The first step in starting a restaurant is proper planning. One must lay out a plan complete with goals, priorities, and the tasks that he will need to complete in order to achieve these goals. The biggest mistake first time restaurant owners make is improper planning. Ambition, while absolutely required, is simply not enough to succeed in the highly competitive food service industry.
If you've always wanted to run a Cajun restaurant, and you live in an area that already has five, do you have to relocate to accomplish your dream? Not necessarily! It's now time to engage in a bit of opposition research. Drive by each of the locations during varying parts of the day. Are there many cars in the parking lots? At what times? Are many people standing in the lobbies? If so, then this restaurant is doing something people like, and these patrons are thanking the restaurant owner with their wallets. If you see that a particular restaurant is more popular than others, discover why by visiting their establishment during peak hours. Dine in, have the waiter recommend their best dish. Pay attention to every aspect of the experience.
The food should be an area of concentration of course, but there are several other factors that can turn wonderful food into a wonderful experience. How do the servers present themselves? How spaced out are the tables? What type of centerpiece is on your table? All of these factors are vital, and are what makes or breaks a new restaurant. By no means should you overlook the atmosphere of your dining area while planning your restaurant.
This may seem obvious to most, but while you're there, you should also pay attention to the menu. Do they have something for everyone? People generally don't dine out alone, so if you're only appealing to a one taste, you're going to lose a vast amount of potential customers. Carefully study how the successful restaurants handle this. Of course if you're a Cajun restaurant, you're not going to serve an Italian dish, but you can surely meet everybody's tastes. Look at husband-wife pairs to see what they order. Don't just concentrate on the main dishes, but the entire meal. Sometimes, one of a pair might really enjoy your Chicken Rochambeau, but the other doesn't like Cajun at all. Notice what these people order, as they're just as important as their partners who enjoy Cajun immensely. These items will often blend into the menu quite well as soups or salads, and will most times be a compliment to your main courses. A great fast food example is McDonalds. They realized early on that not everyone wants to eat just hamburgers. They poured massive amounts of money into marketing, and obtaining the best quality potatoes for their fries of any of the fast food chains. Of course today, you can get just about anything at McDonalds, but early on they were first to scream, "We don't just have burgers!" and it has worked out well for them. To summarize, find your niche of course, but also cater to as many people as possible, because your niche diners have friends and they want to eat as well!
Finally, do not lose heart because there are already five successful restaurants in your area. Remember, when the fifth started there were already four, and so on. Find what they don't do well, that you know you can make your specialty, and you are well on your way to a successful restaurant.
Jeremy is a consultant for ACityDiscount, an online restaurant equipment dealer based out of Atlanta, Georgia.