Have you always dreamed of opening a restaurant or a café? You’ve often imagined what it would look like, what you would serve, who you could meet there when having a drink. Then, one day, you make up your mind and you go for it! But, where to start?
Here is an overview of the order in which you should do things to make your work easier for your sustainable food restaurant and to ensure that everything goes your way.
1. EXPLORE YOUR CONCEPT IN DEPTH
What do you want to create? What type of food will you serve? What kind of atmosphere? Which clientèle?
Your ideas don’t have to be revolutionary - there are likely already too many “...bars” - but before going any further you have to be able to talk concretely about the food, the atmosphere and other ideas you want to implement. Fortunately for you, that’s the fun part, which enables you to brainstorm and dream of everything you want to do without worrying about what is realistic or not. Your head is already probably full of ideas and now it’s time to put them down on paper.
Our tips to become a brainstorming pro:
- Take your cue from what is already out there and what you like: a concept in another country, dishes you tasted in a restaurant, a recipe book or local products you like;
- Spend a lot of time exploring other places and get into the habit of writing down everything you like or that inspires you;
- Once you’ve dug up enough inspiring ideas, create moodboards (FR) for each aspect of your future premises:
- Food/Menu: what will you serve there?
- Visual identity and marketing: what will your image be?
- Decoration and atmosphere: what will the premises look like?
Some tools can help you complete this step brilliantly!
- Pinterest is an excellent tool to hunt for inspiration and to find everything in one place. Create inspiring boards with everything you like.
- Record everything about the places you find that inspires you in a notebook or a digital notepad: the good ideas, what you shouldn’t do, how many people are working, the opening hours, the decoration, if the menu changes on a regular basis, etc. Keep well-organised notes!
- Create your moodboards with your 10 favourite items in PowerPoint or Google Slide: they're easy to use and you can improve your moodboards as needed.
2. NETWORK TO UNDERSTAND THE ECOSYSTEM YOU’RE ENTERING
Do you have hospitality experience? Great, you probably know exactly what you’re talking about and you know the ins and outs of the business. You probably also know other people in the sector.
If you don’t have any experience, don’t worry. Just be careful not to idealise the business and to fully prepare yourself for what is waiting for you. Ideally, you should work for some time in another place to learn what’s happening in the field. If that isn’t possible, try to make as many contacts as you can in the industry: that way you can avoid making mistakes, build communication outlets, create partnerships, meet suppliers and even find your future premises. Good news for Brussels: sustainable food is a nice little niche where people will give you some help.
Regardless of your situation, it’s important that you challenge your ideas and your project right away and continue to do so throughout your project’s development.
Below are some tips for networking in Brussels and for meeting a lot of amazing entrepreneurs like you:
- Co-oking is a shared kitchen which organises monthly meetups for Brussels-based entrepreneurs active in the food industry.
- RABAD is a network of Brussels-based food professionals which organises many events every year.
- Brussels-based culinary schools may help your meet your restaurant's future chef. Take a look at Ceria (FR) or EFP (FR).
- Horeca Be Pro (NL) is the leading hospitality training centre in Brussels.
- Any entrepreneur training is also a good opportunity to meet future entrepreneurs: Greenlab, Credal or JobYourself (FR) can be your intermediary for meeting the people you want to meet.
- Do you want to meet producers? The Biowallonie (FR) and Bioforumvlaanderen (NL) directories will be a big help.
3. DEVELOP YOUR PROJECT AND HAVE AN OVERALL VISION OF WHAT YOU WILL HAVE TO DO
You will have to network along with everything else. As soon as the concept is clear, you can begin to plan the launch. You will have to work on both your strategy and your financial forecasts.
To establish your strategy, use a Business Model Canvas, a tool which is often used by all types of entrepreneurs. It will enable you to gain an overview of the project and of what is at stake in the choices you will make.
There are four steps to creating your financial forecasts:
- Prepare recipe sheets that are as complete as possible based on your planned menu. By tying your recipes to real supplier prices, you will be in a position to calculate your food cost and determine the margin you can make on each product sold. To determine the sales prices, compare your dishes to those of places you are inspired by. This will provide you with a good range of acceptable prices for your customers.
- Determine the future overheads of your establishment: rent, electricity, water, employees, accounting, insurance, etc. They will initially be estimates, but they will enable you to master the numbers and adjust them when the opportunity for a real place arises. Again, base yourself on the experience of your network or get help from an experienced organisation to get a rough estimate of the numbers.
Note: when you estimate your rent, remember to take into account the - many - months you will have to pay rent while waiting to obtain the results of your urban planning permit request!
- Based on your margins and charges, you will be able to determine the number of meals you will have to sell a week to be profitable. Is the number you calculated reasonable? If not, what can you improve to achieve it? In any case, compare your results with your sources of inspiration: does the number of employees planned seem realistic? Does the number of covers/clients served per day seem realistic?
- Lastly, establish a financing plan: what do you need to start on day one (marketing tool, furniture, till, kitchen utensils, etc.)? How much will it all cost you? And, of course, how will you finance your investments?
This step is the most complicated one because you will realise that you have based many things on assumptions. The most important thing is to understand your numbers to be able to adapt them quickly based on the opportunities you come across.
If you’re afraid to take on the numbers or the strategy alone, contact a support organisation:
- Business Model Canvas workshops are held on a regular basis in Brussels.
- Credal (FR) has provided support to sustainable restaurants and cafés for several years. Go meet them!
- If you have some budget available, several creative culinary agencies can also provide support for your project and you can save yourself a great deal of worry thanks to their experience. Eureka, Studio Faim, Innovative cuisine (FR),…
4. MEET YOUR FUTURE CUSTOMERS
Once your project appears to be viable on paper, it’s time to meet your potential future customers. This will enable you to:
- Test the dishes you want to serve, watch the customers’ reactions to prices and your early marketing channels.
- Create appeal for the project and - who knows - a first committed community.
- Test the potential for patrons in a neighbourhood under real-life conditions.
The goal is to validate your assumptions and build a first customer base. Be creative!
- Organise tables d’hôtes and watch your guests’ reactions;
- Get invited to private events and provide your dishes for tasting;
- Organise crowdfunding and explore the project’s potential;
- Take part in a pop-up to test yourself in a real-life situation for a few months.
5. GET TRAINING TO GET OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
Get training throughout the entire creation process and get everything that is of concern to you out of the way as soon as possible.
- First, get information about the municipalities that are limiting new hospitality businesses in certain districts to diversify their retail offerings
- Don’t have the qualifications for the profession? Quickly find out what you can and can’t serve (FR), or find a partner
- Afraid of ASFCA? Get training and be sure to comply with the rules.
- No business management experience? The Brussels Economy and Employment syllabus (FR) can help you if you are self-taught or if you are also taking courses on the topic.
- Don’t know all of the insurance policies and permits you’ll need to get started? Contact an insurance broker, Brussels Environment (FR) and the hospitality federation (FR).
Most importantly, make sure there are no grey areas that could cause you undue concern. Proceed methodically, one thing at a time while developing your project. If, by chance several of you are launching the business together, divide up the tasks and become even more complementary.
6. PREPARE YOUR LAUNCH
Does everything seem clear in your head now? You’re sure of yourself and getting ready to launch? Here are the last steps you have to take:
- During the last two to three months before the launch, present your financial plan to banks to obtain an agreement in principle on a loan, if necessary.
- All new hospitality businesses require a prior urban planning permit. The application procedure can last a year or more depending on the municipality! If you are taking over an existing hospitality business, make sure that the establishment has the specific urban planning permit you need: café? snacks? pizzeria? bar? restaurant?
- To find a location where you can set up, see the inventimmo database which is dedicated to commercial real estate in Brussels. Caution, however, this real estate site and others similar to it do not check the existing urban planning permit for the property. Don’t believe the owner, the estate agent or the former operator. There is only one reliable source: the municipality’s urban planning office.
A good tip: find a property that already has the exact urban planning permit you need. You will save yourself months of work and a potential disappointment.
- The Hub Brussels Retail unit can assist you with opening your business.
- Prepare your launch marketing, get people interested in your project and make your opening a success. This is a good time to crowdfund.
- Find an accountant who believes in your project and who is ready to support you in this adventure.
- Submit applications for the Region’s various calls which can help you launch the business: OpenSoon (FR) will help you pay for the first months of rent and Village Finance (NL) supports circular economy projects.
- Get your company number from a business advice centre.
Here we go! The weeks following the launch will be very intense: the unexpected, joy and frights will fill your days.
You will probably have pushed back administrative and financial management as far back as possible to take care of day-to-day organisation. Take the time needed to get back to it: do your results match your forecasts? If not, how can you correct your aim? After the launch, you may need to continue to be followed by a support organisation that will encourage you to do a status check on a regular basis.
Author/organisation: Credal - Roldan Descamps