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How to Write a Restaurant Business Plan + Milestones

December 18, 2020
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Scott
Table of Contents
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The great restaurant idea around in your head is composed of many parts, all swirling around.

And your restaurant business plan is how you’re going to communicate it clearly.

Every investor wants to see a great idea presented in a cohesive, digestible format that convinces them of a sustainable or profitable business. Almost no investors blindly shake hands on an idea alone.

And aside from using it as a tool to land initial investments, a solid restaurant business plan will establish the groundwork for the first few years of a restaurant. It provides a roadmap for the growth and management of your business.

The better and more detailed a restaurant business plan, the better the map. The easier it is to navigate the road ahead, and the clearer your path to success. 

Here is everything you need for a clear, effective, and professional restaurant business plan.

Investors are out there, waiting to invest. That’s what they do. Why not with you?

Let’s give them something to get excited about.

How to Write a Restaurant Business Plan

Step 1: An Executive Summary

An executive summary is how to start a restaurant business plan. It’s the introductory part that gives investors an aerial view of the project. Treat the executive summary as the basic foundation for the restaurant proposal.

In many cases, unfortunately, this is the only section an investor will read.

So make it count.

The ideal executive summary is 1–2 pages and includes:

  • The overall mission statement of the restaurant. Use clear language to present a concise, unified vision and purpose.
  • Introduce the concept using industry-standard language, i.e. a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant
  • Lay out what makes your concept different from similar concepts, i.e. with nightly Mediterranean-influenced live music and wall-to-wall murals of Aegean seascapes
  • Cover the basics of the menu, the chef, and the culinary influences of your offerings
  • Detail the restaurant’s location, target market, and the opportunity in the area
  • Funding requirements. Lay out the fundamental financials. List the overall amount of capital you need to open and begin operating, and break down the restaurant startup costs into specific sections. For example, you may use this section to introduce the overall amount of capital your restaurant needs to open and begin operating. From there, breakdown the restaurant startup costs into specific sections. For example, you may need $300,000 to open and $50,000 of that will go to renovating the space. Specify that. Additionally, disclose any fundraising you have done prior to creating the restaurant business plan. If you have contributed a lump sum of your own money, taken a loan from an institution, or entered into agreements with other investors, communicate that here.
  • Keys to success. Use this section to lay out exactly what will be the cornerstones of your success. This is the last little bow you’ll put in your executive summary to upsell your restaurant’s concept and your capacity as operator. Also, if you’ve done any financial forecasting, include it here in a simple graph. Numbers speak. And if you can show your investors the numbers you are aiming to hit in the first one to five years, those numbers will speak loudly.

A simple graph for your executive summary can include gross revenue, COGS, employee expenses, operating expenses, and EBITDA (earning before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization).

Step 2: In-Depth Business Description 

The next step in how to draw up a restaurant business plan is diving into your restaurant’s specifics.

In this section, you’ll bring your restaurant to life for your investors. Section by section, illustrate what makes your restaurant stand out and the value you’ll be bringing to its guests.

The Restaurant Experience & Vision

When a guest enters your restaurant, how do they feel?

Is your restaurant dark and moody with lush red velvet and French music playing in the background?

Does your restaurant have sunny outdoor seating with an unparalleled view of the ocean and playful, colorful decor?

Set the stage. Paint a picture. Transport the reader of your restaurant business plan to your restaurant. Use this section to draw your investor in and show them what’s so special about your idea.

Consider also how you want your guests to feel. If you are offering healthy, fresh fare, you might want your guests to leave feeling light, happy and ready for a day outside. Are your servers knowledgeable sommeliers? Do you want your guests to settle in for a long evening of fine dining or are you a fast casual restaurant?

Close your eyes and take the time to envision your restaurant. Paint the picture of your mission statement by showing and telling your investor about it.

Restaurant Design

Here’s where you visually present some of the things you were just describing. Depending on how far you are along in the process, this section can have varying levels of detail.

You can have a full-blown professional mock-up of the restaurant and bar equipment layout, bar layout, including kitchen and bar equipment, POS systems, lighting, and more.

Or you can include a mood board, which is a collage of images that will inspire the restaurant’s aesthetic. This option is typically less exciting for an investor, because it means you’ve got more work to do on the design front. But it’s certainly better than nothing. And if you don’t have a physical space yet, you won’t be able to get specific with a layout.

Introduce the Menu

Use this section to showcase your restaurant menu to investors. Write a brief introduction describing the cuisine. Does it come from a certain geo? Do you adhere to a particular dietary restriction? Is it meant to evoke a specific time or place? Will it be a QR code menu or a traditional paper menu?

Include all of your menus in this section. If you intend on serving Lunch, Dinner and Brunch, include all of the menus, along with their ingredients and preparations.

Step 3: Labor and Operation Details

Here you’ll cover hours of operation, payments accepted, portion controls, management techniques, training programs, labor, and money management.

The devil is in the details here. Try to cover these as thoroughly as possible. The less questions investors have, the better.

Operations:

  • Hours of operation
  • Days of operation (holidays, etc.)
  • Recipe controls
  • Cross utilization of inventory
  • Sanitation schedules
  • Food handling
  • Management systems
  • Software used (scheduling, reservation management, point of service, etc) 
  • Training and staff education
  • Money management

Addressing these seemingly minute details may seem excessive when constructing a restaurant business plan. However, having these plans in place will demonstrate the sincere consideration you have put into making your restaurant dream a reality. Additionally, once funding is secured, it will set you up for success.

Staff

Now introduce your team.

If you’re going to be heavily involved, as an owner, tell the investors more about yourself. Let your story, your passion, and your experience color your restaurant. Consider the unique point of view you bring and demonstrate this to the potential investors. If there are other key players the investors should know about, introduce them here as well.

Then move on to how the overall staff will be constructed. Having a clear idea of your team’s makeup demonstrates your deep understanding of what your restaurant needs and what it is going to cost to staff it.

Your team breakdown might look something like this:

  • General manager
  • 2 assistant general managers
  • Kitchen or BOH Manager
  • 2 lead cooks
  • 2 line managers
  • 6 servers
  • 2 prep cooks
  • 4 bussers
  • 2 hosts
  • 3 bartenders
  • 2 barbacks

Consider adding how staffing might look for different meals, days of the week, and times of the year. You can break down the cost of labor for a slow Monday lunch in February as opposed to a Saturday night dinner in June.

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Step 4: Market Analysis

You know what most restaurant failure has in common? Insufficient market analysis. 

A lot of things can make or break a restaurant, no matter how great the food, ambience and concept may be.

Before considering a certain restaurant location, make sure you have an active, ready-to-engage target market waiting for you.

Target Market

What does your restaurant’s target market look like?

Are they well-to-do business people who work across the street from your location? Are you opening in a foot traffic area with lots of young families?

Assess your target market, find out where they live, and find a great location from which to serve them.

Some characteristics you might want to consider in searching for a target market are:

  • Age
  • Dining habits
  • Style and tastes
  • Value beliefs
  • Affluence
  • Education
  • Marital status
  • Family
  • Religion (and any corresponding dietary restrictions)
  • Employment

Neighborhood Analysis

The analysis of the neighborhood is also important and will feed directly into your target market. Consider using results from the latest Census to include in your restaurant business plan.

Answer questions like:

  • How many people live within walking distance?
  • How many people live within an easy driving distance?
  • Will most of your customers dine with you for brunch on the weekend?
  • Is your location close to a cluster of businesses making it a busy lunch spot?
  • Are there any major universities or large institutions nearby?

This is a great place to include some visual elements. Consider including maps of the area. A zoomed-in map showing the surrounding area, whether a neighborhood or a city block, can illustrate the opportunity for foot traffic.

A bigger map showing surrounding freeways, parks, hotels, and institutions can provide a glimpse into nearby opportunities, as well.

Analysis of Surrounding Businesses & Competition

There will likely be restaurants, coffee shops, and other venues around your new restaurant.

Make sure to communicate what restaurants are in the area. Obviously, you won't want to open a Mexican restaurant in an area with several successful ones. However, if you are opening a Mediterranean restaurant in the middle of a neighborhood that is serving other cuisines, it might be a perfect fit for a highly trafficked area.

Major Venues and Institutions

A large institution could have a huge impact on your restaurant.

Make note of any large institutions and what they might bring to your restaurant. If a major university is nearby, they likely have a consistent stream of visitors on a daily basis.

This will also add season highs for your restaurant come commencement ceremonies. If your restaurant is located by a major theater or auditorium, you might have a nightly influx of pre-show or post-show guests

Use this section as an area to highlight these neighbors that could be a huge benefit to your restaurant. And that brings us to marketing

Step 5: Marketing Strategy

Whether you are opening the 900th franchise of a popular restaurant or a brand new cafe, you need a marketing strategy.

Positioning and Branding

By this point in your restaurant business plan, you’ve likely told the story of your brand, both visually and through text.

Use this area to contrast your brand, your mission statement, your values, and what you hope to bring to the community at hand against the businesses already present in the community.

You’ll also lay out your restaurant marketing plan timeline here, which will start months before your opening.

Marketing Timeline

This specific, actionable marketing includes:

  • Advertising in local and regional newspapers and magazines
  • Creating a website and social media account that reflect the restaurant’s brand and mission statement
  • Public relations push to increase awareness prior to opening, including story coverage in local newspapers
  • Partnerships with nearby major institutions, venues, gyms and hotels
  • Strategies to attract new customers
  • Strategies to retain existing customers through loyalty programs
  • Strategies to create “evangelist” customers who will both return and spread the word
  • Search engine marketing and Facebook Advertisements targeting your specific geography and target market.

Utilizing social media in tandem with word of mouth will allow you to spread the word without necessarily breaking the bank.

In terms of timing your marketing strategy, sooner is better. The minute your permits, funding, and groundbreaking are underway, alay your marketing foundation.

Tease some of your menu on Instagram.

Allow your followers to see the progress of renovations.

Having an engaged audience through the building process will translate into a record-breaking opening day.

Step 6: Financial Outlook

This section reiterates the numbers. State the overall amount of capital needed to open and operate. From there, break down where the funds will be allocated to align with the vision your business plan detailed.

This section will require robust figures and numbers, so do your research.

Funding Requirements & Capitalization Plan

This is where you will show how you turn your investors’ capital into a financial return on a decided timeline. After breaking down the startup costs of a restaurant, show how you intend to make money.

Like we noted earlier, create an outline showing your financial forecasts. Create this by using these figures:

  • Gross revenue
  • Employee expenses
  • Operating expenses
  • EBITDA (Earning Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization)

Your EBITDA will show what your projected earnings are before taxation. Consider laying these out over the course of the first five years, with a steady increase on your bottom line earnings.

Additionally, break these numbers down according to meals. Your brunch revenue assumptions will differ from your lunch and dinner revenue assumptions.

The more figure-based predictions you can provide in this section, the better.

Step 7: Milestones For Restaurant Business Plan

Finally, you’ll use the last section to project the completion of the fundamental parts of opening your restaurant. 

It should look something like this:

Milestones Start Date End Date Budget
Installing all bar equipment 1/4/2021 1/8/2021 $5,000
Installing kitchen grill, good, and flattop 1/17/2021 2/1/2021 $7,000
Painting interior 3/1/2021 3/7/2021 $1,500
Production and completion of menus 3/12/2021 3/25/2021 $500
Hire staff 3/6/2021 4/28/2021 $0
Build and launch new website 2/20/2021 3/10/2021 $1,000
Acquire all food 5/1/2021 5/5/2021 $3,000
Acquire all alcohol* 5/3/2021 5/5/2021 $4,000
Installing booths 1/4/2021 1/10/2021 $10,000
*See where bars buy liquor and how to stock a bar.

What About a Small Restaurant Business Plan?

There is no meaningful difference between a large and small restaurant business plan. In spirit, they aim to communicate the exact same things. That your idea is unique and brings value to its community.

Anything specific to a small restaurant business plan will organically surface throughout the plan itself. It will infect the way you analyze your market, your competition, your strategy, your menu, etc. Everything. 

If you’re trying to figure out how to make a small restaurant business plan, follow the steps above and be true to your business’s identity. Then it’ll be a small restaurant business plan.

It applies largely to how to open a bar, too.

Restaurant Business Plan: Achieved

Your restaurant business plan doesn’t just reflect the potential of your restaurant. It reflects your potential as a business owner.

It can make or break your opportunity.

There is no shortage of stories documenting restaurant failure due to missed details, overconfidence, or plain old neglect.

Creating a comprehensive restaurant business plan will not only gain you capital. When done right, a great restaurant business plan sets you up for success, allows you to avoid common pitfalls, and gives you something to revisit when making future business decisions. It's also a good way to figure out how to drive restaurant sales.

Good luck out there!

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