Take a deep breath.
You have chosen a space based on your research and criteria. You are making a commitment. You are now ready to open a restaurant. There is still a lot of work to be done, but this is the make it or break it moment.
You have the lease, and now you need to sign it.
First you need to review it. I urge you to have an attorney review it as well. As I have mentioned in previous chapters, there are legal services that charge a small fee to review a lease. I am not an attorney, but I also advise you not to sign a lease giving a personal guarantee that the business will remain operational during the length of the lease. A personal guarantee is a written, legal promise that you will personally pay the lease in its entirety. This means if the business defaults on the lease, then you, the business owner, will be personally responsible for repaying the complete amount of the rent for the term of the rental agreement. You don't want to be liable if something happens. While I have been a part of many success stories, life happens, so avoid that kind of guarantee.
I have witnessed prospective lessees offer two to three months of security deposit instead of a personal guarantee. The extra payment allows the landlord more time to lease the real estate if you have to close the business before the lease is up. This way, you are not responsible for the term of the lease.
Once everything is approved, you sign the lease, the landlord ratifies it, and you have a legally binding contract and a key. You are on your way to opening a restaurant.
You are living the mission, the value, and the idea. You had the mission of opening a restaurant. Now your mission is almost accomplished. It is nearly opened.
However, you are not standing in a restaurant where the dining room is completed, the kitchen is fully operational, the staff is in place, and, boom, you are ready to open the doors to eager patrons.
What's really next?
You have a key to an empty restaurant space.
It's time to take out your pad and pen or device and start to create a timeline for when you want to open and a list of things you need to get done.
First, find your kitchen equipment and schedule the installation, and locate all of your kitchen essentials and utensils. Begin planning with the health department for their inspection. Your timeline will speed up, since you must have a clean, up-to-compliance kitchen. Make sure you have no food stored in the kitchen before the inspection. If you do have any food stored in the kitchen, the inspector will make you throw it all away in front of them. Get all of your licenses, now that you have an address. Set up times for the walkthrough of the space.
The inspectors will want to see how the gas lines are set up or if the kitchen is all-electric. They will check the sinks to make certain they are working correctly. Health and sanitation supplies will be checked, and you will need to demonstrate how they will be discarded. Everything will be confirmed to be sure your space is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant for the building's certificates. Since you did your research, you know what needs to be done.
As soon as you get your final approval from the health department and your building occupancy, you can focus on other areas.
Along with the kitchen, you have to build out the front of the house to be functional and aesthetically pleasing.
The design of the space depends on the type of restaurant you are opening. Certainly, upscale places need more formal interior design. But if it is casual or you want the warmth of a family dining room, you can create much of the aesthetics on your own. This will be one giant package; it doesn't have to be done professionally, and you don't have to pay anybody to do it. You wrote down everything during your research. You will rewrite it several times, and, by the end, you'll have your vision. Look back at your design ideas. Then, start a new action list of what you need to do.
Always remember, the design of the restaurant is not just about the walls or lighting. It also involves the textures of the napkins and placemats. It determines the type of silverware and plating. What kind of tables and chairs will fit? Will you have booths or a counter? What about an open kitchen?
Keep your brand in mind, and don't be afraid to experiment with color. Use different hues and color tones to establish an image for your restaurant, creating the right ambiance and stimulating the customers' appetites. Choosing the right color can make diners feel a wide range of emotions. Be strategic with your color choices, and use them to convey the dining experience based on your brand.
For example, according to The Balance: Small Business (thebalancesmb.com), colors that don't work well for restaurants include purple and blue. Ironically, blue is usually selected as a well-liked color in the US and is thought to have a calming effect. However, not many natural foods are blue (except blueberries). Blue and purple foods are usually dyed and subconsciously affect diners' appetites.
As you are in the process of creating, this is the perfect time to sit down with vendors and see what they advise and what options they can offer you. It is important to remind yourself that you may or may not buy something from this vendor, but at least you'll see all the options available. Visit restaurant supply houses, including those that sell used items. For example, if you are considering using bone china, you might find a great deal in a place that sells used restaurant supplies.
There are warehouses offering equipment, silverware, plateware, and other items. However, these types of places provide minimal customer service. You are expected to know what you want to purchase. This is why I recommend keeping notebooks of pictures and research as well as speaking to vendors. You have many choices, and you will determine the best places to purchase what you need. With so many online options and national classifieds available, you can really save money. Now is also the time to bring in your photos of plates or silverware that you liked at other restaurants. You can take your notebook or device and check out your lists of equipment and supplies in the restaurant supply warehouse setting.
This is why you did research, created notebooks with notes and pictures, and studied your own experiences: so that when this moment arrives, you have an excellent idea of what you want for your restaurant and can make a final decision.
As for décor on the walls, many restaurants feature art created by local artists. But be forewarned if you purchase any artwork online or at a retail center, including discount or big box stores: you might need permission to display that art in a commercial venture.
When I walk into restaurant franchises and see antique pieces on display, I wonder about the legality of it. One item I see quite a bit is Moxy Root Beer. My friend's grandfather developed Moxy Root Beer. Could my friend's grandfather walk into a restaurant, see the likeness and image of Moxy Root Beer in the restaurant, and then contact the owner about trademark infringement? Maybe. If someone has enough money and wants to follow through, they can pay for an attorney to sue the owner of the restaurant for displaying something they created. I would avoid any problems and only display licensed and original work.
Personally, I would be annoyed if I walked into a place and saw covers of Food & Beverage Magazine blown up and on the walls. Of course, if I featured you or your restaurant on the cover, I would be thrilled to have that cover showcased on the walls. However, you always need permission. There is an implied endorsement when a magazine cover is featured on a wall of a restaurant. Be safe, and get it in writing.
There are many aspects to making a good impression on your customers, and one of them is the menu. It is also your key sales tool and is integral to the décor. Even before a customer begins to read the menu, it can capture their attention, or it has become a lost opportunity to make a good impression. Even worse, a poorly designed menu can make a wrong impression, even if it might be subconscious.
The menu is truly the first tactile thing the customer touches when they go to a restaurant. So what is it you want them to feel? What message are you trying to convey? When you touch the menu (not read it), how do you envision your restaurant?
A menu is more than a list of food and beverages being offered and their prices. What does it look like visually? What does it feel like in your hands? What does the menu say to the customers? Does the menu capture your vision? What is the feeling you want your patron to have when you hand them the menu?
For example, when you go to eat in a Chinese restaurant, their staff might hand you a giant laminated menu. There are usually lots of pictures with many options, and I think that's fun for that type of restaurant. There is a national chain that features a 50-page menu with spiral binding; it has pictures, and the choices seem endless. This menu fits with this chain.
Some higher-end restaurants give their customers a menu on one page of parchment paper with options available for the evening. Other restaurants provide a menu on one piece of copy paper with the dishes offered for the day. These restaurants print the menu every day since it changes daily. Some Italian restaurants have menu boards that are more cost-effective but create a certain feeling. It is all about telling your customers your story and using it as a tool, not merely what a customer can order.
I am a big fan of The Palm Restaurants. For many years, they used a fantastic, oversized paper menu, and I just loved it. It was amazing. It was a thicker paper, and my go-to waiter, Dutch Mohler, would come over and say to me, “What is this? Is there a stain on this menu? Give me that menu,” and then he would rip it up in front of me and hand me a brand-new one. Now that's a great way to interact with your customers.
Suppose your restaurant sells barbecue with a décor of checkered red and white tablecloths and hard melamine plastic plates that look like paper plates. What about the menu? It could be fun newsprint.
I have gone to eat in restaurants where the feeling I got when I was handed the menu was that it was just a list of what I could order. Make sure the menu works with the décor and the feeling you are creating in your restaurant, because being handed the menu is all part of the experience.
You have decided on the type of menu, and now it is time for the actual content. Again, how intricate to make your menu depends on the kind of restaurant you are going to open.
Unless you plan to use a one-page menu that you will print on your own, you should have a graphic artist design your menu, especially if you will be using it for a longer period of time. A menu is a selling tool as well as a marketing tool. You can reach out to universities and colleges offering classes in graphic design for student interns. You can also find freelance graphic designers online who offer reasonable rates.
Have the graphic artist lay out your menu by category. Each category should have five to seven selections including appetizers, entrées, soups, salads, desserts, and beverages. Apply this method to categories with at least six to eight items.
If you have done your homework, you have determined the gross profit of each item on your menu. The menu formula is simple. The first menu item listed should have the highest gross profit, and the last should have the second highest. All other menu items are placed between the first and last items. Here is the math. If 80,000 guests order from your menu each year, that will give you 80,000 chances to sell those guests a higher-profit item. Just adding $2 more profit per meal could lead to additional revenue of $160,000 per year.
Let's discuss logos and trademarks, since they are part of the menu. Do not go online and “find” something to use as your logo or trademark. If you want a logo, have an original one created, and then trademark it. The same is true with a tagline.
What is a tagline or a slogan? Think of fast food chains and the phrases used in commercials that you can remember. That is a tagline. If you choose to have a slogan or a tagline, make sure it is catchy and about your brand.
A chef in Las Vegas used a simple tagline for years. Then he received a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney. Apparently that particular tagline had been trademarked, and when the trademark owner of the slogan visited Las Vegas, he was stunned to hear his tagline being used by someone else commercially. You don't need to receive any correspondence from an attorney over a logo or slogan; you can search for any logo or tagline online and see what comes up.
As for the individual menu items, customers are looking for gluten-free choices as well as acknowledgment of allergens. If you are going to offers details on the menu that an option is vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, peanut/nut-free, or plant-based, there are restrictions and rules—you can't just say “nut-free.” There are official USDA logos that can be used if they fit.
If you are offering a brand-name product such as a beverage, make sure you can use their logo, and get it in writing. Let me repeat that: if you list a brand name anywhere in the restaurant or on the menu, be sure you offer the real thing, and get it in writing. Maybe at home you can pass off the store brand as the good stuff, but not in a restaurant.
While Chapter 5 will go into detail about cooking and testing every recipe, you should already know what you will be serving in your restaurant.
You need photos for your website, for social media, and maybe even for the menu. They are important representations of your brand; I always try to hire a professional photographer.
Did you notice I wrote, “Hire a professional photographer”?
Yes, there are photographers who specialize in photographing food, and they are expensive, but they are worth it because they understand how to light food (which is very difficult), bringing out the best in color, texture, and appeal. It is a skill and an art, and those photographers with expertise in photographing food will charge a higher rate. However, there are ways to get professional photos at a fraction of the cost.
You can approach your potential vendors. Yes, potential, since you are still meeting with them to see if you will purchase inventory from them. Many of the prominent suppliers have kitchens to create recipes, allowing for photographs to be taken for your use. The vendors may even pay for the photoshoot if you are going to order from them. Remember that the more food you sell, the more you are buying from them. So it is to their advantage for you to represent the product that you are buying from them in the best possible way.
Here is the caveat—never lie just to get a free photoshoot. If you promise you are going to order inventory from them, follow through. If you say to them that you are just testing recipes, make sure everyone understands that, and that there is only the expectation of a potential sale. There is nothing wrong with letting them know you are on a budget. In order to make a sale, these vendors will look for ways for you to save money. It becomes in their best interest to help you.
Another way is to read local magazines and find out the names of the photographers published in that issue. Read about them on social media and their websites. I know of several restaurants that found photographers who wanted to add food shots to their portfolios. Usually, the photographer was paid in trade with gift certificates or a couple of meals in exchange for taking photographs for the restaurant owner's use. While shooting food might not be a particular photographer's specialty, they are professionals and can take good shots with digital cameras.
You can reach out to local schools, colleges, and universities that offer photography programs. These include educational outreach programs offered by high schools and colleges as well as programs for adults who want to learn a new skill but not a degree. There are also big camera stores offering classes for people who want to hone their skills; you can reach out to offer a chance for real experience. Social groups such as MeetUp.com offer another way to find people who want to improve their photography skills in exchange for a couple of meals.
People in these groups take photography very seriously. While photography might be considered a hobby or avocation because people work another job, you can receive some great photos from a skilled photographer and save money.
The next paragraph is critical for you to read and understand the responsibilities and obligations of graphic artists.
It is not part of the job of a graphic artist to create content, proofread, or know what should or should not be included on a menu. It is up to you to make sure everything is correct. Yes, you can ask for help from others. In fact, I encourage it, since more eyes always catch errors. A graphic artist might point out any errors, but this is just to be helpful, not part of their services.
A great starting point prior to going to a graphic artist is to creatively write menu descriptions of each of your menu items. Talk to the chef and cooks about how they would describe the dishes. Ask them about the appearance and taste of each dish, and paint a picture with its look and taste. Use buzzwords such as rich appearance, encrusted, sautéed, buttery, tender, sweet, savory, rich, creamy, and succulent, and always mention the high-quality ingredients. Sometimes this description alone helps justify a higher price point. Write the family backstory of the dish, and use ethnic names, which are always great to lend authenticity. Include the geographic origins of the ingredients.
I want you to get carried away and write entire paragraphs. Once that is done, begin to edit your descriptions down to a few short words that evoke the right emotions while keeping the descriptions short and easy to read. However, have your graphics team read the long descriptions, which can help in their creativity.
I am in the publishing industry, so here is an excellent example of why you need several people to proofread. Another magazine (no longer in publication) had seven people read and proof an issue before it went to the printer. Several of these people were trained writers and editors with years of experience in newspapers and magazines. The cover was beautiful, and everything looked great. Then came the big day when the magazines arrived from the printer, ready to be distributed. One of the partners, a man who did not have any training and had not proofed the magazine, looked over the issue and pointed to the table of contents. The word Contents had been spelled Cotents.
Even if customers don't catch a spelling or grammatical error, they will notice it subconsciously. Make sure everything is correct and that any logos or trademarks used in the menu are proper and can be included legally.
I also recommend that your menu be trademarked or copyrighted. You will need to talk to an attorney, but it may be worth doing it if your menu, logo, and tagline are creative and you want to keep them for your use only.
Casting the wait staff and kitchen staff is covered in Chapter 5, but uniforms are part of the décor and your vision of the restaurant.
What's the look you are envisioning, especially in motion? There are aprons, white shirts with bow ties, denim shirts, and jeans. Do you want white or black shoes? You need to make wardrobe decisions for the back of the house, too. What do you want the chefs and kitchen staff to wear?
When I opened my hamburger places, I found 1940s-style uniforms with striped shirts along with hats with my logo. I also designed the logo and menu to capture that decade's feeling.
What hats does the kitchen staff wear? Since kitchen staff are required by law to cover their hair, they have to wear hats. What do those hats look like when worn by several people? Are they black baseball caps? Are they red? Is it a theme? Does it have your logo? Is it a 1940s baseball hat, or is it a hat capturing the theme of today? Do they simply wear hairnets? There are many options, but write down everything you have noticed and just keep the list flowing. Yes, use your yellow pad, notebook, or device.
What about name tags? It's all part of the uniform, and a name tag is another part of your vision. Some places have the staff use first names, and others have the staff use fun, made-up nicknames.
I was attending a business lunch at Miller's Ale House, and our waiter's name tag—which used his last name, Crowley—made an impression on me as a customer. When I asked about the name, this very engaging server told me about being called by his last name. There are also themed restaurants like Dick's Last Resort with funny, fake names. Some of the restaurants use white craft paper on the table, and the wait staff come up with a magic marker and write their name on the table. I know as a customer, I never forget it. It's fantastic, and this is one place that doesn't need name tags. However, a name tag can bring a sense of familiarity and also be used as a tool of engagement.
This is the time when you should be bringing out your notebook, since you should have been thinking about this for months. You are casting your restaurant with costumes to give patrons an experience. Remember, you are the director and executive producer.
As for purchasing uniforms (new or used), you will have to maintain the upkeep on them. If you hire a uniform company, it costs a little more, but the uniforms are cleaned and delivered, usually along with your restaurant linens.
Are you going to use electronics and technology? Will the servers go to the table, or will the customers pay up front? Will the orders be handwritten?
Personally, I love it when servers write out orders. I think it's the most refreshing, classiest thing ever. However, with your research, you should have decided on the best way to take an order at your restaurant.
You will need to decide what you are going to use for your point of sale (POS) system, if that is how you will submit orders and checks paid. There are vendors that sell POS systems, including your local bank, and you need to talk to them. You also need to ask for advice from your contacts in the food and beverage industry. You can attend expos and conventions for the food and beverage industry to find out more information. Remember, you can always upgrade, although upgrading can be costly. You want to consider efficiency, accuracy, and adding to the dining experience when a server takes an order.
There is a trend in some of the national chains to use tabletop devices and have the customer place their own order. Some restaurants will not accept cash for payment. There are online orders. Of course, the most significant trend is delivery, which will be covered in Chapter 8.
I believe in engagement and comradery, and that is why there should be interaction between the server and the customer. A tabletop device is impersonal, and with all the devices in our lives, we need human contact. A tabletop device can't determine how busy a kitchen is at the moment; and while it can “recommend” specials and specific dishes, how does a piece of equipment know how the food tastes?
Now is the time to make that decision. Remember, you can always change your method as well as upgrade if the time is right.
Up to this point, you have been planning methodically. You have been writing everything down on your yellow legal pad or device, and you're keeping track of all the information. (Remember to date it at the top in the upper-right corner and put the subject on the left side.) You have listed all the things that you have to get done.
You have received guidance from attorneys, accountants, restaurant designers, vendors, salespeople, food suppliers, and realtors.
Now I recommend that you talk to your peers in the food and beverage industry. Go online and look up different restaurant associations. Join forums and groups and read them, or maybe become a member. Find out who you think would be the best people in the restaurant industry to talk to about getting some advice. You are not asking them about what to serve and how to open a restaurant; you are going to sit down with someone, tell them what you have planned, and ask for any advice to make it better.
Remember, if you don't ask for help or advice, you're not going to get it. People love to help, and all you need to do is ask them.
Approach those who are not in competition with you with the same type of restaurant. You can find people who are retired from the restaurant business. And you can talk to people who have opened the same kind of restaurant but in a different city or state.
Here is the caveat—take everything someone tells you with a grain of salt, because everybody has a different motive for talking with you. Keep that in mind, and don't believe everything they say. However, listen and write it down. Once you have several ideas, brainstorm and role-play, and you will realize what works and doesn't work for you and your restaurant.
If you've hired a project manager, don't rely on them to make all the decisions. This is your baby, and ultimately, you need to make the decisions. If you do have a project manager, be prepared to redo many areas.
I've walked into many restaurants that were ready to open, and I could tell that everything was wrong with the business. For example, a wonderful, iconic delicatessen, restaurant, bakery, and bar, Canter's Deli, opened in Los Angeles in 1931. The restaurant licensed its name and concept to a restaurateur to expand into Las Vegas, opening in an upscale retail center with a second location on the Strip. They hired a consultant who completely changed the iconic menu and the interior style of the concept. Fans of the restaurant came in droves to eat their favorite dishes and found nothing familiar. Customers started complaining through social media and deterring people from coming to try the new locations. Both locations in Las Vegas closed in under a year. This is a perfect example of a restaurateur putting blind faith into a consultant and not taking control.
Bring together your family and your friends, and do a focus group. This will be different from “friends and family” day when you invite people to come to your restaurant as a dress rehearsal of the food and service. Offer some menu items, and listen to what they think and how they feel about your place. Do they want to eat there? Do they want to hang out there? Write down everything to review later.
Don't be shy about reaching out. This is not a time in your life or your future career for you to be shy. Step out of your box. Don't be embarrassed. If you don't know somebody, make the call anyway, and don't be afraid or take any rejection personally. Take your ego out of the equation.
To this day, I try not to assume the negative. I always reach out to anyone with the understanding that the worst thing that could happen to me is that they hang up (if I called them) or just ignore me.
There is one more way to be rejected: you can be told that no one wants or needs your business.
I started Food & Beverage Magazine while living in Washington, D.C., and I was confident this publication would be successful. I decided to move to Las Vegas to develop the magazine further in the western United States. Las Vegas was becoming a trendy new restaurant town with prominent chefs, and I wanted to be part of this new development in Sin City.
When I moved to Las Vegas, I didn't know anyone.
I attended UNLVino, an annual food and beverage event to benefit the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It was there that I first met Larry Ruvo, the owner of the premier wine and spirits distributor in Nevada, Southern Wine and Spirits. He was wonderful to me. I told him about Food & Beverage Magazine and its mission to inform and help restaurateurs, investors, and chefs. I wanted to be a part of building and creating the food and beverage industry in Las Vegas beyond buffets and the then very popular 99-cent breakfast specials being offered on the Strip and downtown.
This man looked into my eyes and felt my passion. Ruvo had started his business on his own with help from his parents and their Italian restaurant. He had built his company into the biggest liquor distributorship in Nevada, and that included the Strip, downtown, and all the bars and restaurants outside of the tourists' area.
Ruvo became excited while speaking with me, and, without me even asking, told me that he would certainly advertise and do everything he could to help me and Food & Beverage Magazine succeed in Las Vegas.
It was an exhilarating and enjoyable experience. I had connected with Larry Ruvo, the king of the event, where everybody was desperate to get his attention. He had spent all this time with me and wanted to meet with me about the magazine.
He emphasized that I was to call his office and set up a meeting. So I called his office, not knowing what to expect. The staff knew who I was, had been expecting my call, and were very excited about the meeting.
On the day of the meeting, I walked into the conference room without knowing anyone except Ruvo.
I met Mike Severino, the chief marketing officer of Southern Wine and Spirits, who programmed all the spirit events with the casinos. I met Reno Armeni, a veteran in the liquor business, but I admit I didn't know his role in the company. The meeting was very overwhelming, with everyone dressed in their best suits. Ruvo literally marched me in, introduced me, and explained that he had another business meeting to attend. I clearly remember Ruvo telling everyone in the conference room that whatever I wanted, “Give it to him. I want you guys to talk through this.” He left the room. At that point, I thought, “Wow, this is a home run. He just made my career. What a wonderful man!”
Pleasantries were exchanged, and then Armeni turned to me and said, “We don't need this f*****g magazine in this city.”
Talk about a wind-leaving-your-sails moment. Within minutes, I fell from a euphoric high to a crushing low.
I actually started to sweat. What do I say? How do I respond to that? My ego wanted to get involved. I wanted to just get crazy.
I took a minute. I took a breath. I think maybe Severino was a little embarrassed. At that point, I told the room that I appreciated their input. I dug deep to maintain my composure.
I have to admit, I was defeated at the time. I invested every dime into building the magazine. But when you think you're going to come out with a home run and you come out as a loser, what happens? You build your character, and you realize the integrity of people, good and bad. I had to accept that it was a defeat, but I still had other options. This one time was not a home run, but that was okay.
Other distributors in town supported me, and I built some beautiful relationships as the business grew. It was almost as if I made better relationships because of the attitudes of the people I met at Southern Wines and Spirits.
I became very close with many people who worked at Southern Wine and Spirits, and they are lovely people. My relationship with Southern Wines and Spirits remained cantankerous, but it also became legendary.
One of the things I've learned is that if somebody is not paying you, you owe them nothing. I had to realize that these people were not supporting me and were working against me.
Through the magazine, I held many upscale events, sponsoring different liquor brands. If the brands were distributed through the company, there was always some kind of contention. Over the course of hundreds of meetings and lunches, the relationship remained stable, but the issues were never truly resolved.
Still, it was fun, and it drove me even harder to succeed. When people refuse to help, it can either be a ladder to your success or a roadblock. I prefer to call it a speed bump.
This occurred 20 years ago, and at times over the years I believed it was a setup for some weird reason. Regardless of anyone's opinion, I was determined that the magazine was going to be published and be successful. Over 20 years later, 12 million readers a month visit our website and read what I have to say. I have opened many successful restaurants. My biggest success is that you are reading this book.
The moral of the story is that in the end, you're going to get what people want to give you. Don't be offended by total rejection, because I believe I have no one to thank but those three men for much of my success. I made a commitment, and I fought, overcame, and created a lasting success. You can as well, and live your dream.
Take the good and bad, mix it all together, and then make your own opinion. Take all the information people are giving you, digest it, process it, and use it to your advantage.
Remember, the scenario that happened to me can happen to you. Still ask for guidance. You're not going to get everything you want—you will receive what people want to give you. It is up to you to become a success.
This is really happening. You have created the mission, and now the vision is becoming a reality. There is much more for you to do; you are in the middle of your dream.
My question to you is this: do you love it?
The answer needs to be yes. You need to love this even with the headaches, mistakes, false moves, deadlines, and other challenges. You need to enjoy this process.
If you said a resounding “YES!” without thinking about it and can't imagine living your life doing something else, you are on the right track.