How to Start a Restaurant

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If you are considering starting a restaurant, it’s important to understand the broad scope of the restaurant industry as it is today – what consumers want is an ever moving target.  Flexible menu options, affordable prices, and healthy food choices are three important factors for today’s restaurants. It is also important to recognize the differences among consumers.  Millennial (those age 18-34ish) want different things than Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers.

 While good food and good service are at the core of every successful restaurant, understanding the landscape of today’s food and beverage industry will help solidify your restaurant concept.    

Understand Dining Patterns of the Modern Restaurant

The restaurant industry has gone through many changes over the past 30 decades. As Americans have more expendable income, dining out more and more is popular.   The rise of family casual dining in the 1990's saw franchise chains like Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesdays and Applebee’s become household names.  The recession of 2008 saw a huge decline in dining out since.  But out of this new economic climate rose fast casual chains like Chipotle and Panera Bread  – catering to a renewed customer interest in healthy foods offered at affordable prices. 

Healthy Choices Matter

Gone are the days of all you can eat, supersized, value meals. While these marketing items still pepper many restaurant menus, there is a growing emphasis on healthy, local foods.

  Consumers are seeking value and health when they eat out. According to the National Restaurant Association 2013 National Household Survey, consumers are looking for healthier menu options.  81% of adults polled thought there were more healthy options available on restaurant menus than there were two years ago.

  72% decided they were more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthy menu items, and women especially tried to eat healthy when dining out – 75% of women versus 66 % of men. 

Local foods is an extension of healthier eating options.  The Farm to Table movement, which is a national movement that encourages consumers and businesses to minimize the distance food travels before being eaten, has grown tremendously over the past decade. Some of the best known chefs in the country have helped make local foods an expectation on menus, not the exception.  While creating a menu composed of all local foods is not possible for every restaurant, there are many ways to incorporate local foods into individual dishes and menu specials. 

Millennial Dining Preferences

The Millennial are changing the way we dine.  Their values of societal and environmental good, coupled with a thriftiness toward money are creating a new kind of restaurant experience that focuses on sustainability, local foods, healthy options and bargain prices. Millennial are predicted to surpass Baby Boomers in buying power by 2018, and no doubt as their tastes (and incomes) change and grow, so will menu trends.   

According to Nestle Top Ten Food Trends for 2015 report, more and more people are looking for food with a story.

 This is especially true of the Millennial who value individuality and uniqueness and adventure. Dining out is a way to experience food from all over the world and to share that experience with friends.

Understanding today’s popular restaurant concepts and menu trends, like fast casual and farm-to-table, will help you better plan for your own restaurant.  Researching your core demographic – whether they are hip Millennial or empty-nest boomers, will help you further refine your restaurant concept and prepare you for the next step of starting a restaurant – writing a restaurant business plan.