5 things you need to know before opening a restaurant

Minute Read

Whether you’re a talented chef, have worked as a waiter or bartender for many years, or are simply looking to launch a new venture, many entrepreneurs have their hearts set on opening a restaurant.

While owning a restaurant can be a lucrative endeavor — everyone needs to eat, after all — it’s not without challenges. From putting down lots of money upfront and picking an ideal location to designing the space and securing permits, restaurateurs need to juggle tons of responsibilities just to get their doors open.

Over the years, the Aikito team has helped open hundreds of restaurants, so we know a thing or two about what it takes to stick to budget and schedule. 

In this post, we’ll share some of the lessons we’ve gained from our experiences. Keep reading to learn how to avoid the common pitfalls inherent in restaurant construction projects along with some tips you can follow to ensure a smooth opening.

1. Choosing a site

Location is integral to a restaurant’s success and staying power. Ideally, you want a highly visible space that’s accessible by public transportation and located in an area that gets a lot of foot traffic. 

But the space itself is only half of the equation. You also have to consider budget, lease terms, and space improvement allotments before signing a contract. Even if you’ve been through this gauntlet before, it’s a tough maze to navigate. 

Pro tip: When you enlist the services of an experienced real estate broker, you end up with a trusted advisor who not only knows demographics, neighborhood trends, and traffic patterns but can also help you negotiate contract terms that put your restaurant in the best position to grow.

2. Designing your space

Look and feelAmbiance can make or break a restaurant. Design a space that appeals to your target audience and reflects the mood you’re trying to convey — whether it’s intimate, family-oriented, or energetic — and it’s that much easier to fill seats.

As you go about planning your establishment’s layout, it’s important to balance flow with revenue potential. At the same time, you need to optimize the space you have at your disposal while ensuring compliance with building codes and other relevant regulations. 

Pro tip: By partnering with an expert design team, you can bypass much of the stress typically associated with planning the layout of your restaurant. The right team can help you ensure optimal flow and seating capacity while working with you to ensure your space is aesthetically appealing — and that your restaurant complies with an ever-changing list of regulatory requirements.

3. Getting a liquor license and other permits

Speaking of those requirements: You might think that getting a liquor license would be relatively straightforward, but you’d be wrong. All kinds of hidden surprises can be buried in the process — like a lack of availability, neighborhood opposition, or other legal issues.

In addition to a liquor license, you’ll also have to procure several other permits. New York City, for example, requires building and renovation permits, business licenses, sidewalk cafe licenses, certificates of occupancy, and signage approval, and you’ll also have to adhere to regulations from the health department and the fire department. Oh yeah, there’s ADA compliance to consider, too.

Pro tip: As a restaurant owner, you’re laser-focused on putting together a delightful and interesting menu, serving up great drinks, hiring talented staff, and creating an atmosphere your customers love. By enlisting the help of experts, you can navigate the licensing and permitting processes with ease. The right partner will help you avoid opening up shop in a neighborhood that’s over-saturated with liquor licenses. They’ll also ensure you get ahead of any potential issues so you can open on time while sticking to your business plan.

4. Building sustainably

According to a recent report, 90% of consumers care about sustainability, and 57% say that a restaurant’s sustainability practices influence where they choose to go out to eat. 

In addition to enabling you to attract more customers, adopting sustainable business practices can also help you protect the environment and your bottom line. When you build out a new space, there are tons of opportunities to reduce waste, increase energy efficiency, and decrease the amount of carbon you consume. But for most restaurant operators, it can be impossible to figure out where to start.

Pro tip: Instead of wasting time you don’t have researching all of your options, you’re best off partnering with a sustainability expert who does the work every day. They’ll help you identify carbon-reduction opportunities in finishes, furniture, lighting, heating and cooling, and standard operating procedures. They’ll also help you choose energy-efficient equipment and eco-friendly water systems.

5. Setting up your tech stack

When most people think of opening a restaurant, they think of entrees, appetizers, drink menus, and desserts. But in today’s digital age, restaurateurs also need to put together a tech stack to power their operations and bake more efficiency into their day-to-day. 

A robust tech stack involves a number of different solutions, including point of sale (POS) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) tools, and reservation, delivery, and email marketing platforms, among other things. 

Pro tip: Instead of going it on your own, partner with a team of tech experts who know restaurants inside and out. They’ll help you choose the tools you need to help your establishment reach its full potential. Even better, they’ll make sure that every system works together seamlessly — and that everything is ready to go on opening day.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? 

If you only had to take care of these five considerations when opening a restaurant, maybe you’d be able to tackle all of them on your own. Even so, it would still take a lot of time, and there would always be the chance you’d make a decision you’d later regret.

But in addition to what’s discussed in this piece, there are tons of other things restaurant operators need to work through — like budgeting, financing the buildout, managing a team, and picking furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E).

To streamline the process for you, we’ve put together a free guide that outlines what restaurant owners like you need to keep in mind to make sure your next establishment launches on time, on budget, and with sustainability baked into the foundation of everything you do. Have a look.