How to Write a Restaurant Business Plan

How to Write a Restaurant Business Plan

July 30, 2020, 06:48 PM UTC

So you want to open a restaurant. We love that for you! We're sure you can’t wait to sign that lease and start decorating. But before—way before—you get to that point, you're going to need a business plan.

Restaurants can be deceptively complex operations, and require a lot of different systems in place. A good business plan will help you think things through before you take the leap. Think of it as a very detailed manual of your business, in which you will be answering lots of your own questions (and, hopefully, investors' questions, too.)

A restaurant's business plan needs to be customized according to the audience, but will contain the same general information. Here are its six parts:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Company Overview and Staffing
  3. Menu, Environment, Experience
  4. Market Analysis
  5. Marketing
  6. Financial Analysis

Executive Summary

Think of this as the cover letter for your restaurant. This should contain a summary of the business and anything that a financial institution or investors would need to know about the restaurant so they can give you money.

Remember: you are trying to sell your idea here, so make sure to tell the world why it’s such a good idea! If you don't need any investors, then a) good for you! And b) write this plan with other key audiences in mind: you, the city, the neighborhood, any potential listeners, and crucially, anyone who might object.

You will have to convince multiple people along the way that your business is a good idea. The executive summary is your opportunity to get them interested in your topline idea, so be brief about each of these points. You'll go into more detail later. You don’t want to lose anybody’s attention during this summary. Here's what ought to be in it.

MISSION STATEMENT

It is very important for you to establish this as early as possible because it will be your compass and keep you on track when you are trying to make decisions. It will evolve over time, just but make sure it is always honest. Keep it short and to the point.

CONCEPT & APPROACH

This can take many different forms, but good questions to ask yourself include:

  • What are you doing and how are you doing it?
  • Why are you someone who can pull off this project?
  • Why is it unique and different?
  • What kind of food and drink will you serve?
  • What will the vibe be like?

>>>RELATED: How Much Does It Actually Cost To Start A Restaurant?

LOCATION

Pinpoint the location of the business, explain why you've chosen it—and why it was the right choice. This doesn't need to be comprehensive, as you'll go into more detail later about your target audience and competition. But start painting the picture now!

GOALS & COSTS

How much will it cost to open your restaurant? What is the projected budget for payroll? Describe the goals of the business and where money will need to be spent to achieve those goals.

Company Overview and Staffing

In this section of your restaurant's business plan, go into much more detail about everything in your Executive Summary. Look at every aspect of the business from as many angles as possible.

In the Executive Summary, you were selling an idea and painting a picture. The Company Overview allows you to break things down and explain everything more specifically in the picture you have painted.

EXPLAIN YOUR RESTAURANT

There's more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes, and there's certainly more than one way to explain a restaurant. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your expertise and vision without getting too abstract. Consider conceptual questions like:

  • What is the concept? Why will it work?
  • Who is your ideal customer? What are their key characteristics?
  • What makes it different? Why will that differentiation matter/why will there be demand?
  • What is the branding like?
  • What purpose does the restaurant serve?

Make sure you supplement these considerations with more practical, tactical tactical info:

  • How will you lay out the menu?
  • What services will you offer? What pricepoints are you aiming to hit?
  • Where will you get your ingredients? If it is seasonal: How will you maintain vendor relationships throughout the seasons?
  • Are you serving specific meals? Are there signature items you believe will make your business stand out?
  • What are your hours and days of operation? Will they change during the weekends? Will they change during holidays?

Given the ongoing nature of the coronavirus pandemic and its dramatic impact on the food & drink industry, it would be wise to address how your restaurant's business plan will accommodate the "new normal."

STAFFING

Some restaurants are set up for long-term employees. They offer benefits and a more consistent sense of work. Others rely on a deep pool of potential employees in the area with a more short-term approach. Many have a mix. How will you tackle this aspect of your business?

>>>RELATED: How To Staff A Restaurant Right - Positions, Training, Scheduling, And More

Again, there's no secret formula for information to include and exclude in this section. But here are some things worth thinking about:

  • Will there be any managers? How many? What are their responsibilities?
  • How many people will be working each day, and what are their roles?
  • What is the staffing structure in the kitchen?
  • List the other employees or contractors you will need to leverage to operate (accountant, lawyer, publicists, handyman, etc.)
  • Will you be offering part-time and full-time work? What will the employees schedule look like?
  • What level of experience will you be hiring for in each role?
  • What quality of experience your staff will provide to the guests?
  • What is the training process like for new hires?
  • Do you have people committed to working in the restaurant already?

From lights on to lights off, walk through a day and sketch it out to the best of your ability. Who is in the building? When is the rush? What day of the week is it? What is the music like? You may not include all of the details in the business plan but this will help you work out some details.

Menu, Environment, Experience

Use this section to put the reader in your restaurant. Give them a detailed snapshot of being in the space, interacting with the menu, and the experience that you want to provide.

MENU

Provide sample menus for both food and beverage, complete with potential items and and their proposed prices. Use this section to talk through the design of the menu. You're trying to demonstrate that it offers a cohesive, cost-effective experience that aligns with the restaurant's overall concept

Will there be a specials? Will servers verbal some things not printed on the menu? (Some restaurants, especially those opening during the pandemic, may opt not to include paper menus at all.) If your concept is seasonal and driven by relationships with local vendors, explain how your menu will highlight that distinguishing factor to potential diners.

>>>RELATED: How to find national and regional restaurant food suppliers

Given how important the online experience is for diners, be sure to address how you'll present menu information on your restaurant's website and social media platforms.

ENVIRONMENT

Time to talk more about the restaurant's location. Make sure to include notes about:

  • Exact location (if you've settled on one) and why you chose it
  • Any existing connections you and your team have to the area
  • Neighborhood analysis of complementary and competitive businesses nearby
  • Demographics of residents surrounding location (average age, economic mix, families vs. singles, etc.)
  • Accessibility—foot traffic, parking, public transit, etc.

Then, focus your attention on the interior:

  • What will the restaurant look like? What does it feel like?
  • Describe the tables, chairs, windows, floor, lights/lighting, bathrooms, glassware, flatware, etc.
  • Describe the space and how guests will interact with it.
  • What is it like when you walk in the restaurant? Can you see anything through the windows looking out?
  • Is it easy to move around the space? How crowded will it be?

EXPERIENCE

Go into some detail about how the restaurant functions. If there is something unique about the style of service or the way tasks are accomplished, this is where to articulate it!

There are many ways to approach this portion, but one way to do it is by considering a step-by-step process:

  1. When you walk in, is there a host? Do you walk up to the bar and order? Do you seat yourself?
  2. How are orders taken? How is information presented? Is there a physical menu? How is the table set?
  3. How long should a meal take?
  4. What are the steps of service?
  5. How close are guests to each other? Is there privacy or is everyone packed in?
  6. What can the guest see? Is the kitchen open? Can they watch the bartenders make drinks?
  7. How does the kitchen receive information from the front of the house? Or are the cooks waiting on people?
  8. How does the food get from the kitchen to the table?
  9. Is the staff very hands-on throughout the meal, or simply dropping off/picking up?
  10. What happens at the end of the meal? Are customers given a takeaway gift? How do they exit?

Market Analysis

TARGET MARKET ANALYSIS

This is where you will show your work about why your restaurant will succeed in the market you have selected. It will also demonstrate that you understand the makeup of the market. As you get to know your audience it will guide you. Understanding your audience can affect your hours of operation, menu presentation, choice of music, type of food, style of service, etc. Dig in as deep as you can.

  • Who will be spending their money at your restaurant?
  • How much money do they usually spend on a meal? What is the average income for your audience?
  • How old are they?
  • Are you targeting young professionals? Families? The theater crowd?
  • How many people live on your block, in your neighborhood, in the city/town?

COMPETITIVE MARKET ANALYSIS

Now that you know who you will be serving you must know what other businesses you are up against and how they are similar or different from yours. These other businesses are your competition and it is very important to know what they are doing so that you can do it better.

  • Research your neighborhood thoroughly to understand how your restaurant will interact with the other businesses. Go into the establishments and see for yourself and research them online.
  • What are the other businesses in the neighborhood?
  • Are there direct competitors—i.e., similar pricepoint restaurants and bars?
  • What about indirect competitors?: wine shops, corner stores, fast food, etc.
  • What makes yours standout as the best option? Is it prices? Atmosphere? Execution?
  • What do you add to the food and beverage scene?
  • Are you doing anything different that is missing from the other restaurants?

Marketing

You know your audience and you know your competition. Now you have to reach your audience better than your competition. In this section you will need to describe how you will achieve this.

>>>RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Social Media Marketing For Restaurants

There are many ways to advertise your business. Look around at other successful restaurants in the neighborhood and find out how they get information out. See how they have built their brands in the market.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Branding: If you've developed a logo or any brand assets (color palette, font choices, in-house touches) mention them here. Having a strong, cohesive brand can be a powerful advantage in pitching your business.
  • Publicity: Are you planning on hiring a publicist? If so, make sure you've acknowledged those costs in your cost breakdown! If not, what are your plans for building name recognition and interest in your business? You don't need to have "silver-bullet answers" for this question—but when writing a business plan, it's good to show that you're considering this issue.
  • Community outreach: Tell readers how you plan to engage your neighborhood and cty more broadly. Connecting with community is a way to build interest and potential clientele before your business opens, and having substantial local buy-in can strengthen your pitch.
  • Opening plan: Tease your rollout. Closed parties and soft-openings leading up to the grand opening can be good for business—and they can sell passive investors on the idea that this is a project they want to be a part of.

Pro-tip: Become a regular in your favorite places in the area. When you make connections with like-minded hospitality people you make friends. When you have great people in the industry on your side you will have a whole web of people communicating about you to each other and to their guests. Word-of-mouth is extremely powerful in the food and beverage industry.

Financial analysis

This section will need to be totally tailored according to your audience. If you are presenting this business plan to a financial institution or investor make sure the information relevant to those readers. This section will need to include...

...an initial cost breakdown, which should include visibility into:

  • Your startup capital
  • Startup costs
  • Equipment
  • Furniture
  • Glassware, flatware
  • Lease/occupancy costs
  • Renovations
  • Licenses
  • Salaried/hourly employees

...as well as an overview of your expected recurring costs, such as:

  • Spending on a daily/monthly/weekly basis
  • Overhead
  • Labor
  • Food and beverages costs
  • General maintenance
  • Pest control
  • Grease trap service
  • Trash and recycling

...and of course, any investors are going to want to know when they can expect a return, so you'll want to project a timeline for turning a profit, which means

  • Projected cash flow
  • Break-even analysis
  • Projected total fixed costs
  • Projected check averages
  • Projected profit and loss statements

Good luck!

Having a proper business plan is a crucial early step towards opening your dream restaurant. Keep in mind that writing a business plan is a huge undertaking, so ask for help if you need it—from professionals, or even just other operators who have done it before. You want to sell this idea and the best chance you have at selling it is to get the proper information and present it appropriately.

>>>RELATED: OTHER RESOURCES FOR NEW RESTAURATEURS

[Photos: Lukas via Pexels; Startup Stock Photos via Pexels; Daria Shevtsova via Pexels; Victor Freitas via Pexels]