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Startup Restaurant Shopping List: Licenses & Marketing

By David Liu

Smart purchasing decisions in the planning stages of your restaurant startup can set you up for success as you open for operations. So what do you really need when opening a restaurant? Here's your licensing and marketing shopping list:

One the first things your company needs to attain is proper licensing. The type of license or permits you need will vary depending on the city, county, and state you plan to operate from. Some agencies require businesses to register as a "food service operation" in addition to incorporating or registering as some other type of business entity. Fees for permits and licenses can range from $20 to thousands of dollars or more, depending on the agencies involved. Restaurants typically need special permits from certain governmental agencies (health and fire safety departments, etc.) to play music, serve liquor, and even to prepare food for sale on-site in many cases. Your county or city clerk can provide more information on the licenses and permits you will need.

You will also need to apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) on the IRS website. This is essentially the "social security number" for your business- you'll need it when paying taxes, issuing employee checks, and for other financial transactions.

Marketing Expenses

Marketing expenses can be a broad category: It can encompass online marketing efforts like search engine optimization and email marketing, traditional efforts like direct mail, and even "guerilla" advertising efforts that create interest in your establishment and generate clientele. Consider whether you should invest in the following:

  • Website: Restaurant websites can be tremendously beneficial for business, especially if you're opening a new establishment. You can display menu options, provide information about your location, and even take reservations or allow customers to place orders online. Talk with web designers that have worked with other restaurants before you come up with a concrete plan for your site.

  • Online Marketing Efforts: Whether you're driving traffic to your own website or marketing your establishment on other sites (reviewer sites like Yelp! or reservation sites like OpenTable, for example), online marketing can be a powerful tool in creating "buzz" for a new restaurant. Attempting to build your brand on your own- especially if you don't have marketing experience- often isn't the best idea. An online marketing company that works with businesses in the hospitality industry can provide suggestions on how you can use online strategies- building a frequent customer rewards program, sending out promotional materials via email, or positioning advertisements on specific websites can all help you get more customers in the door.

  • Traditional Marketing: Don't discount the benefits of a direct mail or postal mail campaign. Sending fliers to neighborhood businesses or residents announcing your grand opening is an inexpensive way to generate interest before you even serve your first meal. You can craft a direct mail campaign yourself, purchase a mailing list from a list broker and have brochures printed by a printing company, or choose to outsource the entire process to a direct mail marketing firm that specializes in these efforts.

Now the type of licensing your restaurant needs is often fixed, the kinds of marketing you choose to invest in is entirely up to you. Creating marketing campaigns is often considered the most fun and creative part of starting a restaurant. Choosing a target market is pretty simple with most restaurants, so making sure that your marketing efforts cater your target market is quite important. Whether your startup restaurant is looking for marketing services or to remain compliant within the food industry; the restaurant shopping list should give you an outline of your future purchase decisions.

David Liu is a writer based in San Diego, California. He writes extensively for Resource Nation, an online resource that provides expert advice for restaurants marketing and management decisions for b2b telemarketing, merchant services and VoIP business phone systems.

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