Every business needs a plan. No matter how much experience you have, you can’t open a restaurant or start a business without a clear idea of what you want to do—what food you want to serve, what kind of customers you want to attract and so forth. A business plan offers a formal structure to what you have in mind, and it can serve a variety of purposes.
The analysis and thought you put into a restaurant business plan can:
- Determine whether or not your concept is viable due to factors like limited differentiation from competition, insufficient funding or an oversaturated market
- Provide a roadmap to your restaurant’s operation for the first year or more
- Communicate the restaurant’s mission and vision to both internal and external audiences
- Remind you of management responsibilities, personnel needs, marketing plans, and current and future competition in the marketplace as your business moves forward
- Serve as a financing proposal so banks, investors or other lenders can evaluate the restaurant’s prospects
Step 1: Think Broadly
The first step is to outline your restaurant concept in broad brushstrokes. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has examples of “lean” business plans that you can use to write out your big ideas as a first step.
For your restaurant idea, under “Problem,” for example, you might jot down “not enough ethnic food choices in town,” or “need more breakfast spots.” Follow those up with your ideas in “Our Solution.” In “Revenue streams” you may include “catering,” “street fair booths,” or “takeout” in addition to the brick-and-mortar restaurant itself.
Step 2: Consider the Audience
With a lean restaurant business plan fleshed out, you can begin the process of writing a more formal one.
First, decide your business plan’s primary purpose and key audience. For example, if you want the business plan to attract investors or bank lenders for purposes of financing your restaurant, the business plan should be very buttoned up and heavy on restaurant market analysis, competitive environment, pro forma cash flow and profit-and-loss statements. You want potential investors to be assured you know what you’re doing and that your idea is a sound investment.
If you want to crowdsource funding to open a restaurant, however, your business plan might emphasize what differentiates your concept from other restaurants in the market, how you plan to spread the word through social media and food-focused vlogs, and the fun details of the concept itself.
Step 3: Do Your Homework
Before you can write a formal plan, you’ll need to research and write down everything about your restaurant concept and the marketplace you’ll be operating in, from the cost of menu ingredients and kitchen equipment to how many customers your competitors serve daily. Here are the areas you need to research.
Think through all the nitty-gritty details around how you plan to operate your restaurant. You need to be the expert in:
- What it looks like
- What food you’ll serve and how you’ll serve it
- How it will be cooked and on what type of equipment
- The style of service
- The flow of service—will orders be placed at a counter or at the table, where will guests pick up their food
- What your waitstaff will wear
- The type of background music that will play
- What clientele you want
- Whether food will be served on china, ceramic dishware or in takeout containers
- How many seats in the dining area do you want
- How will the food be
You can tweak all the details later, but understand what niche you want the restaurant to fill, and find out what it will cost.
Learn where your customers will come from and who they are by answering the following:
- How big is the market?
- How many restaurants service the area?
- What types of restaurants are they?
- What demographics do they serve?
- What’s the median income? What’s the average family income?
Thinking back to the “Our Solution” section of the lean business plan you created in Step 1, go deeper by answering:
- What value proposition does your restaurant bring to the market?
- How is yours different from others?
- Why will your concept attract customers?
- What problem will it solve for customers?
Beyond what you bring to the table, outline what steps you will take to draw traffic to the restaurant and keep it flowing:
- What’s your sales plan?
- How will you pitch customers and attract them to your restaurant?
- What strategies will you use to market your concept?
- How will you get the word out?
- What will you do to keep customers coming back once they’ve tried your food?
Your Vision and Mission
Go beyond the business reasons and tell the story of why opening a restaurant—this restaurant— matters to you:
- Why do you care?
- What makes you passionate about this concept?
- Why should others be as excited about it as you are?
Step 4: Fill in the Framework
Every business plan is different, but typically each includes information that answers all the questions above. How you present that information, in what order, and in what style depends largely on the primary purpose of the business plan and the audience you’re writing it for.
Some plans have six basic sections, some eight or 10. One plan might have a section called “Opportunity” that’s called “Market Analysis” in another. No matter how you title your sections, your restaurant business plan generally should include the following components:
The restaurant name and logo should be your cover page or the flyleaf inside the business plan’s cover.
Ideally only one or two pages, the executive summary is your elevator pitch; it briefly describes your concept and the value proposition of your restaurant. Many people write this section last. plan’s cover.
Explain your concept and what makes it different and special. Include a brief history of its development, where you plan to locate, and use descriptive language to present the restaurant’s features, ambiance, food and service, as well as the team responsible for putting it all together (owner, manager, chef, etc.). List your vision, values and goals.
Give a brief snapshot of the industry and its growth potential, then describe the market you’re in, your competition, your target audience, what differentiates your concept and the “problem” your business will solve. Include a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) of your restaurant.
Provide a quick overview of your legal structure, more detail on your management team, your organizational structure and who you still need to hire.
Go into detail about your restaurant, its food, pricing, service, ambiance and how you will deliver on your promise. This section should include details such as where you plan to source your ingredients and supplies, location strategies, sales and growth, as well as long-term expansion plans.
Explain how you intend to attract and retain customers. Describe your advertising, public relations and promotions plans in detail, including types of media outlets you intend to use.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road (or where the food hits the plate). Provide at least three years of financial projections. Include a profit-and-loss statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet, sales forecast, personnel plan and a break-even analysis. You may also want to include exit strategies for potential investors.
Here you can include renderings of the restaurant, sample menus, team resumes, sample recipes or food shots and other conceptual information.
If you need additional help, ask other restaurant owners how they got their start, or consider finding a mentor through an organization such as SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
How to Write a Business Plan Resources:
- U.S. Small Business Administration – Business plan descriptions and tools
- SCORE Association (Service Corps of Retired Executives) – Mentor program and business plan template
- Bplan – Business plan descriptions and tools
- LivePlan – Business plan software and templates
- The Balance/Small Business – Articles and news about opening a restaurant and starting a business
Chase joined Central Restaurant Products in February 2016 as a Content Specialist, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.