Opening a Restaurant Checklist: The Essential Steps

An opening-a-restaurant checklist can help take a good amount of guesswork out of diving into the world of restaurant operation before you open your doors.

For many, the difference between the dream of opening your own business and making it a reality is small — but significant.

The very nature of taking on a challenge outside of your comfort level, while nerve-wracking, is exciting, but having a map to help guide you is a must. An opening-a-restaurant checklist can help take a good amount of guesswork out of diving into the world of restaurant operation.

Something to consider before deciding to open a restaurant is whether an independent or franchise restaurant concept is best for you. The latter can make the process of opening a restaurant much easier.

From selecting a location to buying equipment to creating a business plan, and much more in between, opening a restaurant domestically or internationally is a lot of work and requires extensive planning. This essential checklist ensures you won’t miss important steps before you open your doors.

Determine the Type of Restaurant Concept

It all starts with pinpointing what is most important to you and your goals. What types of cuisine are on-trend, and which are passing fads? Which types of concepts show year-over-year growth? Do you want to provide a fine-dining experience, a fast-food approach, or something in between? What kind of restaurant will stand out in a market crowded with options?

Beyond just the content of your menu and level of service, you’ll need to decide whether to go on your own or as part of a franchise system. Do you want complete autonomy as an independent operator, or would you prefer a strong head start and ongoing support from an established franchise brand?

If you decide being part of a franchise brand is the best path, you’ll need to begin the process of becoming a franchisee. In that case, before proceeding with any of the next steps listed here, learn about the franchise application process.

Study Your Competition

Size up the competition in the area. What do they offer, and what do they NOT offer? Your unique distinction could be the menu theme, a different service model or twist on a type of cuisine that already exists in your market.

A benefit of being a franchisee rather than an independent operator is removing the guesswork from analyzing the competition. Franchise brands strategically identify their biggest competitors and types of competitors. This intelligence also becomes important when selecting a location for your restaurant.

Choose the Right Site/Location

Regardless of whether you are looking to open an independent boutique in a repurposed 100-year-old building or a burger franchise in a growing suburb, pay attention to key factors when choosing a location.

Identify not only who makes up your core customer base but also where they live. And consider the local labor market by understanding area demographics and where you are most likely to find the workforce you need.

Physical visibility and ease of access are also prime considerations, though online presence has become highly important as well. Technological tools such as the Wayback App help customers find the right franchise location and order before arriving.

Another item to get squared away early, if you are not buying the property, is the restaurant lease. Negotiation of leases involves many factors, such as the asking rent, tenant improvements, single-, double- or triple-net leases, rent-free construction time, use clauses and more. Franchise companies often can assist franchisees via relationships with brokers who are familiar with the brand’s business model.

For more detailed information about choosing the right site, check out our blog Finding the Best Franchise Locations: 5 Can’t Miss Tips.

See more below about licensing concerns. You’ll also want to consider these when making sure you have the right spot.

Plan Your Menu

There is much more to menu planning than deciding which items or dishes to sell. Today’s advanced enterprise systems inject data and analytics into ongoing menu engineering.

Important considerations such as food cost come into play. For efficiency, you’ll want the dishes to be easy to prepare and to cross-utilize ingredients across menu items.

A focused culinary theme is helpful so that a limited lineup of versatile equipment can produce most items. For example, a burger business might use a char-broiler or griddle not just for its patties but also for a number of other menu offerings.

Remember a rule of thumb, which is that the back of the house in a non-fine-dining restaurant doing table service shouldn’t take up more than a third of the total restaurant space. The available space you have may help narrow your menu.

Research Licenses Required and Create a Timeline

All businesses need certain licenses, such as a city or county business license, but depending on your menu offerings, you may also require additional permissions, such as a liquor license, which may take more time for approval. If you are expecting a good portion of your revenue to come from alcoholic beverage sales, you absolutely must make sure you’ll be approved before you open. Start the process about six months out from opening.

Also, make very certain that the zoning ordinances and applicable codes will allow you to do everything you plan. Will the fire code allow you to use that special oven you need for your signature menu item? Also, get to know the signage permitting and rules before you spend a lot of money on signs you can’t use.

And then you’ll need appropriate permits from the state and/or local health inspector.

Make notes about the length of time needed to get all the permits you’ll need and plan carefully to ensure you have everything in place before you open.

Create Your Business Plan

Every good restaurant idea must be fleshed out in a business plan. This important document will include an executive summary, company description, market analysis, organization and management information, the product or service line, a marketing and sales plan, a funding request (if applicable), financial projections and an appendix of supporting documents.

Of course, if your restaurant will be a franchise location of an existing brand, building your business plan is a much more simplified process. The blueprint is essentially ready to be customized for your local market and specific situation, with the help of the franchise company.

For a deeper look into how to build a restaurant business plan, read our Fast-Food Business Plan: Essential Ingredients for Success blog.

Secure Funding

Now, use that solid business plan to sway potential investors and/or lenders that your concept is worth their investment or the loan you are requesting.

If your business plan is as persuasive as it should be, the funding request within it should get what you want and need to get your business rolling. Whether the funds will come from a family member with money, a bank, or a few friendly investors, get those dollars lined up.

Take a look at this article on some of the best financing options for franchising a business, including commercial bank loans, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, and more.

Assemble the Right Staff for the Job

First, you’ll want to determine how many staff you’ll need, and in what roles. Map out what a typical day should look like in your operation and how many personnel are required, and what they’ll be doing, in a given shift.

Next comes the training and hiring process. Hire for personality and attitude, because a person with the right approach can be trained on the specific skills needed in your restaurant, but the reverse may not be true. Someone with restaurant experience but a poor work ethic is not ideal.

That said, previous hospitality experience is usually required for a restaurant manager.

Again, becoming a franchisee with an established brand typically means that you will have access established training programs, manuals and procedures that you would otherwise have to create yourself, plus an entire team of people to rely on for support.

If you’re interested in learning more about the average cost of labor and other expenses, check out our blog on restaurant costs and what percent your labor costs should be.

Acquire Equipment, Smallwares and Furnishings

From your ovens to your stove to your POS (point of sale) system, your restaurant will really start to take shape and feel real once you begin to outfit it with equipment. A few months before opening, get key equipment (purchased or leased); smallwares such as cooking vessels, utensils and glassware; and your POS system.

Solidify Your Systems

Several weeks out from opening, get on the same page with your food supplier(s). Agree on a delivery schedule and standards.

Shore up your recipes and portions to calculate your needs in food production as best you can, for efficient ordering. You’ll be able to hone efficiencies after opening.

Hold sanitation training and certification for staff and establish strong food safety practices. The more processes you can document and train on, the more smoothly your operation will run.

Begin Word-of-Mouth on Social Media

Decide on your grand opening date and create social media accounts for your restaurant at least a few weeks out. Post “coming soon” themed announcements, using photos of special menu items or any other attractions you feel may stir excitement. In today’s world, it is crucial to build buzz for your restaurant opening.

Doing so requires knowing who your audience is and reaching out to them early. OpenTable suggests hosting a media-focused sneak preview.

Highlight your point(s) of difference. If you have a unique story to tell, push that narrative.

Make friends with other, non-competitor businesses. Your reach will increase, and your network will build. Follow their business pages on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc., and many will follow you back.

Be consistent in messaging across platforms. The voice and feel should match your brand and concept.

Start With a Soft Opening

Before you reach your announced grand opening date, hold a soft opening. This might mean opening a couple of weeks before the grand opening without advertising, or it might mean inviting a select group or cross-section of customers (a “Friends and Family” approach) to allow you and your staff to get a feel for how service will flow.

In doing so, you’ll identify problematic aspects you can correct before opening the doors to the greater public. After all, practice makes perfect.

The guests you’ll want to invite should include friends who agree to give you honest feedback about the experience. You may also consider hiring a consultant or a successful restaurant operator from another town, who is not in competition with you, to provide expert advice on tweaks.

Follow With the Grand Opening

With your practice round complete, it’s time for the day you have been waiting for. And, if you’ve done your marketing well, the public has been waiting for it, too. Offer special deals on food and drink and present a full celebration for your new restaurant.

Invite the local media for a ribbon-cutting and any other interesting “Instagrammable” moments you can think of. Perhaps your head chef could do a demo that features your signature menu item, or you can capture a shot of the mayor taking a big first bite of said signature item.

Many franchise brands have relationships with public relations or marketing agencies that can help you build an effective grand opening plan that is sure to maximize guest count and media coverage.

Most of all, remember to have fun, and the excitement will spread, across both your own social media and other accounts and sites operated by local press and influencers.

Circling Back to Basics

As mentioned, so much of this process becomes significantly easier — or at least a lot less stressful, with much less guesswork — if the restaurant you are opening is part of an established franchise brand.

Both independent and franchise models allow for individual business ownership, but investing in a franchise comes with proven operational best practices, such as menu development and design, marketing help, assistance with site selection, training resources, best practices in the kitchen, vendor relationships, and much more.

Wayback Burgers

If you are a first-time business owner looking for guidance, systems and support, or a seasoned entrepreneur looking for your next investment opportunity, check out Wayback Burgers. Our fast-growing, international burger franchise offers qualified candidates the opportunity to open and operate a business in the highly sought-after fast-casual sector with a small footprint and a big upside.

Inquire Now