You’ve got a great idea for a bar or restaurant that you want to open, you’ve even found a site that you think will be ideal - but how do you turn that dream into a reality?
We’ve complied this checklist of considerations before embarking on your project:
1. COUNT THE COSTS
It sounds obvious, but determine how much you ideally want to spend before starting, and make sure you’ve accurately estimated potential costs - which can vary hugely depending on the scale and complexity of the project at hand.
If you’re renovating an existing site, you’ll need to factor in how takings will be impacted whilst you are closed for refurbishment, and therefore how quick you’ll need the turnaround to be.
Renovating however, is only a fraction of the cost of building a brand new restaurant and comes with its own challenges, such as the location of kitchen and toilet facilities, the type of ventilation, heating and drainage systems required, and the presence of adequate levels of power, water, and gas, etc.
When we worked with Spanish restaurant Tapeo & Wine, the site required a full fit-out, since the space was previously a retail store and so had none of the necessary restaurant infrastructure.
It was also housed in a Grade II listed building, which meant we had to be stringently careful in maintaining the listed features, whilst also ensuring that fire regulations and safety elements such as sensors and sprinklers were installed in the basement seating area.
2. HIRE A COMPATIBLE DESIGN AGENCY
Once you have your concept and draft financials in mind, it’s time to find a design agency that can breathe life into the idea within the constraints of your budget. Don’t rush this decision - do your research and get to know a few agencies first to find the best fit for you and your business.
You could then should set up an informal meeting where you can decide if you’re a compatible team, before arranging a more formal pitch of your brief if necessary. The people are as important as the portfolio and can have a big impact on your overall experience as a client, as well as the final outcome.
We’re lucky to have been working with Bourgee restaurants since it started, and our strong relationship with their team has carried us through from their first flagship restaurant in Southend-on-Sea, to expansion in Chelmsford, Bury St Edmunds, and most recently, an airport terminal bar in London Southend Airport - with plans for a branch in Norwich still underway.
The fact that we know the Bourgee brand inside out streamlines the process of opening a new site because we can skip the initial stages of understanding the concept and brand values, and can instead spend longer developing the design scheme, to reflect the specific demands of each individual site.
3. LAY OUT A PROJECT FRAMEWORK AND AGREE CLEAR ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Depending on the nature of your project, planning can take up months of your time before construction has even begun - but it’s never advisable to take shortcuts in these areas.
There are things you can do, however, to make this process as painless as possible. From this point, you’ll work collaboratively with your chosen design agency, developers, and suppliers, who will use their collective experience to assist you in gaining the necessary planning permissions and provide guidance on what will and won’t be feasible.
We would typically develop a process map for each project, which the entire team can utilise and follow. This includes a breakdown of everything from learning the history of the site, to assessing feasibility, conducting initial site visits, creating concept design, design development and the production of design intent drawings,and finally the fit-out process and handover of the site to the client.
The key is planning everything out ahead of time, and surrounding yourself with expert partners who can walk you through the process.
4. KEEP A COMMON GOAL IN MIND
Throughout the process, everyone involved in the operation must always have a clear idea about what is happening, why it’s happening, and everyone should ideally be supportive of the direction of the project.
When working alongside creative agencies such as ourselves, the best advice we can offer is that communication is key. Continual multi-way contact with all your partners, suppliers and the project manager, will ensure that you’re all on the same page at all times and that nothing gets lost in translation.
This goes back to our process map; it includes several critical 'milestones' at various stages of the development where the relevant teams must ‘sign off’ or ratify the agreed actions, and clarify their understanding of what’s been done so far, and what is yet to be completed.
Factors to be approved include costs, design direction, drawings, and timings; variances in any of these factors can set you back significantly in terms of time and money, so it’s important to minimise the risk of any backtracking, confusion or delays.
5. DON’T FORGET YOUR STAFF
Nothing hinders a dining or bar experience like poor customer service, but sometimes staff training can be overlooked alongside the buzz of opening and marketing to the public.
Don’t forget that your staff will need bringing up to speed on the concept - whether that means memorising table layouts, the menu, or the tone of voice you want to portray. They also need to clearly understand your vision of customer service to minimise any ambiguity or interpretation which falls short of expectations.
Setting time aside for this will pay off in the long run; you might have paid a lot of money for a visually stunning bar area and a skilled kitchen team, but in the eyes of the customer, you’re only as good as your front-of-house staff.
6. MARKETING MATTERS
It might seem like a daunting task, getting your existing customers to embrace change or attracting a totally new clientele, but there are plenty of options on hand to make your marketing activity as effective as possible. The starting point is to put together a plan for pre-launch activity, for the launch itself and for ongoing post-launch marketing support.
Don’t underestimate the power of offering your customers an incentive, and take full advantage of all platforms available to you, such as advertising in local press, or creating an Instagram account where you can shout about your new menu offerings. In some cases this might simply mean setting the time aside to do it yourself, or even consulting with a social media specialist or PR agency.
Bourgee makes use of both PR and social media to create buzz around new openings, and as such has attracted local celebrities like TOWIE star Fearne McCann and rugby player Thom Evans - which works well with their ‘affordable luxury’ mantra. In addition to working with agencies, one of their founders, Mark Baumann, uses his personal Twitter feed to amplify the brand’s messaging to his personal audience.
Once you open, you can also use social media as a customer service platform; potential customers can get a sense of your ethos and approach to service by reading customer feedback and importantly, how you respond.
Testimonial sites like Trip Advisor also represent a huge opportunity (or issue!) so make sure you devote enough time to keeping on top of what your customers are saying about you - the good and the less positive.
So that’s it! Now that you have a basic outline of what you need to do, you’re ready to start thinking about making detailed plans for your venture.