Long-Term Restaurant Business Planning

It’s never too early to be thinking about your future. Even if you’ve yet to open the doors to your first restaurant, some of the decisions you make now will be with you for years to come.

It’s worth considering how to set a long-term vision without ignoring what’s immediately in front of you.

Plan for the future, but don’t run before you can walk

Every business, regardless of the financing source, needs a business plan.

Even if you’re financing your restaurant venture from private wealth and don’t think you need a business plan, write one anyway. It’s a great thing to look back on in 3, 6, and 12 months’ time. And when you’re ready for investment, you’ll have a ready-made document to work from.

The key inclusions are:

Executive summary
Strategy overview and market analysis
Product, price, and unique selling points
Merchandising and marketing plan
Customer targets and service approach
Financial projections
Locations, operations, and management structure

If you’ve already run your idea by people, they’re likely to have told you that it’s a long journey (months to profitability can range from 6 to up to 24), or that there’s a high failure rate (26% of new restaurants close in the first year, and 80% within the first five years), or that it’s barely worth the effort (profit margins for most restaurants are around 2–5% at best).

But if you’re serious about starting your own restaurant, these aren’t the kind of statistics that are going to put you off.

There’s no such thing as a plateau in the restaurant business — you’re either growing or in decline, so don’t include a period of stability in your timeline. It’d be lovely to reach a point where things are comfortable and you can tick along taking home a healthy profit, but that’s rarely a reality in this business.

Short-term decisions with a long-term impact

Whatever goals you set for your business, the majority of them are going to be achieved through marketing. And that’s not just the practice of running ads through your local listings magazine or keeping your social media profiles active.

Marketing is about creating a brand presence, and having the right marketing strategy to help you capture the attention of your target audience. The restaurant industry is a competitive one and too many businesses set out without an effective strategy for attracting customers in place.

There are various tactics you could work into your restaurant business plan to make yours stand out.

Tasting events

Whenever you change your menu, make a big deal of it, building anticipation and inviting local influencers along to try it out.

Interesting seasonal offers

Step outside the usual holiday promotions with events around International Women’s Day or World Bicycle Day.

Charity affiliations

Connecting your business to a worthy cause is good for promotion as well as karma.

Community and neighborhood events

Get involved in street fairs, Halloween parades or events put on by your local Chamber of Commerce.

One area that can create a huge impact is color, but so often it’s given little thought when a new business is being set up. It might take a little extra investment now, but if you send your customers out into the streets with coral-pink takeout coffee cups, or give all kids as they’re leaving a fluorescent green balloon featuring your logo, it’s bound to become a signature of your restaurant, attracting attention and more customers.

Marketing is a tool that works internally, too. If you want to maintain momentum, you need to reward the team that got you to where you are. Plan a fun activity for your team soon after launch that gets them out of the restaurant and celebrates your success.

Essential Parts of a Winning Restaurant Business Plan

Covering industry analysis, target markets, restaurant marketing strategy and financial projections.

How to Start Planning for Your Restaurant Expansion

The pros and cons of opening a second location.

Effective Restaurant Management

Successfully hiring, training, retaining, and disciplining staff.

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