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How to Write a Restaurant Business Plan

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When starting a business—no matter what type of business that may be—a business plan is essential to map out your intentions and direction. That’s the same for a restaurant business plan, which will help you figure out where you fit in the landscape, how you’re going to differ from other establishments around you, how you’ll market your business, and even what you’re going to serve. A business plan for your restaurant can also help you later if you choose to apply for a business loan.

While opening a restaurant isn’t as risky as you’ve likely heard, you still want to ensure that you’re putting thought and research into your business venture to set it up for success. And that’s where a restaurant business plan comes in.

We’ll go through how to create a business plan for a restaurant and a few reasons why it’s so important. After you review the categories and the restaurant business plan examples, you can use the categories to make a restaurant business plan template and start your journey.

Why you shouldn’t skip a restaurant business plan

First-time restaurateurs and industry veterans alike all need to create a business plan when opening a new restaurant. That’s because, even if you deeply understand your business and its nuances (say, seasonal menu planning or how to order correct quantities), a restaurant is more than its operations. There’s marketing, financing, the competitive landscape, and more—and each of these things is unique to each door you open.

That’s why it’s so crucial to understand how to create a business plan for a restaurant. All of these things and more will be addressed in the document—which should run about 20 or 30 pages—so you’ll not only have a go-to-market strategy, but you’ll also likely figure out some things about your business that you haven’t even thought of yet.

Additionally, if you’re planning to apply for business funding down the line, some loans—including the highly desirable SBA loan—actually require you to submit your business plan to gain approval. In other words: Don’t skip this step!

How to write a restaurant business plan: Step by step

There’s no absolute format for a restaurant business plan that you can’t stray from—some of these sections might be more important than others, for example, or you might find that there’s a logical order that makes more sense than the one in the restaurant business plan example below. However, this business plan outline will serve as a good foundation, and you can use it as a restaurant business plan template for when you write your own.

Executive summary

Your executive summary is one to two pages that kick off your business plan and explain your vision. Even though this might seem like an introduction that no one will read, that isn’t the case. In fact, some investors only ask for the executive summary. So, you’ll want to spend a lot of time perfecting it.

Your restaurant business plan executive summary should include information on:

  • Mission statement: Your goals and objectives

  • General company information: Include your founding date, team roles (i.e. executive chef, sous chefs, sommeliers), and locations

  • Category and offerings: What category your restaurant fits into, what you’re planning to serve (i.e. farm-to-table or Korean), and why

  • Context for success: Any past success you’ve had, or any current financial data that’ll support that you are on the path to success

  • Financial requests: If you’re searching for investment or financing, include your plans and goals here and any financing you’ve raised or borrowed thus far

  • Future plans: Your vision for where you’re going in the next year, three years, and five years

When you’re done with your executive summary, you should feel like you’ve provided a bird’s eye view of your entire business plan. In fact, even though this section is first, you will likely write it last so you can take the highlights from each of the subsequent sections.

And once you’re done, read it on its own: Does it give a comprehensive, high-level overview of your restaurant, its current state, and your vision for the future? Remember, this may be the only part of your business plan potential investors or partners will read, so it should be able to stand on its own and be interesting enough to make them want to read the rest of your plan.

Company overview

This is where you’ll dive into the specifics of your company, detailing the kind of restaurant you’re looking to create, who’s helping you do it, and how you’re prepared to accomplish it.

  • Purpose: The type of restaurant you’re opening (fine dining, fast-casual, pop-up, etc.), type of food you’re serving, goals you have, and the niche you hope to fill in the market

  • Area: Information on the area in which you’re opening

  • Customers: Whom you’re hoping to target, their demographic information

  • Legal structure: Your business entity (i.e. LLC, LLP, etc.) and how many owners you have

Similar to your executive summary, you won’t be going into major detail here as the sections below will get into the nitty-gritty. You’ll want to look at this as an extended tear sheet that gives someone a good grip on your restaurant or concept, where it fits into the market, and why you’re starting it.

Team and management

Barely anything is as important for a restaurant as the team that runs it. You’ll want to create a section dedicated to the members of your staff—even the ones that aren’t yet hired. This will provide a sense of who is taking care of what, and how you need to structure and build out the team to get your restaurant operating at full steam.

Your restaurant business plan team and management section should have:

  • Management overview: Who is running the restaurant, what their experience and qualifications are, and what duties they’ll be responsible for

  • Staff: Other employees you’ve brought on and their bios, as well as other spots you anticipate needing to hire for

  • Ownership percentage: Which individuals own what percentage of the restaurant, or if you are an employee-owned establishment

Be sure to update this section with more information as your business changes and you continue to share this business plan—especially because who is on your team will change both your business and the way people look at it.

Sample menu

You’ll also want to include a sample menu in your restaurant business plan so readers have a sense of what they can expect from your operations, as well as what your diners can expect from you when they sit down. This will also force you to consider exactly what you want to serve your diners and how your menu will stand out from similar restaurants in the area. Although a sample menu is in some ways self-explanatory, consider the following:

  • Service: If your brunch is as important as your dinner, provide both menus; you also might want to consider including both a-la-carte and prix fixe menus if you plan to offer them.

  • Beverage/wine service: If you’ll have an emphasis on specialty beverages or wine, a separate drinks list could be important.

  • Seasonality: If you’re a highly seasonal restaurant, you might want to consider providing menus for multiple seasons to demonstrate how your dishes (and subsequent purchasing) will change.

Market analysis

This is where you’ll begin to dive deeper. Although you’ve likely mentioned your market and the whitespace you hope to address, the market analysis section will enable you to prove your hypotheses.

Your restaurant business plan market analysis should include:

  • Industry information: Include a description of the restaurant industry, its size, growth trends, and other trends regarding things such as tastes, trends, demographics, structures, etc.

  • Target market: Zoom in on the area and neighborhood in which you’re opening your restaurant as well as the type of cuisine you’re serving.

  • Target market characteristics: Describe your customers and their needs, how/if their needs are currently being served, other important pieces about your specific location and customers.

  • Target market size and growth: Include a data-driven section on the size of your market, trends in its growth, how your target market fits into the industry as a whole, projected growth of your market, etc.

  • Market share potential: Share how much potential there is in the market, how much your presence will change the market, and how much your specific restaurant or restaurant locations can own of the open market; also touch on any barriers to growth or entry you might see.

  • Market pricing: Explain how you’ll be pricing your menu and where you’ll fall relative to your competitors or other restaurants in the market.

  • Competitive research: Include research on your closest competitors, how they are both succeeding and failing, how customers view them, etc.

If this section seems like it might be long, it should—it’s going to outline one of the most important parts of your strategy, and should feel comprehensive. Lack of demand is the number one reason why new businesses fail, so the goal of this section should be to prove that there is demand for your restaurant and show how you’ll capitalize on it.

Additionally, if market research isn’t your forte, don’t be shy to reach out to market research experts to help you compile the data, or at least read deeply on how to conduct effective research.

Marketing and sales

Your marketing and sales section should feel like a logical extension of your market analysis section, since all of the decisions you’ll make in this section should follow the data of the prior section.

The marketing and sales sections of your restaurant business plan should include:

  • Positioning: How you’ll describe your restaurant to potential customers, the brand identity and visuals you’ll use to do it, and how you’ll stand out in the market based on the brand you’re building

  • Promotion: The tools, tactics, and platforms you’ll use to market your business

  • Sales: How you’ll convert on certain items, and who/how you will facilitate any additional revenue streams (i.e. catering)

It’s likely that you’ll only have concepts for some of these elements, especially if you’re not yet open. Still, get to paper all of the ideas you have, and you can (and should) always update them later as your restaurant business becomes more fully formed.

Business operations

The business operations section should get to the heart of how you plan to run your business. It will highlight both internal factors as well as external forces that will dictate how you run the ship.

The business operations section should include:

  • Management team: Your management structure and hierarchy, and who is responsible for what

  • Hours: Your hours and days of operation

  • Location: What’s special about your location that will get people through the door

  • Relationships: Any advantageous relationships you have with fellow restaurateurs, places for sourcing and buying, business organizations, or consultants on your team

Add here anything you think could be helpful for illustrating how you’re going to do business and what will affect it.

Financials

Here, you’ll detail the current state of your business finances and project where you hope to be in a year, three years, and five years. You’ll want to detail what you’ve spent, what you will spend, where you’ll get the money, costs you might incur, and returns you’ll hope to see—including when you can expect to break even and turn a profit.

  • Financial statements: If you’ve been in business for any amount of time, include existing financial statements (i.e. profit and loss, balance sheet, cash flow, etc.)

  • Budget: Your current budget or a general startup budget

  • Projections: Include revenue, cash flow, projected profit and loss, and other costs

  • Debt: Include liabilities if the business has any outstanding debt or loans

  • Funding request: If you’re requesting a loan or an investment, lay out how much capital you’re looking for, your company’s valuation (if applicable), and the purpose of the funding

Above all, as you’re putting your financials together, be realistic—even conservative. You want to give any potential investors a realistic picture of your business.

Appendix

Feel like there are other important components but they don’t quite fit in any of the other categories (or make them run too long)? That’s what the restaurant business plan appendix section is for. And although in, say, a book, an appendix can feel like an afterthought, don’t ignore it—this is another opportunity for you to include crucial information that can give anyone reading your plan some context. You may include additional data, graphs, marketing collateral (like logo mockups), and more.

The bottom line

Whether you’re writing a restaurant business plan for investors, lenders, or simply for yourself and your team, the most important thing to do is make sure your document is comprehensive. A good business plan for a restaurant will take time—and maybe a little sweat—to complete fully and correctly.

One other crucial thing to remember: a business plan is not a document set in stone. You should often look to it to make sure you’re keeping your vision and mission on track, but you should also feel prepared to update its components as you learn more about your business and individual restaurant.

This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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10 Software Tools to Keep Your New Business Documentation Organized

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When it comes to documenting SOPs, training materials and other important internal business processes, what’s one tool or software (not your own) that you would recommend new business owners use, and why?

These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

1. Google Docs

Stay simple and use Google Docs. With direct edits and commenting features, it’s easier than ever to constantly improve upon your living documents. That way, your SOPs can continue to evolve along with your business.

Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep Mattress

2. Loom

You can use Loom, or a similar screen-recording software, to record short videos for your team and create sections within the platform to optimize your SOPs and onboard new hires. Video information is easier to retain for most and is also easier to look up again and parse out. Certain processes are timeless and can also be used if someone needs to take over a process in an emergency.

Matthew Capala, Alphametic

3. GitBook

Although Google Docs is an elegant and convenient resource, I think GitBook might be the next best thing. It’s far more functional than a simple Google Doc, since it allows you to structure your SOP more like a wiki page or a full website instead of a handful of files in a folder.

Bryce Welker, Testing.org

IT documentation

4. JobRouter

JobRouter is one tool that I love using for documentation purposes. It helps you manage your documents from creation, editing, approval, release and distribution. It also integrates beautifully with Microsoft Word for ease of use.

Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster

5. Process Street

When documenting SOPs, Process Street is a great option. It’s a user-friendly process management software that allows you to create, track and schedule workflows. It also lets you create checklists, collaborate with your team, capture data and more so you have full control over your processes.

Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

6. Trainual

Trainual is a software that helps business teams run internal processes faster, better and smoother. A pain businesses face is maintaining performance as teams are assembled, grow, mature and are refreshed. The onboarding process is one process that plays a significant role in growing and refreshing teams but, if botched, organizational performance suffers. Trainual focuses on that onboarding.

Samuel Thimothy, OneIMS

7. Trello

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for distributing official materials, an excellent system for organizing, commenting on and discussing internal documents among multiple teams is Trello. Trello allows you to share, sort and comment on documents in an easy-to-manage system. With their team functions, you can also ensure only those who need the materials will have unrestricted access.

Salvador Ordorica, The Spanish Group LLC

IT project management

8. systemHUB

One tool that I love using for any documentation purpose is systemHUB. It lets you integrate your existing project management software and continue working on it. You can replicate the existing documents or start from scratch as per your requirement. You can also share it with your team and do a lot more.

Josh Kohlbach, Wholesale Suite

9. ETQ

The most important thing about document control software is retrieving what you need when you need it. I like ETQ because it streamlines the entire process from document creation through retrieval and training. ETQ lets you set up permissions for employees to access the information they need and automation to notify employees of upcoming/pending training.

Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

10. Your Own Internal Wiki

Create your own internal wiki. There are many plug-and-play WordPress templates that are easy to use and pre-built to act as an internal wiki. Allocate a login to each employee, categorize content and use hashtags to make your SOPs and other processes easily searchable.

Chase Williams, Market My Market

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How Startup Studios are Bringing New Ideas to the Startup Space

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By Startup Studio Insider

Even as businesses have struggled through COVID-19, investors have been eagerly bringing capital to startups with the hope that new and fresh businesses will catch on and become the latest and greatest success. This influx of capital is primarily due to the exponential growth of new investment models that have exploded into the mainstream in the last five years. It is these new funding models that are helping connect entrepreneurs with investors who fit their wants and needs.

This new phenomenon of the ‘perfectly matching’ entrepreneur is a beautiful symbiosis capable of helping startups avoid risk, increase efficiency, and continue business development in a forward trend.

In this explosion of entrepreneur-startup matching, startup studios have developed almost a cult following. As many entrepreneurs have strong ideas, but lack the experience, finances, or team to bring them to fruition, studios provide a sort of safety net, capable of helping entrepreneurs deal with business and operational aspects, leaving them the time necessary to focus on ideas. With this initial investment, the special teams behind startup studios are mobilizing to mitigate risk for new businesses and help entrepreneurs focus on what matters most.

Startup studios are a critical competent of the startup and entrepreneurial space due to their capabilities to usher new ideas and practices into the industry. As this model continues to change the startup space as we know it, take a look at the list below to learn more about how a startup studio can single-handedly turn any entrepreneurial project into a juggernaut.

A Concrete and Singular Vision

Startup studios are built to do one thing and one thing well: build companies from the ground up. As this is the core initiative of these studios, they are better equipped than any other organization to take an entrepreneur from initial idea stages all the way to launch and beyond.

Because of this singular focus, startup studios are in the business of churning out these business over and over again. What this means is that they have not only repeated the process many times, but also standardized it down to a science. They’ve experienced every step of the process, and can often forewarn against roadblocks or concerns inexperienced entrepreneurs would plow headlong into.

Complete Operational Guidance

With the repetition behind the core of startup studios, they have a layer of shared resources which allow for a more rapid development and faster growth process than many other incubators or accelerators. From strategy playbooks to cross-collaborative teams, processes, and backing, these resources have allowed companies to take their development to the next levels.

Additionally, startup studios are invested in the process of developing a product beyond its launch. As such, many studios have developed programs to share resources and guidance beyond the launches from the startup studio and into the spaces beyond them.

Startup team doing planning

Oversight on Strategy

As startup studios are deeply entrenched in the day-to-day operations of their projects from the very start, especially when compared to incubators and venture capital firms, they are more capable of providing strategic oversight than other investment styles.

By utilizing a repeated process, as well as the experience of the entire team, these studios are capable of developing plans from the start, and imparting wisdom and experience onto younger entrepreneurs. This strategic guidance has been cited by many who’ve gone through the startup studio ecosystem as one of the most essential tools they’ve taken away from their experiences.

While the startup studio model is not for everyone, it is a true partnership that provides more than just financial backing. A studio is a great model for entrepreneurs who thrive off of teamwork and collaboration, and who may be looking to deepen their experience and learnings. While they can require flexibility and trust in their studio’s guidance, they are often a critical tool in pushing startups to the next level.

As the old adage goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. If you want to truly take your idea to the next level, consider developing it under the help and guidance of a startup studio. For more on startup studios, be sure to check out Startup Studio Insider, the newest journal providing daily insights into the startup studio space.

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5 Mistakes Business Owners Make When They Open a New Dental Clinic

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Starting a dental clinic is a daunting task, especially for young, budding entrepreneurs. The medical equipment can be pricey, putting the owner at great financial risk. Because of that, planning is a crucial step of the process that can save you a lot of money and stress down the line. Luckily, even if you don’t have experience running a business, you can learn most of these things.

photo credit: Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels

With that in mind, here are the five mistakes business owners make when they open a new dental clinic:

1. Hiring Too Quickly

Due to high expenditures, business owners tend to rush the initial processes when opening a clinic. Hiring the right staff is crucial for your success, but unfortunately, some entrepreneurs make a decision for all the wrong reasons.

As a way of cutting expenses, lots of owners will hire young professionals straight out of school. Sometimes, they will put them on probation even if they have experience. When the time comes to hire them as full-time employees, they might not have enough loyalty to stay with your organization.

Having enough experience is crucial for dentists, but you also need to consider if this person is the right fit. Business owners neglect long-term plans and team suitability for short-term financial goals. Hiring a reputable professional is usually a better idea as it will bring stability to your team.

2. Not Creating a Beautiful Website

Word-of-mouth marketing was always crucial for companies, and it is especially important for small businesses such as dentistry. Unfortunately, getting those first clients is always a choir.

Many owners neglect the power of promotion, thinking that it’s enough to have a good service. However, unless you’re able to attract those initial patients, you will never be able to scale the business.

Having a great website is important as it sets up the basis for search engine optimization. Down the line, it will help you reach more people through Google. But it also works as a digital business card. Like your clinic, the website needs to be clean and to instill confidence in potential patients.

3. Ignoring Search Engine Optimization

Performing search engine optimization or SEO is a time-consuming job. However, small local companies can achieve great results in just a few months.

According to several professionals that conduct dental SEO by Dental Marketing Guy, local search engine optimization is an ideal way of promoting dental services to your local community. When a person looks for medical experts in their home city, your clinic should appear at the top of Google search pages. By investing some money in this promotional activity, you can get thousands of new clients in a short time.

Among others, search engine optimization is great for branding. Unlike other digital marketing activities, such as pay-per-click, the SEO results will remain even when you stop paying for the service.

Dental assistant working on a laptop

4. Not Having a Stellar Customer Service Plan in Place

We can argue that customer service is more important for dental clinics than most other businesses. This is because lots of patients are anxious before treatments and exams. Like with any other medical procedure, a person wants to be certain they’re in good hands.

Most patients are willing to pay extra for premium dental services. However, if you have poor customer service, it can dissuade them from giving you a chance. Even if they visit your clinic once, they might not return.

Retaining a patient is especially important in dentistry. Like with some other services, a patient is willing to travel long distances to perform an exam at the same clinic. Once a person chooses a dentist, they will likely return to the same person for most of their lives. And the lifetime value of one patient can be high.

5. Not preparing for the unexpected

Similar to other businesses, dental practices are subject to inherent business risks. For example, an equipment malfunction can set you back for months. In some situations, it might take weeks before you can get back to business. Losing a staff member can also be a major problem.

Although you cannot avert some potential issues, you need to have a contingency plan. First off, a business owner needs to have a healthy cash flow to cover any unexpected expenditures. Having debt is normal for dental offices, but you need to reduce liabilities as soon as possible.

One way to protect yourself is by getting insurance. Certain policies can cover dental practice overhead and provide you with income when you go on a hiatus.

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