Opening a restaurant: How to turn your love of cooking into a career

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For many people, opening a restaurant is a lifelong dream. Offering the perfect balance between entrepreneurship and creativity, it’s the perfect opportunity to be at the vanguard of food trends and really innovate. And with the UK restaurant industry undergoing exciting changes following the coronavirus pandemic, now is as good a time as ever to make this dream a reality.  

We’ve compiled this step-by-step guide to help you realise your own aspirations of being a restaurant owner.

1. Create a concept

Creating a unique concept for your restaurant is the key to success. This relates not only to the food you’ll serve, but the type of restaurant you want to open and the service style you’ll use. Like many creative projects, the best ideas often involve personal passion and identifying gaps in the market. 

Cuisine you’re particularly fond of is a good place to start. When it comes to carving out a niche, be sure to conduct extensive market research and see what your competitors are doing. Say you’re eager to launch a chicken store, you may find that the Caribbean chicken market is oversaturated and that there’s a gap for a Cuban chicken restaurant instead. Be careful of jumping on fads though as this could jeopardise the longevity of your restaurant.  

Beyond the food you cook, it’s crucial that the environment and vibe of your eatery is well-thought-out and that every element is interconnected. Everything from the paint colour to the background music to the menu design needs to work in perfect harmony, or you face confusing your customers. When all of these elements are linked together well, it creates a seamless experience that’s natural and authentic.

2. Finesse your menu 

After settling on a concept, it’s now time to start thinking more closely about your menu. This will impact so many aspects of your restaurant, from the type of equipment you need and the employees you’ll hire, to your target demographic and even your restaurant’s location. For example, say you want a dessert menu filled with intricately-made French pastries, you’ll require both the right supplies and a pastry chef. While if you’re looking to cook pizza, you’ll need things like dough mixers and proofers, plus staff who know their way around pizza dough. 

If you’ve decided on entering the fine-dining market, you’ll not only need to create a food menu to match, but choose an affluent location for your restaurant where the locals are able to meet your price points. Whereas if you have found a fantastic deal on leasing a space in a university town, you may want to adapt your menu to be suitable for those with smaller budgets. 

3. Consider the costs

Once your ideas are in place, it’s time to sort out the finances and legalities to get your restaurant in operation. It’s important that you secure enough funding to cover the main expenditures of running a restaurant, which include:  

Rent 

One of your biggest costs will be your rent. The more popular the location, the more expensive the rent — for instance, retail rent costs in London’s West End are almost ten times higher than the city average. 

Staff and fit-out costs 

Knowing how many members of staff to hire is a tricky balance. Hire too few and you risk being unable to operate your restaurant properly, but hire too many and you’ll be wasting money. Generally speaking though, employee costs make up about 30% of a restaurant’s revenue. You’ll also need to make sure your restaurant is fully fitted out with everything required to run things, plus the decorative elements. You may find the best course of action is to rent a space that is already a restaurant rather than an empty building.  

Insurance  

As noted by Brisco Business Insurance: “Having complete business insurance keeps you and your company financially protected following unforeseen events, including theft and damage to your tools and equipment, client claims made against you, or accidental damage to a third party’s property.” This is an important expenditure to consider, with the cost of business insurance varying wildly depending on aspects like the amount of cover you buy and the area you’re based in.  

Marketing 

Marketing is vital to the success of your restaurant, helping to get your name out there and build your reputation. As a rough guide, Gourmet Marketing recommends that your restaurant marketing budget should represent 3-6% of your sales.

5. Consider the legalities

Running a restaurant involves meeting various legal requirements, the main of which we’ve outlined below: 

Business structure 

In order to legally operate your business, you need to choose an appropriate structure. Which one you go for impacts the taxes you pay and how you can borrow money. Read this guide to restaurant business structures for more information.  

Permits 

Restaurant owners require a number of permits to operate, including a food business registration and food premises approval from your local council if you’re handling meat, fish, egg or dairy products. You also need to obtain licences if you want to sell alcohol, play music and host events.  

Food safety and pest control regulations  

It’s crucial that you abide by food safety and pest control regulations, or you could land yourself in hot water and even have your business shut down permanently. Check out the Food Standards Agency website and this guide by the British Pest Control Association for more information. 

Competition laws 

Before you open up your restaurant to the public, you need to ensure that it isn’t infringing any competition laws. For example, if you previously worked at another restaurant, check your employment contract for a non-compete clause, as opening your own could violate this. It’s also important to avoid copying recipes from your previous employer, while making sure that your restaurant name and concept doesn’t infringe on competitors’ either. 

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