What does it take to start a restaurant business?

You have a vision: A restaurant with a distinct style and personality. 

But how do you get started? What tools do you need? Where do you find the cash to cover the costs? And how do you draw people in?

Owner Actions has you covered. Start with this guide to make your vision a reality.

A waiter carries three plates through a restaurant

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Let's start with the basics.

Before you start a restaurant, you need to put a clear plan in place. Are you thinking of having a quick-service restaurant or something more upscale? What kinds of dishes will you serve, and importantly, who will those menu items appeal to?

Have your vision? Let’s move on to the next step.

A stack of bound business plans to start a restaurant sit on a table

Build your business plan.

More than an idea, you need a formal, full developed plan that talks about how you’ll start and grow your business. 

This plan will be an important roadmap for you and your team, and importantly, it’ll be a requirement of any savvy investor in your business. Check out our guide for getting this plan in place.

Let’s keep going.

Find a location.

Restaurants live and die by their location, so you cannot accept anything less than the perfect location. 

What matters? Traffic patterns, proximity to popular spots with your city, parking, and many, many other factors.

Already have a place in mind? Perfect. If not, check out this handy guide as you start your search.

Let’s keep going.

A person uses an adding machine to add up the costs of running a business.

Cover the costs.

Restaurants require a significant investment. Some “bootstrap” these costs, using their personal savings and investments to get their businesses up and running. Many others rely on real estate loans, asset-backed loans, equipment financing, and other strategies to cover the costs. 

Interested in exploring your options? We have a great resource that explains the forms of funding you can access to start a restaurant.

Let’s talk people.

Find a great team.

Finding and retaining a staff is one of the biggest challenges restaurant owners face.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make finding—and managing—your team a much simpler task. Read this guide to learn more.

Let’s keep rolling.

What else do I need?

With the fundamentals in place, you can start looking into systems that will help your business run much more efficiently. Make it your goal to automate every non-essential part of your business so you and your team can stay focused on the aspects that matter most.

Let’s take a look at some tools that help business owners do just that.

A restaurant owner looks at his website on his computer

A really (really) great website

Virtually all of your customers will visit your website to check your hours of operation, location, menu, and specials. Don’t leave them wanting. Show off what you do best with great visuals and an unbeatable user experience. We’ll show you how (and introduce you to some of our favorite web teams).

Options for online ordering

Customers expect to be able to order online, and they want the process to be as simple as possible. Fortunately, there are some readymade tools to help you take on the task. We’ll show you the options restaurant owners love most.

A reserved sign sits on a restaurant table

Tools for taking reservations

Thinking of taking reservations? No need to do it with a notepad. Automate the work and eliminate the stresses of navigating wait times with a simple, easy-to-use tool. Your team will thank you. Check out the best-reviewed options here.

A phone for a restaurant rests on a table

A phone system

Even with a top-of-the-line reservation system, you’ll need a phone with multiple lines to answer guest questions and record reservations. There are lots of options, but you can find a few business-owner favorites here.

A person swipes a customer's card to process a payment

Ways to manage orders and collect payments

What about putting in orders and processing bills for your customers? We can show you the solutions business owners like most for these important tasks, too. 

A person holds a pen to complete an application for employment

Recruiting tools

If your restaurant is like most, you’ll constantly be recruiting team members. Today, there are lots of great tools to help you keep track of applications, communicate with potential hires, and begin the onboarding process. Want to learn more?

Sheets of calendar pages are spread across a table

Shift management software

One of the biggest headaches for owners and managers is shift scheduling. These tools aren’t mandatory, but they can be an enormously welcome timesaver. Check out our guide to learn more.

Payroll programs

What is mandatory? Paying your team. Lots of great bookkeeping systems have payroll capabilities. We’ll help you sift through the options and find the ones owners love most.

Restaurant doors are open

Loyalty programs

Loyalty matters, and as your restaurant grows, you may want to think about adding a loyalty program that keeps your best customers coming back. We can show you loyalty card programs that are completely customizable to your business—ones that should help you recoup your costs in no time.

Don't forget the tangibles.

You can have the best concept, tools, and people in place, but your restaurant isn’t ready until you set up the space to welcome your guests.

This list, which isn’t all-inclusive, should help you get started:

A host stand

A rug for the lobby

Printed menus and kids packs


Chairs, stools, and highchairs

Booth arrangements

Overhead and table-level lighting

Table linens and napkins

Wall decorations

Table decorations

Salt and pepper shakers

Table condiments

Plates and bowls



Kitchen equipment

Janitorial equipment

Cookware and kitchen linens

Desk space


Want to access a list of the equipment every restaurant needs? Check out this resource:


...and the food.

Where will you buy the ingredients you need? Many restaurants start with Sysco or Gordon Food Service and add specialized suppliers over time. You know your needs best. Start researching who can be a reliable, cost-effective source for the ingredients you need and put some agreements in place.

Be smart about setting your prices.

Pricing isn’t always intuitive. You’ll need to know the costs of the ingredients that go into every dish and certainly charge more than that, but you’ll also need to know all the extra, behind-the-scenes costs that go into making each item, too. Labor costs, rent, utilities, and the costs of ancillary items are just a few of the items you’ll need to consider. 

Here, it can be very helpful to work with an accountant to tally up your costs and ensure they are covered by your sales. Would you like to connect with an accountant to take on this task? Click the button below to get started.

Check local regulations.

Before you can open your doors, you’ll likely need to register your business with your state, obtain a business license with your state, secure an employee identification number (EIN) from the IRS, and get a foodservice and (if applicable) a liquor license. 

A great place to start is with your state’s secretary of state’s office. The representatives you speak with can direct you to the agencies you need to work with, and they can be a great resource for navigating state-specific requirements. You can find the contact information you need to reach your state’s office through the link below.

Get ready to get the word out.

When you’re almost ready to open, start getting your advertising plan in place. For most businesses, this means creating profiles on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google My Business, and OpenTable. Put creating social media accounts on your to do list, too. Lots of diners discover restaurants through one of these means. Make sure your business is easy to spot and puts out an appealing image.

What else do I need to know?

There are lots more steps to starting a business and prepping it for growth, and these steps go far beyond selecting the right site, tools, and people.  You need to choose a business structure, create a business plan, navigate taxes and legal concerns, open a bank account, and much more. 

We can guide you through every step. Join Owner Actions now—for free—and receive a customized list of actions you need to take to achieve your goals. We’ll be with you every step of the way.

Owner Actions is your resource for starting, managing, growing, and even exiting your company. We have hundreds of articles, thousands of recommended resources, and countless connections to service providers like bookkeepers, accountants, attorneys, and marketers who can help you along the way. We’re your free business buddy for every step of the journey. Join us now for free (yes, really, for free!).


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