So you want to open a restaurant?

Saw this thread in a subreddit of my old hometown. The thread was asking what permits needed to be obtained in order to start a restaurant. (YES YOU NEED PERMITS FOR A RESTAURANT).

It was too good not to share. The questions posed by the poster here are relevant, and it details what should be done in the lead up to you actually opening a restaurant.

I’m going to answer the question, but first I’m going to be the Debbie downer of the thread. As a current restaurant owner.

Why is this a dream of yours? Do you have any experience in the restaurant world? Have you ever cooked professionally? What kind of work-life balance do you want? The number of times I’ve heard about a dream to open a restaurant, with no grounding in the reality of this business, is horrifying. The (fill in the name of the city) restaurant market is ultra competitive. You have to be different, you have to be well priced, your location has to be good, you have to execute every single time. You will have to work every day it is open, open to close, for years. Every minute you are not there your business is losing money. Someone is not executing. A customer is upset and you are not there to fix it. A staff member is doing the minimum. Meanwhile, you mortgaged your house to get the $250k+ to open this thing and also personally guaranteed your lease at $80-$100k a year for ten years, and it rained on what is supposed to be your busiest day of the week and that just killed your business so now you’re worried about payroll, you haven’t had a day off in weeks, it goes on and on.

I know I sound like a total (jerk) but good people ruin their lives in this business because it seemed like a romantic idea. You’re competing with seasoned owners who have done this since they got a job as a dishwasher at 14 years old. There is no room for error. You also need to be ready to not get paid for maybe the first year. Perhaps you’re a success from the jump but what if you’re not? Right now money is cheap and it’s easier than you’d think to sign the next ten years of your life away. Even if you close in the first year, you have signed the next ten away to that decision. If you’re serious, work in a restaurant a few years. If you’ve never managed before you’ll start as a cook or server but there is a deficit of good managers so be eager to learn, work hard and express interest and you’ll be promoted quickly. Get to a position of high level management and see what expenses a restaurant actually has. See what the profit margin is. It will blow your mind. It’s easy to say it’s a labor of love until you’ve worked 80 hour weeks all year and still can’t afford to take a week vacation away. Sorry to sound like a Debbie downer. I’ll make it up in the next section.

Assuming all that didn’t dissuade you, you need to start with a menu and a concept. Seriously start there, all things flow from that. If you need help on a menu you can hire a consultancy or put an ad on Craigslist for a free lance chef. (not sure Craigslist is an option here). You probably don’t actually need to go that far to start, just have an idea of what categories you are cooking and may want to cook. Once you have your menu and a general idea, you’ll need to engage two companies- a design company and a commercial real estate broker. There are thousands of design companies all over the us, they don’t need to be local. You can give them your menu and they can build the kitchen around it. Once you’ve done that, you can get an idea of how big a space you’ll need. They may have in house front of house designers as well. Now work with the broker, where would your concept do well? Downtown is HYPER competitive. Lots of guys I know are killing it in small markets. Look at competition. Rent numbers, you want rent to be 10% of sales or less. Can you do the kind of numbers you’d need to do that? How many times do you need to turn the tables? Then figure out how many tables you can fit, readjust, etc.

Once you have the space, A then you worry about permits. You’ll need to hire a general contractor, who can usually recommend an architect. They’ll take care of permitting and such- if they are experienced with restaurant work that will also include health. You need to make sure your designers and GC and architect are in communication, especially if the designers are not local.

You need your CO (certificate of occupancy) before anything else will be issued. Then you can get liquor which is a whole other debacle.

Best of luck.

Edit: I didn’t even discuss the legal side. Get a good business lawyer AND a good CPA.

(courtesy Reddit Poster: PullGuardTakeNap)

This is sage advice. I have this conversation quite a bit. Ironically enough one of the funniest interviews I remember seeing was Brittney Spears talking about wanting to open a restaurant, and then years later saying it was one of the biggest mistakes of her life………this is a woman who has had multiple marriages, shaved her head on a whim, and attacked paparazzi with an umbrella. She has lots of regrets, and the restaurant concept was at the top of the list.

Opening a restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart. We need great restaurants and we need professionals in this game. We at the Port will do what we can to help you find a General Contractor with experience in restaurant management and an architect. We can help you find the proper permits as well. What we cannot do is make your restaurant concept work without significant research and lots of luck.