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Shooting for the Moon: Starting That Restaurant You Always Dreamed About.

(post, Richard Blau)

It's the dream of every foodie: To own and operate that perfect emporium, your own restaurant.  Alas, the romance is only earned by a LOT of hard work, long hours, and tremendous personal sacrifice.  Even then, the odds are daunting; over 85 percent of all new restaurant ventures close within 18 months.  And as if all that were not bad enough, the current recession certainly does not help; on-premises retail dining is a business sector in crisis, as many consumers tighten their belts, cut their budgets, and forego the luxury of eating out.

Yet, the dream persists.  The neighborhood bistro; the corner pub; the neighborhood cucinna for all that is good, local and healthy.  Like their soulmates, the farmers, many restauranteurs are the first to tell you that theirs is the worst job in the world.  Long hours, low pay, unappreciative customers, and   Those complaints, however, invariably are followed by the more quietly voiced admission that they'd never do anything else! C'est la vie.

So, you know it's hard, you know the odds are against you, and If you are determined to shoot for the moon and take on the restaurant biz, despite common sense and countless warnings to the contrary, then take a lesson from NASA - the National Aeornautics and Space Administration.   After all, they are the experts in reaching for the moon.  And like NASA, you too can accomplish your mission . . . IF you develop a proper mission plan and stick with it. 

ere's a brief outline to consider before taking your first step.  This 90 day plan is not a complete mission blueprint, but it will give you a sense of what you're getting into.

Nothing about the summary outlined below is set in stone.  Details should be filled in based on the facts of your particular situation.  For example, getting a liquor license in Chicago, Illinois is a lot more complicated and takes much more time than getting a license in Orlando, FLorida.  In today's world of recession and economic paranoia, arranging for support financing from established financial institutions may take twice as long as it would have just a year ago. A ninty day schedule can be expanded to  plan reviews a process that can be expanded (to twelve weeks, for example) or shortened (to six weeks, maybe, if you are super-diligent), depending on your circumstances.  The plan as sumarized below also has built-in time reserves, to give you plenty of opportunity for periodic reassessments, dealing with the unexpected, and plannning ahead -- just in case "stuff happens."

Constructing your mission checklist and get the preliminaries out of the way. 
First thing first: Prepare your pre-opening budget and start envisioning what sort of image you would like your restaurant to convey for what you are willing to spend.  Some NASA mission specialists start off with very grandiose plans, until they are confronted by the latest Congressional budget cuts.  Likewise, you already have that image you've dreamed about for years - the ideal restaurant.  but how affordable is that dream?  Working through a budget will bring the visual goal of what you’d like to accomplish into focus with reality. The result will carry you through the rest of the process. 

Once you've got two feet on firm ground, start obtaining the necessary background materials and complying with the requisite legalities. Evaluate local distributors and consider specifics, like scope/lines of products available, delivery times/frequency, prices on key products; credit terms; electronic or Internet ordering options; and other support services offered, such as business reviews, consultation, staff training. Also, establish your insurance policy and apply for the necessary licenses from the health department, the food manufacturer, the local alcohol beverage regulatory authority, and the water department.  In terms of compliance, determine local certification requirements (HACCAP training), check local health codes and ordinances, determine requirements for your alcoholic beverage license as well as your servers and bar staff, and make sure your business and liquor licenses are in order and that you’re set up correctly for sales and use tax.

In addition, start ordering your cooking equipment, small wares and tabletop items, like flatware, tableware, glassware, sugar caddies, small wares and kitchen utensils, salt and pepper shakers, table vents, vases and the like. Also, order your beverage service, point-of-sale (POS) system and store décor; order menu boards, exterior signage, office equipment (copied, fax, computer, calculators), and office furniture (desk, chair, filing cabinet, etc.).

Mission confirmation and following up on what you started. 
Things should be beginning to take shape now, so make it a priority to follow up on your timelines and get yourself organized. Arrange for a moving company, if needed, for equipment, furniture, fixtures, and other hard assets.  Check the statuses of your licenses with the health department, food manufacturer and water department, as well as with your business license, liquor license and sales and use tax. Also, check the status of your sales, federal, state and local tax numbers.

In addition, establish your banking system and accounts and obtain bids for local trash pick-up, grease removal, extermination services, laundry, appliance repair, fire extinguishers, music system, security alarms and security systems, knife and blade sharpening, window washing and dishwasher service. Furthermore, determine emergency plans, exit procedures and create maps, finalize your POS decision and acquire your software needs for your office (MS Office, scheduling, food management software, etc.). 

Also, select a pre-opening site to conduct interviews and start organizing your pre-opening parties, such as events for the press, VIPs and contractors. You will be surprised how quickly everything will fall together in the coming weeks, so it’s best to be prepared.

More pre-flight preparations. 
You should be receiving your tax numbers now, so with the ball rolling, start preparing for the final countdown. Order “Opening Soon” and “Now Hiring” banners for your windows, and a “Grand Opening” banner for the front entrance. Also, order plastic engraved signs for pertinent information (“Ladies,” “Men,” “No Smoking,” “Delivery Hours,” etc.), and set up order books, a maintenance and cleaning calendar and an inventory system. Also, conduct a walk-through with the contractor to make sure he or she is familiar with those systems as well, and retain a full set of building and equipment plans for operational files. 

Check inspection dates and acquire mandatory posters and children’s amenities (high chairs, boosters, crayons, etc.). Set up communications for your office, like a fax machine, pagers, and hostess station equipment. Set up credit card merchant accounts, and select an accounting service or in-house bookkeeper and acquire the appropriate software. Also, obtain menu materials - covers, inserts, to go menus, catering, children, and order restroom accessories, like hand towels and air dryers, soap dispensers and trash receptacles.

In addition, start thinking about your staff and events. Prepare “Help Wanted” ads and get employee name tags and restaurant uniforms. Identify what your staffing needs will be exactly, and then develop an action plan for meeting those needs. Also, order a valet stand and key control system, acquire entertainment permits, and craft a list of potential entertainers (including an invitation list for pre-opening parties and order invitations).

Good grief, more pre-flight preparations! 
Continue planning and set-up work to ensure small issues do not become major problems that could delay or even scrap your mission. Set up your equipment maintenance log book. Order office and miscellaneous supplies. Finalize vendors for food/paper products and set up delivery schedules with them (and commissary) – include backup vendors. Set up fire and health inspections. Label valves, switches, compressor and breakers and check for accessibility. Also, acquire bids and select vendors for décor, like interior plants and landscaping. In addition, acquire janitorial equipment (wet floor signs, mops, buckets, vacuum, trash receptacles).

While doing this, continue your staffing plans. Place your “Help Wanted” ads, purchase training materials for food safety training, develop deposit procedures (establish armored car service or other), finalize food and supply orders for training, mock shifts, and opening week. Also, setup an employee filing system, acquire a first aid box, create a seating chart and wait staff sections, setup a petty cash system, acquire tip trays, and check presentation folders, if not provided from merchant account provider.

Complete fueling, load the crew, and roll back the gangway.
Around this time, you should be receiving your case work and furniture, including your counters, cabinets, menu board frames, tables, chairs and barstools. So that will need to be installed. Also, by this point, you should also have a number of candidates in mind for staff positions. To accommodate, start scheduling and preparing interviews and prepare a training schedule for those you will hire. Also, set up your POS or register for training your management and crew and create job aids (pictures of menu items, procedure steps, etc.) for the kitchen staff. This is also a good time to determine your emergency equipment shutoff procedures and start thinking about your opening week schedule--make it heavy, since you really want to test yourself and see what you can and cannot accomplish reasonably.

Other important tasks to consider: Acquire an internet service provider,  a kitchen clock, tools and a tool kit, and linens. Also, get your parking lot striping and handicap space requirements, and select your services for local trash pick-up, grease removal, exterminator, laundry, appliance repair, fire extinguishers, music system, alarm and security system, knife and blade sharpening, window washing and dishwasher service. Also, review your review OSHA requirements with management.

In addition, continue to think about opening night. Send out your opening party invitations and press releases to local media.

Commence count-down to lift-off.
Timing becomes crucial at this point. You need to make sure several smaller tasks get completed while still keeping your larger projects moving. 

First and foremost, you’ll be interviewing and hiring possible employees and getting them trained as soon as possible. That means you’ll have to have your training sessions finalized and assign your hired employees for HACCAP training and certification. In addition, you’ll need to get employees certified for alcoholic beverage service and conduct alcoholic beverage and wine service training. Also important: Assemble your new-employee supplies, such as applications, uniforms, employer-employee agreements, W-4 & I-9 forms, cash register policies, and employee handbook and more. Also order your initial food for training, as well as your first paper goods order. To make sure everything is accounted for, create detailed inventory worksheets or count sheets and prepare your delivery schedule for your vendors.

To ensure training commences smoothly, you will need to have your beverage service and POS system installed and ready to go. In addition, obtain bags and night deposit keys, deposit stamps and slips, coin rolls and bill bands. 

On top of this, the final load of your supplies and equipment should be coming in, such as your small wares, ice machine, janitorial supplies, Ansul System, alarm system, fire extinguishers and more.  You will need to install these items and then ensure everything meets your satisfaction. Obtain sub-contractor’s telephone numbers in case repairs are needed, and set up all equipment maintenance and repair instructions in designated spots in case fixes must be done in-house. In addition, create a control system for padlocks for cooler doors and conduct a safety audit.

Restaurant Interior design
By this point, you should have received nearly all of your equipment and furniture, including your tables, chairs, table tops, benches, canopy awning or canvas and more. That means it’s time to make sure everything fits, works and looks like it should. 

Test all of your equipment. Check the walk-in and refrigeration temperatures. Calibrate the temperatures for your fryers and griddle, oven and stove.  Also, set up and organize your supply stations, including shelving for walk-in and dry storage (which also must be labeled), and get your hostess stand supplies (reservation book, call clock, pencils, notebook) in order. While you’re at it, also post signs for your personnel, as well as the required posters for Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), Fair Labor Standards Administration (FLSA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE), the Heimlich Maneuver and safe lifting. Also, finalize your hiring and get your employees into training.

Start a construction punch list in case final work needs to be done, and begin to clean and sanitize the walk-in area. Also, set your exterior signage light timer, place your initial alcoholic beverage order and determine light levels and label for each period of the day. 

Get ready for Lift off!
No task is too small during this stretch. Granted frustration will be high but if all preparations have been met beforehand, you should be able to sail into a successful and well-prepared 
Restaurant Grand Opening!
First and foremost, get your décor and equipment ready. Hang inside décor, wash windows, install plants, clean all equipment, small wares, and stainless steel, complete equipment warranty cards and run the ice machine, empty it, sanitize it and refill it. All the while, continue updating your construction punch list.
In addition, hold your final inspections, receive your certificate of occupancy, finalize your opening week schedules, finalize the clean-up of interior and exterior, complete your pre-opening checklist, take open inventory on all food and beverage items, and buy and receive your change from the bank. 
In the meantime, also conduct your training, finalize your training certification and conduct a practice run (dress rehearsal) of opening night. After that, you should be ready for business. Congratulations!