Do’s and Don’ts for Opening a Restaurant
Written By: Bruce Vasbinder, Coordinator, Marketing & Outreach, Central Texas College
Published in the Greater Killeen Business Quarterly 2017 Restaurant & Catering Guide
Opening a new restaurant is a dream for many. And opening those doors may be the easiest part of the process. Being successful and keeping the doors open takes more than most dreamers realize. The first key to becoming a successful restaurateur is to know your demographics. Who are you going to service and is there a need or want for the type of restaurant you are planning? If the market you are in does not currently have a restaurant featuring a particular cuisine, maybe it is because there is no long-term desire for that type of cuisine in the area. A great source for demographic information in your area is the local chamber of commerce.
Once the type of restaurant is settled, the next step is to determine a location. Is your restaurant easily accessible? Can people get there easily? Can customers conveniently get in and out of the location? Several businesses in the local area have failed simply because it is too difficult for customers to get in and out of the parking lot and the location is not convenient.
The next major step is menu engineering. Not only should the menu should reflect the demographics, it also needs to be affordable – provide low-cost food for which you can make a profit. “Restaurant owners should rank and categorize their menu food items based on popularity and profitability,” said Ramona Lezo, chef and culinary arts professor at Central Texas College (CTC). “Even though you might like a particular food item and think your customers will like it also, that may not always be the case based on the demographics.”
Also, they type of restaurant may dictate the menu items. “A high-end restaurant should not include a kids’ menu,” said Lezo. “But if a person wants to open a more family-friendly place, then they need to price the menu so families can afford it.”
Lezo suggests the following categories in determining food items to keep or discard from a menu:
- Dogs – unpopular and unprofitable food items.
- Plow horses – popular foods but provide less profit
- Stars – popular and profitable items
- Puzzles – unpopular food items but very profitable.
While variety is important to ensure the menu contains popular and profitable food items, Lezo suggests rotating food items for particular seasons. “In winter time, customers seek comfort foods and in the summer, they will want lighter items,” she said. “By rotating items and offering seasonal food items, it can help keep the cost down.”
The CTC culinary program has seen its share of success stories as students have gone on to careers in the restaurant business. “A student who completed our program six years ago is now the successful owner of an old-fashioned hamburger diner-style restaurant on the Jersey Shore,” said Lezo. “Locally, Madi Hinman is a recent graduate and runs a bakery out of her house while continuing her studies to be a nutritionist.”
Chef Lezo also noted two recent CTC graduates, Laura Garrett and Wesley Cravey, have taken their chefs skills from the classroom to real world work. “Garrett is the executive chef at Chief ’s Sports Grill here in Killeen. She has also hired several of our students to work for her in the kitchen,” said Lezo. “Craven is a manager trainee at Emporium Pies in Dallas and will soon be the manager of their new store when it opens.”
The last piece of advice Chef Lezo offered to aspiring restaurant owners is to get experience. “Before you open any doors to your own restaurant, get experience in all facets of the business,” she said. “If you don’t work in the culinary field, you probably don’t realize the importance of purchasing, the menu engineering, sanitation, basic food preparation and all those ‘little things’ that occur behind the kitchen doors. An owner’s knowledge of all aspects of a restaurant from the front of the house to back of the house is crucial to a successful restaurant.”