Opening a restaurant is excruciatingly difficult. Most that open hemorrhage money for months, or years, without seeing a profit. According to studies, 60% of restaurants close or change ownership in their first year of business, and 80% fail within five years. Just think about that for a moment, and then consider the ambition and fortitude it takes to open a new restaurant given those odds. Unlike many other businesses, while profit is important (and essential to sustaining a restaurant), that’s not why most people open one. An actual passion and desire to make incredible food and create awesome experiences for your patrons are both central to any restaurant business plan. A restaurant’s business plan can have a incalculable impact on a restaurant’s success. Another piece of the puzzle is clearly experience. While you may have worked in restaurants, managing one is very different. You might want to consider earning a higher degree in hospitality management to supplement your work experience. A great resource for finding a hospitality management degree can be found in our rankings section. If you’re looking to gain experience without committing the time or money required for a degree, here are a list of free and inexpensive courses in hospitality management. And if you’re committed to earning a hospitality management degree but don’t know how you’ll afford it, check out our resource on hospitality management scholarships.
So what are the elements that go into a restaurant business plan that produces a business that not only survives those first five years, but thrives during it?
Building a Restaurant Business Plan Template
To help you build your restaurant business plan template, here are two resources, from:
Remember, these are just guidelines to help you format your plan, but also touch upon some of the essential questions a restaurant business plan must tackle. At the heart of any plan for a restaurant is a very clear answer to this universal question:
With all the restaurants that exist, why do people need yours?
It might seem like a daunting question, and obviously there are many components and intricacies that could go into the answer, but you need to be able to simply and compellingly communicate the value you’re offering, and how it’s different from existing options. Once you have that down and know how to deliver it succinctly, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of your restaurant business plan.
Components of a Restaurant Business Plan
While you want your concepts and execution to break the mold, when building a restaurant business plan, you want to do so in an easily recognizable format. That means consulting the pros. A really great breakdown of the essential pieces that belong in a restaurant business plan can be found at Open Table. The way you order sections depends on what you think the reader (usually a potential investor, partner or other essential personnel) would be most impressed and intrigued by. You want to keep them reading throughout, so the order of these sections can be played with at your discretion. Depending on who you’re giving the plan to (a potential chef, an investor, etc.) you might order things differently in order to appeal to their backgrounds, interests and respective roles in your restaurant. Let’s dig into it:
A Branded Cover
Start strong with a powerful first impression for the reader in the form of an appealing logo, and your name. Make sure the logo is distinct from other things you’ve seen, yet universally recognizable and desirable (to the best of your abilities). If your logo is a work in progress that’s OK, just make sure you have one included that you’re at least workshopping. A logo is very important, so make sure to run yours by a good number of people with diverse perspectives (especially those disconnected from the project, and people in and out of the restaurant industry).
Concept and Proof of it
Ask yourself: Why did you design the restaurant you did? What inspired it? What style of service and ambience are you going to create in your restaurant? How have you proven that through market research, your previous experience, and food trends that exist independent of you?
This is pretty self-explanatory, but essential. At the heart of any frills, business plans, goals, etc. is a delectable, scrumptious, groundbreaking yet familiar menu that the reader will latch onto and salivate through reading. You don’t always have to invent something brand new: some of the best menus offer familiar, beloved items that have been altered and improved upon, rendering them indistinguishable and infinitely more delicious than their predecessors.
Here you’ll lay out how you see the interactions between your staff and patrons. If you’re doing counter service, obviously there will be less to go over, but even then, ask yourself questions like in what way does my system separate itself from and improve upon classic issues in customer service and expediency? What will my dining experience be like? If you’re going for a finer dining or more comprehensive service style, lay that out very clearly, and make sure to discuss what utility and comfort will be offered to your customers.
We’re only as good as the people we work with on important projects. Make sure to answer questions like who’s working with you on this? What are their qualifications and backgrounds? How do you compliment each other while fulfilling separate responsibilities? How has specifically *your* experience given you the tools you need to run a successful restaurant, especially considering the improbability of doing so? Ask yourself these questions and more, then distill them into brief overviews of yourself and your team that grapple with these complexities. This would largely apply to a restaurant business plan you’re giving to investors. What do they care about? Return on their investment, so your answers should detail why you and the people you’re working with will be able to make lots of money through your endeavor.
Make sure to delve into the design elements in your restaurant. What will the walls look like? The tables and chairs? Equipment in the kitchen? Plating? This is also an opportunity to showcase your eye for curation. If there’s a restaurant, business, chef or tradition you’re drawing some source of inspiration from, this would be a great place to discuss those influences.
Audience and Location
Who is your restaurant intended for? How does it reflect that person’s interests and values? Demonstrating a deep understanding of your potential customers is a great way to convince people you can run a profitable restaurant, whether you’re hoping they’ll invest or join you in the endeavor. Factors like age, income, fashion, mobility, proclivities and interests should all be accounted for and factored into the decisions you’ve made throughout your business plan, but here you can make clear you understand not just the why your restaurant will be successful, but specifically who it will serve. You may not know exactly where your restaurant will be located, but you should have an idea, and that should be intrinsically tied to the target audience.
Where will your ingredients come from? What delivery means do you plan to work with? How do local and regional factors impact these decisions? How will you make different choices than your competitors in this area?
If people don’t hear about your restaurant, all the plans in the world won’t save it. How will you promote your restaurant? Do you have social media plans, in addition to more traditional advertising? Are you partnering with a public relations or marketing firm to help you with it? If so, how much will that cost? If you’re going to try to promote yourself on the cheap or free, do you have a solid plan in place to do so?
These are people separate from the management team, but integral to your restaurant’s success. If you’re working with (or planning on working with) an architect, lawyer, accountant, designer, contractor or PR/marketing people, make sure to include those allies in your restaurant’s business plan, as it’ll reinforce your credibility as you move forward with the project.
This is perhaps the most difficult and crucial part of your restaurant business plan. Without a concrete, succinct business structure (you’ll want a lawyer’s help), your ideas aren’t going to come to fruition. Then, make sure to consult an accountant on the more intricate parts of your financials. You should know what to ask them, but ask yourself, what are realistic financial projections for you restaurant? Are you being conservative enough in your estimates? Do you have a capital requirements budget? Are you doing comprehensive analysis on your profitability? How many seats can your potential restaurant hold? What’s the average check? How many people will you serve each day?
Your restaurant business plan and restaurant business plan template should set you apart from your competition. But it should also reflect how your ideas separate yourself from the competition. Are you appealing to political and environmental concerns through your restaurant? Is sustainability a major factor in your mission? Are you using an undervalued or trending ingredient as an essential part of your operation? Are you offering a service or utility that no other place has? Are you utilizing technology or social media in a creative, unique way? For example, if you were to open a sushi restaurant that allowed patrons to order custom rolls of their own design through an app on their phones while sourcing your fish through sustainable sources, you might be onto something magical.
Remember, your restaurant’s business plan is a product of your creativity and experience. If you want to supplement that experience with a hospitality management degree, check out our rankings of those programs. If you want to take a free or inexpensive course in hospitality management, go here. And if you know you’ll need financial help to earn a hospitality management degree but want to, check out our list of hospitality management scholarships.