How to Open a Restaurant: A Chef's Story |

Launching a Restaurant in Style

Inside a Chef's Grand Opening

A restaurant opening is always a dream come true for those involved, especially for the visionaries behind the scenes. It seems the general public only knows about a new restaurant opening when the store front is removed, the lights are on, and the wonderful smell of fresh food wafts into the streets, but they likely will never fully understand just how much planning and work it takes to get there! I'd like to share some insights about this process as it relates to restaurant that I am getting ready to open.

The Partnership: Building Business Relationships

There typically is more than one proprietor in each restaurant-they may be silent or they may be involved in the operations to some extent. You have to decide what type of partnership suits you and your needs as a chef. My partners and I each bring a unique talent to the table--all worthy of sharing the equity in the restaurants we build.

The Vision: Shaping Your Restaurant

Every restaurant starts here. Someone has a vision for a particular space, style of food, or something unique to the market place. The vision for this restaurant was to tie in the "arts" with high-end cuisine. Initially quite a vague vision, but as we brainstormed together we found exactly the theme we were looking for.

The Space: Bringing Your Vision to Life

Because our restaurant is going to be high profile, we had to place it in a very unique space. This is when the businessman in everyone had to come out. Where can we put a restaurant of this caliber and balance the rent and overhead to still turn a profit? Fortunately with some planning and research, we found a new building being built in a prime location.

In addition to the restaurant, there is a 250 person banquet room. Banquet space for private restaurants provides a very high profit margin, which allows your restaurant to be unique in its ability to host large parties. As an added bonus and for more flexibility, the room has partitions. We spent some time with our designer and builder to discuss the layout (10K square feet) and incorporated a mezzanine level to help incorporate our vision of "the arts." It's all about tying in the vision with the space, all the way through the concept!

The Menu: A Great Restaurant's Foundation

This is both the easiest and most difficult part of opening a new restaurant. The first menu is never the one that makes the final opening. As a chef, you can't let your creativity or ego get in the way! The draft menu allows you to focus on several areas:

  • Kitchen setup. You can design the kitchen and plan how many stations you need to execute the menu.
  • Labor. Allows you to forecast your labor costs, number of employees, and staffing guide.
  • Food costs. Helps you estimate general food costs.
  • China. Allows you to focus on the particular pieces for each dish. For our restaurant, we have chosen a vast array of china. The typical restaurant has approximately 5 pieces, we will have 18!
  • Table turn. We anticipate our average diner will be at the table 1 hour and 45 minutes for a standard 4 course menu.

Fixed Costs. The following costs are fixed and are line items in the P&L:

  • Salary for labor; typically management
  • Trash
  • Cleaning
  • Miscellaneous

Variable Costs. You also have to plan for variable costs, which require more flexibility. Once the restaurant is open and running, these numbers become more stable. Items included in this category are:

  • Linen
  • Hourly labor
  • Entertainment
  • Payroll taxes

Public Relations: Building Buzz

This was a very interesting step for us. We decided that although this was a chef driven restaurant, we were also playing off the "arts" and the other people involved would also hold a lot of political clout. At the end of the day, people are coming to the restaurant for the cuisine, so we wanted to provide some insight into the development of the restaurant by having an ongoing blog beginning January 1st. The blog is directly from our creative team and will include topics and threads such as:

  • Creative team insights
  • Insights on the test kitchen
  • Exposure to the creative processes of selecting the service pieces we had custom designed, and an interview with the designer
  • Photos and small video feeds

We will also have printed media materials ready for the local and national press as well as a downloadable PDF press kit on our Web site.

This is a general overview of the creative process involved in starting a new restaurant. I hope those of you who read this realize it takes a whole lot more than just being a good chef to open a restaurant. It takes time, dedication, patience, compromise, and all around teamwork! We all have the dream of opening our own restaurant. The most important thing to remember, however, is that having your own restaurant (or more than one) also means running a business, not just a restaurant.

Happy Holidays to everyone!