12 Things to Know Before Buying Your First Restaurant

Posted by Robin Gagnon on Feb 7, 2023 1:59:43 PM


No business venture comes without its healthy handful of risks, hiccups, or drawbacks. The same is true when it comes to Buying a Restaurant. If you are a first-time buyer, especially, you may find yourself looking back in a few years wondering, "if only I knew THIS before I bought that restaurant." Hindsight is 20/20, right? While we can't give you a time machine to help guide your decision-making when you are in the process to buy your first restaurant, we can offer you some advice from former restaurant owners.

We asked our Certified Restaurant Brokers who formally owned one or more restaurants of their own what they wish they knew before they had bought their first restaurant. Keep reading to gain real-world insights about buying your first restaurant. 

Never, never go in with a partner. Figure a way to do it on your own. Introducing partners into the business can create tension in relationships and potentially cause issues down the road. Think carefully before buying if bringing on a business partner is the right choice for your dreams of restaurant ownership.

Have an outside service inspect all the equipment. When you are buying an existing restaurant for sale, a third-party inspection service can provide you a more credible audit of the restaurant equipment. This may also include obtaining a record of past repairs, the age of the equipment, and its overall history. 

Research comparable lease rates in the area. Before you buy a restaurant, figure out how the current lease rate compares to the surrounding businesses. This information will you help you for the next tip.

Negotiate with the landlord on pricing. There may be an opportunity for you to negotiate the lease terms and create a more favorable situation for the restaurant you are about to buy. 

Negotiate with vendors. Nailing your food cost percentage down is key to creating a profitable restaurant business. Take your time finding the right supplier for your restaurant. This may include negotiating for a better price or switching to a more favorable vendor. When you pick a vendor you trust for the job, put the pricing, delivery frequency, and any other negotiations into writing to solidify the relationship. 

Spend time on your business plan and your research. This is a step that aspiring restaurant owners should not overlook. For instance, if you dream of opening a restaurant and bar for the night-life customers, then you may not want to buy a restaurant in a quiet strip mall that doesn't allow alcoholic concepts. Similarly, you may not be fruitful to open an ice cream shop in an area already saturated with frozen dessert concepts. Visit the surrounding businesses and observe the local community. Analyze market data to determine if the restaurant you want to own will perform well in a certain location. Then, write your full restaurant business plan out.

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Study the ease of access to the restaurant better. What is the parking situation like? Can customers see your restaurant from the road? Figure out the customer's journey from their home to the restaurant to ensure that your restaurant business is as accessible as you need it to be for profitable operations. 

Be honest with yourself about strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths and hire someone who is strong in your weaknesses. For example, if you are well-adept at restaurant operations, then you might consider hiring a manage who is good with numbers. You don't need to be a one-person shop. In fact, trying to do everything by yourself may end up hurting your restaurant business. Focus on the things that you are good at, and hire help in places where you need different skills. 

Look for 2nd Generation Listings. Your new motto should be: "Never Do The Build-Out From Scratch." Buying vs. building a restaurant can save you valuable time and money in the long run. Not only is it less expensive to buy an existing restaurant space, the equipment is already in place. No need to buy or lease new equipment and wait months for it to ship in. Buy a 2nd generation space that allows you to start operating your restaurant business sooner.

Visit as a secret shopper more often at multiple meal periods. When you are buying an existing restaurant for sale, visiting as a secret shopper is a great way to learn about the current business. Consider visiting at different meal times to see how changes in the staff, time, day, and menu affect operations. You might discover that the restaurant is not the opportunity for you. Alternatively, you could find reassurance that the opportunity is perfect for your dreams of restaurant ownership. 

Know how long it will take for permits and licenses to process. These can delay you from opening your business if you plan to make changes the restaurant structure or serve alcohol. For those hoping to serve alcohol at their restaurant, you can save time by buying a restaurant with a liquor license already in place, for example. Ask the restaurant broker if the license will transfer, and if it does, then you will have saved yourself time waiting for an application to process.

Have incentives in place ready to offer employees so they stay on board. Before you officially own the restaurant and take over the staff or hire new employees, establish your retention strategy. Are employees eligible for raises? How often? Do you offer any benefits for full-time employees? 

Buying your first restaurant is an exciting adventure. To help bring your dream to life in the best way possible, keep these tips in mind. Every situation is unique, but these bits of advice from actual restaurant owners can save you a few headaches down the road, and better equip you to handle any unexpected challenges that might pop up. If you are ready to realize your dream of restaurant ownership, then start browsing hundreds of restaurants for sale at WeSellRestaurants.com and let's bring your restaurant to life!

Download the Free Guide to Buying a Restaurant

Robin slug photoRobin Gagnon, Certified Restaurant Broker®, MBA, CBI, CFE is the co-founder of We Sell Restaurants and industry expert in restaurant sales and valuation. Named by Nation’s Restaurant News as one of the “Most Influential Suppliers and Vendors” to the restaurant industry, her articles and expertise appear nationwide in QSR Magazine, Franchising World, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, and BizBuySell. She is the co-author of Appetite for Acquisition, an award-winning book on buying restaurants.


Topics: Buying a Restaurant

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