Restaurant SettingI love to cook – and to eat, and to eat food that others cook for me. And every time I enjoy a really good meal in a restaurant, that little voice in my head asks me if I wouldn’t like to try my hand at running a dining establishment of my own someday.

Well, that little voice only seems to address the fun stuff I have a feeling it is pretty much uninformed about what’s really involved in opening a restaurant.

My first bit of research addressed whether this is even a good time to consider starting a restaurant business. According to the National Restaurant Association 2010 Restaurant Industry Forecast, industry sales are projected to increase 2.5 percent over last year’s sales, for a record of $580 billion in 2010. Not bad.

What’s on the menu?

But what’s really involved? If you want to open a restaurant, the first step is deciding on your concept. Are you interested in an upscale, trendy spot for dinner? A family-friendly place where the kids can color while they eat their grilled cheese? Will you open for both lunch and dinner? And we haven’t even mentioned cuisine yet.

Show me the money.

Opening a brand-new restaurant, starting pretty much from the ground up, you will likely need to raise significant capital – and that means finding investors. The way to interest people in your project is to write a killer business plan. This is the roadmap that will show your intent and your ability to achieve it. It isn’t fun for most of us, but it’s necessary. And if you’re entering into a partnership, it also helps to clearly spell things out among all partners. Your business plan should present a well thought out idea, indicate your ability to make the business a success, and show profitability. There are many books out there that cover the step-by-step of writing a plan; there’s even business plan software.

While we’re on the subject of business, it’s also a good idea to hire a reputable CPA who’s knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the restaurant industry. Your accountant can also help you with opening a business checking account and setting up your payroll.

You might also consider putting an attorney on retainer, to help with all the licenses and permits that you’ll need to apply for – liquor license, building codes, fire safety, health inspections, to name a few.

The restaurant, finally.

Once you’ve gotten through the legalities and secured the financing, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. If you’re literally building your own restaurant, you’ll need a restaurant designer, an architect, and a general contractor to make it all happen. If you’re buying a business, or opening in an existing space, you’ll want to think about renovations – again, you may want a designer and a contractor.

A designer can help you plan the décor, the ambiance, the signage, whether your guests will hear music while they dine, the layout of the restrooms, the staff’s uniforms, and just about anything else you can think of.

What about the food?

Once you’ve decided on the cuisine, you’ll need someone to prepare it. And, this should be no surprise, there are rules to follow. Your chef (or a hired consultant) will have to prepare a food manual, which is a record of all the recipes that you serve. The manual should cover all preparation procedures, as well as food storage and food safety. It may also include pricing for all ingredients.

You also have to choose your purveyors. Which food services will you use? It’s a good idea to research some local establishments to get recommendations about service and cost. The same goes for your linen service and liquor distributors.

Service with a smile.

It’s time to hire some employees to serve the customers who are anxiously awaiting your grand opening. There are several sources to consider – placing a classified ad, using internet resume boards, listing with local schools, getting recommendations from people you know.

In addition to waitstaff, you will also need kitchen workers to prep the food and clean up after it’s cooked, and a cleaning service to keep the place spotless. Depending on your location, you may need a lawn maintenance service, and someone to plow snow from the parking lot.

And, since you can’t be everywhere at once, and would probably like to sleep once in awhile, you’ll need an excellent manager who can handle the day-to-day issues of hiring and firing ordering provisions, making schedules.

So, do you think you’re ready? This is really just the nuts and bolts info – opening a restaurant involves many, many details and many, many regulations. This is why it’s important to have the best legal and financial advice. There are also many books and websites that offer invaluable information.

That said, opening a restaurant is also thrilling. If this is your passion, start writing that business plan. Get your concept down, and start scouting a location.

I’d like a table for two.