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December 14, 2015

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) boasts thousands of food-serving premises. According to the City of Toronto, the city’s F&B scene is “of great importance to the region” and we place among cities like New York and Los Angeles as one of the most prominent F&B clusters in North America. Next year marks 25 consecutive years that the Canadian restaurant Industry has grown, with sales expected to reach a whopping $62 billion. It’s a lucrative business in a thriving industry, but opening a new restaurant is nevertheless risky. A lot of businesses fail prematurely due to poor planning. Here are 10 wise steps to take when starting a restaurant.

Come up with a food concept:

A restaurant wouldn’t be successful without great food and concept. Conduct a research to see what concept would fare well with the market and the dishes you plan to serve. For example, are you planning to open a family diner or an express sandwich shop? The concept should be apparent in your décor, name and menu to avoid misleading patrons.

Pick a target market:

Speaking of patrons, in an ideal world your restaurant would cater to everyone in the city. Unfortunately, the “please everyone and end up pleasing no one” adage rings true. Are you targeting seniors, the 9-5 working class, or millennial? Deciding a market segment to appeal to will ease the next steps.

Pick a service style:

Before opening a new restaurant, decide if you want to operate in a quick-service (fast-food), midscale (limited to full-service) or upscale style. Fast-food style usually offers minimum to no seating. Midscale restaurants are either ones where customers order at a counter and get their own food, or ones with full table service. Similarly, upscale restaurants also offer full service but with a heavier emphasis on quality of food, service and ambience.

Seek advice:

Especially if it’s your first time opening a restaurant, seek advice from experienced restaurateurs and chefs. They will give you an idea of what to expect, common pitfalls and useful tips. Seek second opinions on your food concept, menu, etc. Keep your eyes open for potential partners or investors! Consider attending forums and events about restaurant first-timers that happen regularly in Toronto.

Review regulations and permits:

Check with your local authorities what kind of building, food and liquor permits you need when opening a new restaurant. It’s also wise to start reviewing safety regulations.

Devise a business plan:

Compile your findings from #4 and draw up a business plan comprising of your (revenue) goals, what you’re going to do and when. A useful tip is to always overestimate your budget!

Choose a strategic location:

You’ve got a great concept, great menu and now you need a great location! Find an accessible and highly visible spot but take into account the annual rent of the location.

Wrap it up in attractive design:

Make sure the design of your new restaurant is appealing. Your choice of interior style should go hand-in-hand with everything from your food concept, target market to service style. Some restaurateurs undermine the importance of the service area. If the back-of-house area has an inefficient layout, this will affect your front-of-house service.

Hire the right people and train them well:

You can have a perfect restaurant but it still won’t run without a harmonious team. Have at least a few people in your team who are experienced so they can help you with training the rest of the team. Selecting a chef is crucial and so is selecting a restaurant manager. Once you’ve found your team, clearly lay down the house rules and standard of operations.

Start marketing early:

Don’t leave your restaurant undiscovered! Involve social media as early as a couple of months prior to the restaurant opening. Contact local publications and food journalists to let them know. Consider paying for ad placements both offline and online. Devise a catchy and memorable marketing campaign. Announce when your grand opening will be and keep your future patrons updated!

While these steps are very useful, their order is circumstantial, meaning some first-timers might decide against following the 10 steps chronologically. However you want to proceed, be sure to keep your customers in mind at all times. It’s also wise to consult your accountants, lawyers and local authorities for legal and financial matters before proceeding. Good luck!