Historians place George Washington himself at a cookout all the way back in 1769 when he wrote in his journal, “Went into Alexandria to a barbecue and stayed all night.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, meanwhile, once memorably served hot dogs to the King and Queen of England.
But just because countless commanders in chief have gotten in on the barbecue fun doesn’t mean it’s not available to everyone. In fact, noshing on succulent, juicy barbecue is a favorite pastime among Americans.
If you’re thinking of getting in on the action by opening a barbecue restaurant of your own, these five tips can help you get off to a fiery start.
1. Do Your Research
Just because the barbecue industry is a competitive one doesn’t mean there’s no room for a new entry in the field. Before coming up with a business plan, check out your competition.
What works? What doesn’t? Is the market saturated with upscale barbecue restaurants but short on fast-casual joints?
Evaluating the local market can help you determine everything from where to locate your restaurant to what kind of food to serve.
If you want a shortcut into the barbecue business, meanwhile, considering buying into a franchise. You’ll gain all of the benefits of an established brand with its own pre-existing loyal customers.
However, you should also be prepared to make certain sacrifices, such as paying a franchise fee, as well as giving up autonomy over the menu, venue design, and other factors.
Another way to build your barbecue business without venturing straight into restaurant ownership? Consider starting a catering company, but make sure to stock up on the catering supplies you’ll need to do so.
2. Perfect Your Flavors
Barbecue has been around for hundreds of years and has roots in both Spain and the Caribbean. Perhaps you have a generations-old “secret sauce” in your family which you’ve been planning to make the star of your menu, or maybe your travels have led you to discover the many different international flavors of barbecue.
A successful menu takes rigorous time, planning and research. From dealing with food-related challenges such as ingredient shelf life to more aesthetic concerns like how the food will be presented — plates or food baskets for example — menu planning is all in the details.
Not to mention: how will you cook your barbecue? Many restaurants rely on the more authentic method of low, slow “pit” cooking while others buck tradition and use grills, griddles, or commercial smokers.
3. Get All Paperwork in Order
Opening a restaurant is no small feat. In fact, it involves a marathon of paperwork related to licensing, permits for everything from food handling to signage, insurance and so on.
The more organized you are throughout the process, the smoother the process will be.
Are you planning to serve alcohol? This can be a tricky part of the process depending on your local liquor laws. You can’t serve a single drink without a license so make sure to build this step into your business plan.
4. Hire the Right People
Having the right people on your restaurant staff is just as important as serving delicious food. What attributes are you looking for in team members?
If you’ve previously operated a restaurant, consider which characteristics were exemplified by your best staff members across all positions — from service and dishwashers to floor managers and chefs.
Establish these same qualities as priorities when hiring for your new establishment.
Also, make sure to request and check references. While trusting your gut offers some insight, reference checks reveal the best picture of a candidate’s capabilities. In addition to documenting what you’re looking for in your staff, also take time to document how you’ll train them to ensure that things flow as smoothly as possible on opening night.
5. Get the Word Out
There’s an old philosophical question which asks, “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” While no one may be able to answer that particular question in the abstract, there’s a more definitive conclusion when it comes to the restaurant business.
Marketing is a critical part of making sure people know about your restaurant and are excited to give it a try. From establishing a website and social media presence to announcing your grand opening in the local paper, a multi-channel approach aimed at reaching the broadest yet most appropriate audience is an essential part of “making a sound.”
One last thing to keep in mind? Pulling off an opening is only one part of the equation adding up to a successful restaurant. The equally vital part? Providing a consistently excellent experience for each and every diner in order to keep them coming back for more of your finger-licking food.