Open a Restaurant: Timeline to a Grand Opening

To open a restaurant you need time, patience, and plenty of work. Deadlines must be met, and your efforts must be set towards meeting your budget and creative specifications. But with the right planning, getting everything done in a timely manner can be accomplished with minimum frustration.

What should I know before opening a restaurant?

Since your first priorities when you open a restaurant will be to the building where your business will be located, and to the supplying of your restaurant, you need to work closely with your contractor to ensure he or she fully understands the operation of your establishment and has fulfilled your needs in return. This includes, among other things, assurance that you have received all the licenses you need to open a restaurant in your area and acknowledgment that you have applied for federal, state, and local tax numbers. In addition, make sure your contractor is aware of your responsibilities to your lease before, during, and after construction. Most importantly: Don’t assume anything. Put everything you want done in writing!

What steps will I need to take in the weeks leading up to the opening of my restaurant?

Naturally, the process of open a restaurant is different for each business. But every restaurant still has to undergo certain procedures to ensure a successful restaurant opening. The following eight-week plan offers a time-tested process to use when you open a restaurant that can be expanded (to 12 weeks, for example) or shortened (to 6 weeks) depending on your needs. It also gives you plenty of time to cover your tracks and plan ahead, just in case the unexpected occurs.

Eight weeks before you open a restaurant: Get the preliminaries out of the way.

First thing first: Prepare your pre-opening budget and start envisioning what sort of image you would like to convey for it. This will carry you through the rest of the process and set a visual goal of what you’d like to accomplish.

Then, set out on obtaining the necessary background materials and legal requirements for open a restaurant. Evaluate local broad-line distributors and consider specifics, including scope and lines of products available; delivery times and frequency; prices on key products; credit terms; electronic or Internet ordering options; and other support services offered, such as business reviews, consultation, and staff training.

Start ordering your cooking equipment, smallwares, and tabletop items, like flatware, tableware, glassware, sugar caddies, kitchen utensils, salt and pepper shakers, table vents, vases, and the like. Also, order your beverage service, point-of-sale (POS) system, and store decor; order menu boards, exterior signage, office equipment (copier, fax, computer, calculators), and office furniture (desk, chair, filing cabinet).

Seven weeks before opening a restaurant: Following up on what you started.

Things should be beginning to take shape now, so make it a priority to follow up on your timelines and get yourself organized. Arrange for a moving company, if needed, for furniture and such. Check the statuses of your licenses with the health department for open a restaurant, food manufacturer, and water department, as well as your business license, liquor license, and sales and use tax. Also, check the status of your sales, federal, state, and local tax numbers.

In addition, establish your banking system and accounts, and obtain bids for local trash pick-up, extermination services, laundry, appliances, fire extinguishers, music system, security alarms and security systems, knife and blade sharpening, window washing, and dishwasher service. Furthermore, determine emergency plans, exit procedures and create maps, finalize your POS decision, and acquire your software needs for your office (MS Office, scheduling, food management software).

Also, select a pre-opening site to conduct interviews and start organizing your pre-opening parties, such as events for the press, VIPs, and contractors. You will be surprised how quickly everything will fall together in the coming weeks, so it’s best to be prepared.

Six weeks before opening a restaurant: More preparations.

You should be receiving your tax numbers now, so with the ball rolling, start preparing for D-Day. Order Opening Soon and Now Hiring banners for your windows, and a Grand Opening banner for the front entrance. Also, order plastic engraved signs for pertinent information (Ladies, Men, No Smoking, Delivery Hours, etc.), and set up order books, a maintenance and cleaning calendar, and an inventory system. Also, conduct a walk-through with the contractor to make sure he or she is familiar with those systems as well, and retain a full set of building and equipment plans for operational files.

Check inspection dates and acquire mandatory posters and children’s amenities (high chairs, boosters, crayons, etc.). Set up communications for your offices, such as a fax machine, pagers, and hostess station equipment. Set up credit card merchant accounts, and select an accounting service or in-house bookkeeper and acquire the appropriate software. Also, obtain menu materials – covers, inserts, to-go menus, catering, kid’s menus, and order restroom accessories, including hand towels and air dryers, soap dispensers, and trash receptacles.

In addition, start thinking about your staff and events. Prepare Help Wanted ads and get employee name tags and restaurant uniforms. Identify what your staffing needs will be exactly, and then develop an action plan for meeting those needs. Also, order a valet stand and key control system, acquire entertainment permits, and draft a list of potential entertainers. Put together an invitation list for pre-opening parties and order invitations.

Five weeks before opening a restaurant: Yet even more preparations.

Continue planning and set-up work to ensure small issues won’t become larger problems later on down the line. Set up your equipment maintenance logbook. Order office and miscellaneous supplies. Finalize vendors for food and paper products, and set up delivery schedules with them. Put together a list of backup vendors, just in case. Set up fire and health inspections. Label valves, switches, compressors, and breakers, and check for accessibility. Also, acquire bids and select vendors for decor, like interior plants and landscaping.

While doing this, continue your staffing plans. Place your Help Wanted ads, purchase training materials for food safety training, develop deposit procedures (establish armored car service or other), finalize food and supply orders for training, mock shifts, and opening week. Also, set up an employee filing system, acquire a first aid box, create a seating chart and wait staff sections, set up a petty cash system, acquire tip trays, and check presentation folders, if not provided from merchant account provider.

Four weeks before opening a restaurant: Time to start setting up.

Around this time, you should be receiving your casework and furniture, cabinets, menu board frames, tables, chairs, and barstools. All that will need to be installed. Also, by this point, you should have a number of candidates in mind for staff positions. To accommodate, start scheduling and preparing interviews, and prepare a training schedule for those you will hire. Also, set up your POS or register for training your management and crew, and create job aids (pictures of menu items, procedure steps, etc.) for the kitchen staff. This is also a good time to determine your emergency equipment shutoff procedures and start thinking about your opening week schedule –make it heavy, since you really want to test yourself and see what you can and cannot accomplish reasonably.

Other important tasks to consider: acquire an Internet service provider,  a kitchen clock, a tool kit, and linens. Also, get your parking lot striping and handicap space requirements completed, and select your services for local trash pick-up, grease removal, exterminator, laundry, appliance repair, fire extinguishers, music system, alarm, and security system, knife and blade sharpening, window washing and dishwasher service. Also, review your OSHA requirements with management.

Continue to think about opening night. Send out your opening party invitations and press releases to local media.

Three weeks before opening a restaurant: Getting into gear.

Timing becomes crucial at this point. You need to make sure several smaller tasks get completed while still keeping your larger projects moving.

First and foremost, you’ll need to be interviewing and hiring possible employees, and getting them trained as soon as possible. That means you’ll have to have your training sessions finalized, and assign your hired employees for HACCAP training and certification. In addition, you’ll need to get employees certified for alcoholic beverage service and conduct alcoholic beverage and wine service training. Also important: assemble your new-employee supplies, such as applications, uniforms, employer-employee agreements, W-4 & I-9 forms, cash register policies, and employee handbook, and more. Also order your initial food for training, as well as your first paper goods order. To verify that everything is accounted for, create detailed inventory worksheets or count sheets and prepare your delivery schedule for your vendors.

To ensure training commences smoothly, you will need to have your beverage service and POS system installed and ready to go. In addition, obtain bags and night deposit keys, deposit stamps and slips, coin rolls, and bill bands.

On top of this, the final load of your supplies and equipment should be coming in, such as your smallwares, ice machine, janitorial supplies, Ansul System, alarm system, fire extinguishers, and more.  You will need to install these items and then ensure everything meets your satisfaction. Obtain subcontractors’ telephone numbers in case repairs are needed and set up all equipment maintenance and repair instructions in designated spots in case fixes must be done in-house. In addition, create a control system for padlocks for cooler doors and conduct a safety audit.

Two weeks before opening: Restaurant Interior design

By this point, you should have received nearly all of your equipment and furniture, including your tables, chairs, tabletops, benches, canopy awning or canvas, and more. That means it’s time to make sure everything fits, works, and looks like it should.

Test all of your equipment. Check the walk-in and refrigeration temperatures. Calibrate the temperatures for your fryers and griddle, oven, and stove.  Also, set up and organize your supply stations, including shelving for walk-in and dry storage (which also must be labeled), and get your hostess stand supplies (reservation book, call clock, pencils, notebook) in order. While you’re at it, also post signs for your personnel, as well as the required posters for OSHA, FLSA, ADA, EOE, the Heimlich Maneuver, and safe lifting. Also, finalize your hiring and get your employees into training.

Start a construction punch list in case final work needs to be done, and begin to clean and sanitize the walk-in area. Also, set your exterior signage light timer, place your initial alcoholic beverage order, and determine light levels and label for each period of the day.

One week before opening a restaurant: Crunch time.

No task is too small during this stretch. Granted, frustration will be high, but if all preparations have been met beforehand, you should be able to open a restaurant successfully.

First and foremost, get your decor and equipment ready. Hang inside decor, wash windows, install plants, clean all equipment, smallwares, and stainless steel. Complete equipment warranty cards. And run the ice machine, empty it, sanitize it, and refill it. All the while, continue updating your construction punch list.

In addition, hold your final inspections, receive your certificate of occupancy, finalize your opening week schedules, finalize the clean-up of interior and exterior, complete your pre-opening checklist, take open inventory on all food and beverage items, and buy and receive your change from the bank.

In the meantime, also conduct your training, finalize your training certification and conduct a practice run (dress rehearsal) of opening night. After that, you should be ready for business. Congratulations on opening a restaurant!