While it’s not true that half of all restaurants fail to last a single year, restaurateurs frequently fail—not so much because they couldn’t draw customers, but because they failed to control costs and operate efficiently.

Running a successful restaurant requires paying diligent attention to detail and carefully managing your profit margins, attracting and retaining the right personnel, and finding creative and cost-effective ways to attract new customers. It’s true this is hard work, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from promoting your concept when efficient money and inventory management can go a long way toward getting you over those early bumps in the road.

Here’s a guide on how to get your restaurant idea to take off.

Food Costs

The food you serve is your chief asset, the raw material upon which everything you do is based. It makes perfect sense that you should manage portion sizes, stick to a food budget, and base your menu on core dishes that appeal to customers and give your restaurant its identity.

Focus on what’s worked in the past and offer discounts on seasonal dishes you can use to test potentially permanent additions to your food repertoire. The idea is to manage food costs so that you’re buying and wasting less food, but also find ways to support your local community.

Inventory Control

Success depends to a large degree on the economical use of your food inventory. When you receive delivery of produce, meat, or anything of a perishable nature, make sure those that expire soonest are placed at the front of the shelf or drawer to ensure they’re prepared and served first.

Ignoring shelf life and perishability is a guarantee of food and money waste. Use airtight containers to maximize freshness and keep regular track of your inventory to minimize the amount of food that ends up in the trash.

Hiring Practices

Constantly hiring and training new personnel is an inefficiency that can threaten your clientele with inadequate customer service from poorly trained and unengaged employees. Head off this potentially self-destructive problem by carefully screening and interviewing job candidates.

Do some online research and talk to other restaurant owners to compile the most discerning and productive interview questions. Determining the level of a candidate’s experience in the field should be your objective, as well as gauging their enthusiasm for the work and their growth potential. Candidates’ willingness to cross-train is also a valuable and efficient use of human resources. Listen to your instincts—sometimes, a gut feeling can help you find the best fit for your business.

Raising Awareness

For new restaurants, advertising has traditionally been the primary marketing vehicle for spreading the word to prospective customers. However, since advertising in media can be quite expensive, keeping costs down may require a more creative and cost-effective means of promotion.

Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets are used quite aggressively these days by food service establishments. In fact, many restaurants maintain a presence through social media—posting menus, directions, and other essential information about their business.

If you’re into something really creative, consider using a pop-up restaurant to generate buzz. It’s a popular tactic in which a prospective restaurant owner sets up a temporary establishment in a non-traditional location that people have been drawn to for some other reason. It’s also an ideal venue for road-testing new menu items.

Indeed, starting a restaurant might seem difficult, especially during a pandemic. But with a pop-up, you have the flexibility to bring your idea to life. Without a fixed location, you can be flexible about selling your food in different parts of town. Another positive aspect is getting to spread your business idea quickly through social media. In most cases, you can also have the place hosting your pop-up boost your presence on their own social media sites.

The Legalities

To get your business up and running, you’ll also need to consider a couple of things. For starters, you want to ensure that your business is legal and operating within state and local guidelines. Additionally, you’ll want to start building a business plan to ensure you’re ready for the next phase of your business, no matter where you take it.

When it comes to keeping costs in line, focusing on the basics can carry you a long way. Stay on top of food costs and inventory management and look for nontraditional means of letting the public know about your establishment and staying above board.

For more insights and advice about how to get your restaurant to make waves in Connecticut’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, visit the CT Lifestyle community on Innovation Destination Hartford.

About the Author
Dean Burgess started Excitepreneur to explore overlooked areas of entrepreneurship and share stories and lessons he’s learned with current and aspiring entrepreneurs.