Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant

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Jessibell
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2012/01/09 13:23:53 (permalink)

Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant

Hi everyone,
I'm putting the finishing touches on my business plan for a fast casual restaurant that will sell baked empanadas, salads, and soups (with the main emphasis on the empanadas). Since I'm only 25, one of my biggest obstacles is inexperience in operating a restaurant.
 
For all you seasoned veterans of the restaurant industry, what advice do you have? What things do you wish you had known when you got started? I'd appreciate any input!
 
Jessi
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19 Replies Related Threads

    Dr of BBQ
    Filet Mignon
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/09 15:08:28 (permalink)
    Go to work for someone that is a success in the industry,for at least 5 years. I'm talking about the best in your area. Work hard, move up the ladder and decide in 4 years if you still want to do this kind of work. If you are still so inclined save every penny you can get your hands on and go for it. And if you'd done that already you wouldn't even ask. LOL And I'm not laughing at you but with the other seasoned pros here on RF.
    Good Luck
    Jack
    #2
    pnwchef
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/09 16:23:36 (permalink)
    Keep everything simple, I would guess your going into Empanadas because everyone who has had them, loved them. The menu is simple, keep the kitchen simple,just what is needed. Soup and salad are also easy to prep and hold. The best advice I can give is, keep labor and monthly expenses as low as possible. The menu is limited to one item, unless you like empanadas, you basically out of luck. What makes you think this will work in your area ??????? can you operation be accomplished in a mobil setting ?????? ............good luck ......pnwc
    #3
    jman
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/09 17:22:27 (permalink)
    Based on your description of yourself, wouldn't it be easier to take all the money you have and all the money you can borrow and put it into a big garbage bag and then setting it afire?  It will be quick and painless, as long as you stand back a bit.
    #4
    chewingthefat
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/09 17:32:54 (permalink)
    Your in a huge College town, serve outrageously great burgers, dogs, wings, brats, chili, salads, f f, o rings. Get a beer and wine license.
    Personally I wouldn't walk accross the street for an empanada. Your in Wisconsin, serve what folks know and crave...heck, open a BBQ!
    post edited by chewingthefat - 2012/01/10 17:11:15
    #5
    MetroplexJim
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 09:11:28 (permalink)
    Unless you have $250,000 cash-in-the-bank that you wouldn't mind losing and aspire to "star" on an episode of Restaurant Impossible, do not even THINK of opening a restaurant without gaining at least five years experience in the restaurant business doing everything from clean-up to "doing the books".
     
    #6
    Foodbme
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 13:16:00 (permalink)
    Developing a food concept and a menu is only a very small part of the Restaurant business. Not knowing your educational and business experience background, I, like others suggest you go to work for someone in the restaurant business and learn everything, both good & bad from them. Since you're in a College town, take some courses that will help prepare you to run a business- Accounting, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Retailing, etc.
    #7
    Jessibell
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 15:21:49 (permalink)
    Thanks to all of you who actually responded to my question rather than making snide comments. A little more on my background:  I have two undergraduate degrees (one of which is marketing), two years of experience as a project manager, and I've been involved with my dad's chain of restaurants since I can remember - I'm not going into this with zero experience. Also, I'm not open to changing the concept at this point - I've lived here my whole life and I'm confident that it will work in the location that I've chosen.
     
    My menu is fairly basic, and I totally agree that simple is the best way to go (at least starting out). Since empanadas are a little foreign to folks around here, I'm going to focus my marketing efforts on getting people in the door (lots of sampling, great specials on my sandwich board, etc.). I had originally considered a food truck option, but ultimately I decided against it. Thanks again for the input.
    #8
    MetroplexJim
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 16:23:27 (permalink)
    Great!  It sounds like you have a decent education, experience in your family's enterprise, and a little "bank".  And you seem to have settled on a location based, I assume, on extensive local knowledge and your family's previous successes in choosing "winning" locations.
     
    Were I you I'd take a little working vacation and tour some similar "limited menu" successes in other cities.  Off the top of my head I suggest you look at the original locations of Fuzzy's Taco in Ft. Worth and The Hard Times Cafe in Alexandria, VA. not for their menus, but for their operations based on limited selections.
     
    BTW:  I sampled Bolivian saltenas before I ever tasted my first empanada and as a result I have always considered empanadas relatively dry.  Madison would go insane for saltenas.

    #9
    pnwchef
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 17:19:39 (permalink)
    Jessibell, It looks like you have the planning, education and marketing in your back pocket. I have been involved in over 20 successful restaurants over 30 years. It would scare the heck out of me to start a restaurant with a unknown venue. If it was in California, I may feel a bit better with a lot of hispanics and people with knowledge of Hispanic food. I saw this happen to a small local restaurant, they feature Pupusas. The Pupusas were good but, no one knew what the heck they were. Thats the main reason I suggested a mobil food service, this would give you an opportunity to venture out all over town and feature your product. Most people have a hard time trying something new, if they don't like it, it's a lost meal, bad idea on their part. I see a lot of people staying in their comfort zone, not only going back to the same restaurant but, also ordering the same meal when they get there. I guess people like the idea of a sure thing, you only get one chance to a good meal. I'm not saying not to go with this idea, I'm saying you may not want to put all your hopes and dreams in this one item. There may be a way to feature this item but, not make it the whole tamale.......................I forgot to tell you welcome to Roadfood, I hope you enjoy the site.............pnwc
    #10
    Foodbme
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 19:48:35 (permalink)
    Jessibell

    Thanks to all of you who actually responded to my question rather than making snide comments. A little more on my background:  I have two undergraduate degrees (one of which is marketing), two years of experience as a project manager, and I've been involved with my dad's chain of restaurants since I can remember - I'm not going into this with zero experience. Also, I'm not open to changing the concept at this point - I've lived here my whole life and I'm confident that it will work in the location that I've chosen.

    My menu is fairly basic, and I totally agree that simple is the best way to go (at least starting out). Since empanadas are a little foreign to folks around here, I'm going to focus my marketing efforts on getting people in the door (lots of sampling, great specials on my sandwich board, etc.). I had originally considered a food truck option, but ultimately I decided against it. Thanks again for the input.

    THIS is the information you should have given us right from the Git-Go!! It would have eliminated most of the stupid comments you received! This sheds a whole different light on the subject and your request for help and would have resulted in many more productive responses. Shoot straight with us upfront. Your initial post painted you as an inexperienced, snot-nosed kid getting into something you knew nothing about.
    post edited by Foodbme - 2012/01/10 19:55:18
    #11
    Dr of BBQ
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 20:02:21 (permalink)
    Snide comments, I don't think so. I think for what you gave in the way of information they were right on target.
     
    And I can't imagine  with a history like you now claim that you wouldn't have given even a brief background of your education and family history in the food business.
     
    It's hard for me to think that someone with your education would try his or her first venture with a one item store, (empanadas are a little foreign to folks around here,) now I'm not sure what to believe.
     
    There is only one food item that I know of the the general public will eat over and over every week, and that is hamburgers. If you sell just fish look for a really good customer every other week or every 3rd week. Or in the Midwest if the price is really right and the fish is very good every Friday night. If you sell really good "Q" look for your best customers once every 8 to 10 days. People will say without thinking "Lets go get a hamburger". How often is some one going to come to a restaurant selling empanadas, or say "Lets go get a empanada" especially if they are foreign to the area?
    But I hope you do well.
    post edited by Dr of BBQ - 2012/01/10 20:14:13
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    Foodbme
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 20:24:33 (permalink)
    Tell us more about your SPECIFIC experience gained in you Dad's business.
    What kind of Restaurants are they?
    Are they successful?
    What specifically did you do as a Project Manager?
    Are you thinking Counter service or table service?
    Have you cooked this type of food before?
    Have you done Cash Flow Projections?
    Most importantly, do you have enough cash, (NO Credit) to operate and pay all the bills including money for you to live on for at least 6 months? (That's minimum).
    Running a restaurant is not about food.
    It's about business management!
    If you can't run a business, it doesn't matter what you're serving.
    I know you said you considered a Food Truck and dismissed it.
    I would STRONGLY suggest rethinking that decision for a number of reasons:
    1. Lower entry costs verses Brick & Mortar
    2. Less hassle from building inspectors and the Health Dept.
    3. Quicker start-up with less hassle.
    4. Location flexibility. If one location doesn't work--MOVE!
    5. Ability to change menus and graphics quickly if original food concept doesn't work.
    6. Lower fixed costs and operating costs, taxes, insurance, etc
    7. Easier to implement an exit strategy if it doesn't work or you find out it's not a business for you.
    8. Easier to recapture a greater percentage of your initial investment if it doesn't work. Minimizes your initial risk.
    9. It's THE hot business in College towns. Research the success of food trucks in other college towns.
    10. College kids will be more open to new food concepts from a food truck.
    11. You'll spend less money on advertising and promotions because---
    12. You go to the customers, they don't need to find you.
    13. Social Media works very well to promote food trucks 
    These are just some thoughts. The more you tell us, the more we can help.
    post edited by Foodbme - 2012/01/11 03:41:44
    #13
    lleechef
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/10 22:41:35 (permalink)
    I agree with the above posters that limiting yourself to just empanadas could be a problem.  You could focus on them but I would certainly have other offerings.  I once opened a restaurant called Black Cow Tap & Grill.  The owner's idea was to just serve pub food.  But we were in this very very white collar area so I did pub food and also fine dining....steaks, lots of fish, lamb, etc.  The first year we did 2.2 million in sales in a 90-seat restaurant.  Be flexible!  Good luck and welcome to Roadfood.
    #14
    Foodbme
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/11 03:23:44 (permalink)
    More reasons to consider a food truck.
    "Food trucks already are cruising campuses around the country, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the University of Washington to Cal State Fullerton. UCLA invited food trucks onto its campus in 2010 when the university demolished its food court; today, a UCLA South Campus Food Trucks Twitter feed keeps more than 2,600 followers abreast of the campus’ daily selection of vendors."
    And more info:
    http://www.smudailymustang.com/?p=41947
    #15
    Foodbme
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/11 03:39:50 (permalink)
    There's already a Empanadas food cart in Madison and seems to be well received
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Caracas-Empanadas/188127917910814
    #16
    Sonny Funzio
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/11 21:17:09 (permalink)
    Understand how to do a Breakeven Analysis ... something which is much more than just a "breakeven number".
    #17
    Jessibell
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/12 14:56:06 (permalink)
    Foodbme, the answers to your questions:
    Tell us more about your SPECIFIC experience gained in you Dad's business. -- I was the marketing manager, worked with all the managers to create store-specific plans, direct marketing, social media, advertising, website work, dealt with all customer complaints, inquiries, etc. I've also worked all kinds of special events.
    What kind of Restaurants are they? Pizza
    Are they successful? Yes
    What specifically did you do as a Project Manager? Managed a team to implement software at a few locations
    Are you thinking Counter service or table service? Counter service
    Have you cooked this type of food before? All recipes are complete, some tweaking will be needed once I'm working with restaurant grade equipment.
    Have you done Cash Flow Projections? To an extent - it's included in my business plan. Waiting on two more food service providers to provide quotes on my ingredients.
    Most importantly, do you have enough cash, (NO Credit) to operate and pay all the bills including money for you to live on for at least 6 months? (That's minimum). Yes - I strongly believe that now is the time in my life when I can realistically afford to do this. Not when I have a house or a family.
     
    Yes, there's already an empanada food cart here, and unfortunately there isn't room for another one. There's really only one good spot for food carts to situate themselves in town, and it's taken. I've considered moving locations, but I think that's the only way a food cart could work.
     
    My empanadas aren't 'traditional' by any means, and I think they'll definitely appeal to this audience. Additionally, I'm planning to set up a smaller scale version of a salad ordering station like you'd see at Salad Creations (or a similar chain). So aside from my 12-16 empanada choices, there would be a few composed salad options or the customer could choose their own salad ingredients. Madison's a pretty health-conscious city, and salads will bode well.
     
    It's a work in progress, but I think I'm off to a solid start. Thanks again.
    #18
    Foodbme
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/12 15:51:55 (permalink)
    THANX for the concise response. Sounds like you have your act together. Any other thoughts about my Food Truck discussion?
    Just remember, when you go into the retail business, and the food business is a retail business, the three most important factors in the retail business are--------
    LOCATION!
    LOCATION!
    LOCATION!

    #19
    Foodbme
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    Re:Opening A New Fast Casual Restaurant 2012/01/12 16:02:04 (permalink)
    In looking at the Salad Creations Business Model, it appears their strategy is to locate on College Campuses with tight, kiosk type takeout facilities. Is that your plan as well? 
    #20
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