Are you an aspiring restaurateur looking to trade in your paper-pushing, office job for something a little saucier?

This step-by-step guide will show you how to start a successful restaurant business, while still working full time. But first, there are a few, not so fun facts you should know.

The Bitter Truth

Before you quit your day job to become America’s next great restaurant, there are a few facts you should know about the restaurant industry.

1. 1/4 restaurants will fail in the first year
2. 8 in 10 restaurant owners started their industry careers in entry-level positions

Does this mean you should throw in the apron and give up on your culinary dreams? No. There are many advantages to pursuing entrepreneurship on the side. You might have fewer hours to dedicate to the pursuit of your restaurant business, but it also means that you’ll learn how to be more efficient with your time,spending your limited hours on the things that matter. To help you get started, we’ve compiled this easy-to-digest guide to help you start your own restaurant business, without quitting your day job.


Define Your Target Customer

One of the biggest mistakes that new restaurateurs make is going into business without having a clear picture of who they are trying to serve. No restaurant appeals to everyone equally, and trying to establish a business that offers something for everyone is the quickest way to skyrocket costs and kill a winning concept.

From dining behaviors to age and income levels, you should dedicate four to five hours a week trying to identify the ideal customer for your future establishment, until you are confident you know exactly who you aspire to serve in your business. These insights will set the foundation for every detail in your business, from choosing a location to creating a winning menu and even hiring the right employees.

Explore Your Options

Once you have identified your ideal customer, it’s time to explore your options. Broadly speaking, there are three ways that you can break into the restaurant business. You can:

1. Buy into a franchise
2. Buy an existing business
3. Start your own business

Each of the above options has its pros and cons, however, to summarize, both buying into a franchise and buying into an existing business are often considered less risky since you are investing in proven business models. With that said, in many cases starting your own restaurant business often turns out to be the most affordable option. Furthermore, starting your restaurant gives you the complete freedom to create your vision, which is probably the biggest appeal of quitting the rat race and starting your own restaurant business in the first place.

SEE ALSO: ShopKeep Guide to Opening a Restaurant

Gain the Right Experience

As mentioned earlier, 8 in 10 restaurant owners start out in entry-level positions. In most industries, it’s obvious that you should gain expertise in the industry before beginning a venture of your own. But for some reason, many people with a passion for food try to start a restaurant without ever having worked in food service. This is a sure recipe for disaster.

local restaurant owner serving customers

Now that you know exactly who your ideal customer is and what kind of restaurant business you would like to pursue, it’s a good idea to gain some experience under your belt before going any further with your planning. We’re not suggesting you quit your day job to work full time at the local diner, but picking up few weekend or evening shifts at at an eatery that you’ll one day consider the competition is an excellent way to gain first-hand knowledge of the industry while scoping out the potential competition.

Here are a few things you should aim to take away from your experience:

Costs of goods and labor: How much will it cost you to purchase food? How many employees will you need? What is the going rate for restaurant managers, kitchen staff, servers, and bartenders in your desired area?

Pricing: What are your competitors currently charging? How much will you need to make from each to be profitable? What percentage are they marking up on each menu item? How is this hurting or helping their business?

Operations: How is the business establishing relationships with reliable suppliers? How can you ensure that you are getting quality ingredients at advantageous prices? What insurance or permits are required for the kind of business that you would like to run? What laws and regulations apply to your aspiring restaurant business?

Learning how to start a restaurant is no easy feat. Once you’ve taken these necessary steps, you’ll be a few steps closer to your dream. However, these steps are only the beginning. There are a lot of moving parts to opening a restaurant business. Though you can accomplish a lot of your restaurant planning while still working full time, it’s important that you develop your vision thoroughly before quitting your day job.

Yamarie Grullon

Yamarie Grullon has years of experience creating helpful & engaging content for small business owners. As Director of Content Strategy at ShopKeep, the #1-rated iPad Point of Sale System, Yamarie provides merchants with practical advice on all things related to business or point of sale.