you – a lot and in many different ways.

10. Have fun, learn, adapt.
You’ve made it!  Your doors are open.  Your kitchen is cookin’.  Your guests are happy.  Enjoy it!  Have fun, and keep having fun.  If things get mundane, shake them up a bit to make them fun again.  Keep talking to your customers and incorporate the feedback you receive.  Pay attention to what people are ordering, and not ordering.  Take note of wait times and cook times.  Keep your books tidy, so you are aware of increasing expenses or fluctuating sales numbers.  Then don’t be afraid to adapt in order to be more successful. Change menu items, experiment with different hours, switch suppliers.  Change is good.  Change should be constant.  So have fun, and keep growing!

Banquet Seating & Decor: How to Set Up for Holiday Parties

The Thanksgiving and holiday seasons are popular for parties, large family style get-togethers, and end-of-year banquets.  If your restaurant, social hall, or club is taking reservations for private parties, you might be wondering how best to optimize your space and makeover your banquet room to create a festive but efficient party atmosphere this holiday season.   You’ll also need to make menu, staffing, and decoration decisions.  So let’s get started!


Depending on your room dimensions and size of tables, you will have to adjust your space planning to accordingly fit your establishment.  Regardless, there are many ways to transform ordinary folding tables into welcoming places to gather, or rearrange your existing restaurant tables to create a new, more social space, that if done well can be breath taking.  Or, you may prefer to keep your restaurant seating the way it is, especially for less social gatherings or your corporate clients.  Take a look at some of our table layout suggestions, and see which room design will work for the specific parties you’re hosting this season.

The Classic Banquet Set-Up

Using rectangle tables, you can form long rows by butting the tables against each other.  With 8′ tables, you typically can fit 4 seats on each side.  At the joint where the tables adjoin, you may be able to add another seat (shown in red) if you’re short on space or need to fit more bodies in the room.  This should only be done if the extra seating capacity is needed and after you consider each person’s placement.  For example, if every person is going to have a soup bowl, entree dish, water glass, cocktail glass, silverware, name card, and favor, it might be a tight squeeze to add that extra person at the joint.  But if the setting is less formal and offers more room, they should be comfortable with that extra seat added.

Take note that 6-foot tables typically only seat 3 per side, or you can add the extra person where the tables adjoin.

If you need a head table, buffet table, or speaker’s podium, add it at perpendicularly to the other tables for easy viewing.

Setting Up with Banquet Rounds

Round tables offer a more formal look to your banquet space.  Tables that are 5-foot in diameter can seat 8 people, and they are the most commonly used size.  However, you could mix it up and use 4-foot tables, which seat 4 people, or 6-foot tables, which seat 10.

We recommend staggering the rows to maximize the space, verse setting up linear rows of rounds.  It creates a more visually appealing room, as well.

Creating One Large Round Banquet Table

To fit more people at a round table, consider adding four serpentine tables to the outside.  If you use a 60″ table in the middle, you can add four serpentines, each with a 5-foot inner radius, to create a table for at least 16 people.  Don’t need that many seats?  A 48″ round folding table paired with four 8-foot serpentines (4-foot inner radius) creates seating for 14.  As a bonus, the extra distance across the larger table offers an opportunity for a more significant centerpiece.

This set-up might be preferable for a large family enjoying Thanksgiving dinner together.

Creating One Large Rectangular Table

Likewise, you can create a larger rectangular table, too, with just a little ingenuity!  Four 8-foot tables combine to make seating for 20-22 people (depending on if you add a seat where the tables join along the sides).  This arrangement of tables may also be conducive for a large family meal, a conference or meeting, or to maximize space for seating up to 22.

Different U-Shape Configurations

Whether you do seating on both the interior and exterior, or keep guests on the outside only, U-shape configurations can be popular choice for different types of meetings or parties.  You can use serpentine tables to create rounded edges, or you can experiment with different lengths of rectangular tables.

Banquets Can Be Square Sometimes

Here, you can keep everyone along the perimeter.  The inside of the square is empty or hollow, so it’s not always the best way to optimize your space if you need room for a buffet, dance floor, or other party must-haves.  Again, you can round the corners with serpentine shaped tables if preferred.

Using Cocktail Tables for Non-Dinners

If you’re hosting a party that is not a formal sit-down dinner, you may want to offer seating for only half of the guests and provide tall cocktail tables for guests to stand and mingle around while enjoying light hors d’oeurves and their drinks.  This works well for networking events, as well as open house style parties, where not everyone is in the room at the same time.  Using cocktail tables creates a more social environment and allows guests to flow throughout the room or event without being tied to one seat.

Decide how your banquet room can be set up and how many people it can hold.  Offer as many options for your customers, and be willing to rearrange your tables based on their unique needs or type of meeting.  As you’re planning the space, be sure to take into consideration any other furniture you’ll need to set up, such as a buffet, dance floor, podium, A/V equipment, or gift table.


A party of 30? 50? 200? No problem.  There are many options when it comes to your private party menus.  Here are just a few worth considering:

  1. Stick to your regular menu, and staff your restaurant with enough staff to take 30 unique meal orders and push them out of the kitchen simultaneously.
  2. Offer party guests a special, limited menu with only a few meal choices to select from.
  3. Plan the complete menu choices in advance with the person organizing the meal.  They can select three dinner choices from the menu and offer their guests they opportunity to pre-order from those selections.  With a little mark on each person’s name card, serving the right dishes to the right people becomes a cinch.
  4. Prepare the same meal for each guest, as determined by the person organizing the party.
  5. Consider family style dinners, where guests share larger portions amongst each other.
  6. Set up a buffet instead of serving the meal. Or, you can use a buffet to house the appetizers instead of butlering them before you serve dinner, or you can use a dessert buffet after you serve the dinner, so your staff aren’t serving every course.

Worried you’re not sure how much food to serve?  Be sure to check out our helpful resources pin board to find the answers!  We’ll show you how much cake you’ll need, how to stock your bar, and even how to set the table.

Talk about bar options before the party with the event organizer.  Is it an open bar? A cash bar?  Is it fully stocked?  Is it beer and wine only?  Alcohol is one of the most expensive items on your menu, so make sure both you and the organizer are in agreement over what type of bar you’re having the night of the party.

Depending on the number of guests, the type of menu and meal options you decide on, and whether your restaurant is open for normal business during the time of the party, you’ll have to consider the amount of staff you need to have on hand.


It’s time for the finishing touches!  Be astonishing and add those details that really make your guests “ooh” and “ahh” when they walk in that front door!  Whether it’s a traditional cornucopia or a contemporary dash of glitter and glam, you want the party-goers to feel special. Take the extra steps to add some decorations, centerpieces, or holiday charm to the room. You’ll also want to consider if you’re using linens on the tables, chair covers, or if you need to secure stack chairs, folding chairs or Chiavari chairs for the special event. Maybe you need to find a holiday station on the music platform you subscribe to for entertainment, or book a live band for your guests’ enjoyment. And don’t forget to train your staff to be courteous and cheerful, so the party is a hit for everyone in attendance!

It’s the extra steps you’ll take that will set you apart from your competition and get a repeat booking for next year’s celebration!

On behalf of everyone at East Coast Chair & Barstool, we wish you a very happy, joyful, and peaceful Thanksgiving. May you have many blessings to count and a successful holiday season!