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Webinar: Georgia Sales Tax Refund for Restaurants

Monday, October 27th, 2014

If you weren’t able to join the Georgia Restaurant Association for their “Georgia Sales Tax Refund” webinar on October 21 with Stephen Bradshaw of Bennett Thrasher regarding an overview of the Georgia Sales Tax refund changes, and the process for claiming a refund, you can gain full access to the recording and presentation by clicking here.


Chefs Move to School Initiative to Help Children Across Atlanta

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

By Kully Crean, CEC, CCE, ACF President

When it comes to teaching children about food, chefs are the experts. Now Atlanta chefs have a great opportunity to get involved in a local grassroots effort to eliminate childhood obesity and become part of a larger movement. The Chefs Move to Schools program, an important component of the national Let’s Move! initiative, will help combat our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic by partnering chefs with local community schools to help educate kids about food and nutrition.

“We are going to need everyone’s time and talent to solve the childhood obesity epidemic, “ First Lady Michelle Obama says. “Our nation’s chefs have tremendous power as leaders on this issue because of their deep knowledge of food and nutrition and their standing in the community.”

The Chefs Move to Schools program helps educate
 kids about making healthy food choices. By reaching young children about fresh fruits and vegetables, flavor profiles, proper and healthier cooking techniques and the use of flavor enhancers, chefs help train and develop the cultivated palate of future generations. Together, we can help give our youth a better chance of reaching adulthood without becoming diabetic or obese or developing hypertension.

The ACF-Atlanta Chefs Association has embraced this important cause and has several members who have partnered with local community schools, including John Szymanski, executive chef for Kroger; Kerri Crean, culinary arts program director at Gwinnett Technical College; and Michael Deihl, executive chef at East Lake Golf Club.

Chef Szymanski dazzled students at Abbotts Hill Elementary School in Fulton County with healthy desserts using fresh strawberries; his strawberry mousse was a big hit. Chef Crean amazed students at Craig Elementary School in Gwinnett County with a selection of fresh vegetables and healthy ways to cook and season the vegetables. The kids fell in love with the roasted beets, sautéed Brussels sprouts, and the simple steamed broccoli. Chef Diehl wowed students at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta with fresh peaches, while teaching them how to identify sugar content in food products and reduce sugar in desserts and other food choices. The students were fascinated by the wonderful taste of simplistic desserts made with peaches, sugar-free Jell-O and yogurt.

“Handing a child a piece of fresh fruit they have never seen before and watching them take that first bite is as humbling a culinary experience as there is,” says Chef Diehl. “If your eyes are not watering after that, you are not a true chef at heart.”

The Chefs Move to Schools Initiative is one of the many community outreach programs that the ACF-Atlanta Chefs Association helps facilitate. You do not have to be an ACF member to get involved with this tremendous program. The time commitment is minimal, but the rewards are great.

It’s simple to get involved. Go to the Chefs Move to Schools website and follow the prompts.


Be a Team Player With Food Safety Education

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

By Nancy Caldarola

It’s 2014, and it’s looking like restaurants are going to be busy. And while you’ll probably have enough on your plate managing finances, adjusting your menu and possibly considering expansion plans, don’t forget about keeping your employees up to date on food safety education.

Now I am not talking about everyone signing up for a semester-long class, although our local hospitality school and colleges would be very pleased to welcome you to their rosters. I am referring to the many forms of educational offerings that are available today for all levels of hospitality employee. Some of these options are free or very low cost for the knowledge that can be gained.

Ask yourself, “How do I feel after having been away from the restaurant and participating in a workshop at a conference or food show?” What happens when you learn something new? Are you energized when you attend an educational session at the NRA show, or when you participate in a webinar on a subject that impacts your day-to-day business and target market?

If you are like me, you leave the session with a renewed passion for the subject that was covered. You want to get back to work and implement ideas, try new procedures and show that what you heard, saw, and internalized did change your view on the subject. You understand it better, and you know why it is important.

Education for the managers and employees in your foodservice operation can be as simple or as encompassing as you need it to be based upon your specific needs at your business. However, I always like to remember what the late Sy Syms, founder and visionary of the Syms clothing store chain, used to say in their advertisements: “An educated consumer is our best customer, I would like to borrow his statement and change the words a bit for this conversation: “An educated employee is our best customer.”

Why do I say this? Our best customers talk about how great a restaurant you have. They are walking billboards, and we all know that word of mouth and positive social media endorsements are the best marketing you can ever want or get. To get an educated employee, we need to consider what training she or he needs to perform more effectively and efficiently on the job. We need to assess the managerial skills f our supervisory team and consider what developmental programs or tools would help to raise their level of professionalism and performance on the job.

Providing employees with training or professional development opportunities actually infuses the workplace with new ideas and may even lead to creative ways of solving existing or reoccurring problems. Sometimes, just getting your managers and crew out of the day-to-day grind of their everyday work schedule is enough to jump-start new energy and encourage employees to recommit to their jobs and to your restaurant or foodservice location. Most importantly, learning new skills and interacting with new and different people in a focused educational setting has a direct impact on the productivity and development of the work environment.

So what kinds of education will help our managers and our employees? And will it make that much of an impact on the business? There are many forms of education, training and professional development, including instructor-led programs, self-directed online classes, webinars, business book discussion groups, Conference or Expo education workshops or even meeting speakers sponsored by groups like the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA). Consider the options you have available from the National Restaurant Association Solutions group for education and training:

• The NRA ServSafe® Food Handler training program is an inexpensive course that can be conducted in-house for your hourly employees by an external food safety consultant or your own Certified Food Safety Manager. The two-hour-plus program has class materials, including a Trainer’s script and slides, an inexpensive and easy to understand text in English and Spanish, an exam that the Trainer can administer, and a certificate for each employee completing the session. Not only great for newly hired employees, the program is also an excellent quarterly update or “refresher” for existing crew members.

• Of course we all know the NRA ServSafe® Certified Food Safety Manager program and the requirement that all Georgia food establishments have at least one CFSM on staff at all times. In Georgia, scheduled CFSM classes offered by GRA-approved and NRA-certified instructors are listed at

• The NRA ManageFirst® program is a series of workshops that covers the necessary knowledge
and management competencies for restaurant and foodservice managers. The series includes 10 managerial topics with exams, and participants can earn certificates in each competency. The GRA plans to offer some of these competency workshops in this upcoming calendar year; watch for announcements.

• The NRA ServSafe® Alcohol: Responsible Alcohol Service program covers the essentials of responsible alcohol service. Protect yourself and your operation from risks and liabilities by ensuring all your bartenders, servers and managers complete this alcohol training and certification.

• ServSafe Allergens online course is the newest NRA educational offering. The number of Americans affected by food allergies has been increasing for the past decade, and studies indicate that half the fatal episodes from food allergens typically occur outside the home. Dining out becomes a serious concern for customers with food allergies, as well as for their family and friends. The 15 million Americans with food allergies want to dine where they feel safe, and they are often unsure which restaurants can safely accommodate them—if at all.

The ServSafe Allergens course covers such topics as identifying allergens, communication with the guest, preventing cross-contact, food labels and how to deal with an allergen crisis in your restaurant. Restaurant personnel at all levels – from owner-operator and manager to every employee involved in food preparation, production and service – need to have this basic information required to ensure everyone takes the steps necessary to keep customers safe. In addition to the online course, look for classroom sessions to be offered this coming year through the GRA.

Although this is only a short list of options from one resource, consider implementing or keeping regular training opportunities in place for employees. Training sessions that are once a week or once a month can be quite productive, giving employees something outside the ordinary work day to look forward to and encouraging a commitment to professional development and skill growth.

Online courses, like the new ServSafe AllergensTM, are a cost-effective educational option that works at all employee levels. There are free webinars for managers available through food distribution companies, manufacturers and supplier organizations. Many have additional downloadable archives that employees can access from their smartphones to continue their learning past the formal session.

While most training programs are designed to give employees the tools they need for their jobs, these learning opportunities also keep employees motivated. Sending seasoned employees to training classes helps them stay current with new ideas, procedures and industry developments, plus it can help burned-out employees get back on track and eliminate bored and unproductive attitudes. Including these learning activities in the normal work week of a manager sends a message that, “You are worth it, and we value you.” This can give employees increased job satisfaction because they feel appreciated by their employers.

Using these resources, you, too, can keep education at part of your restaurant or foodservice operation. Training and professional development can make a difference – in improved employee knowledge and performance, in effectiveness and efficiency on the job, in maintaining a food-safe workplace and in motivating and increasing loyalty to the business. Seek out opportunities for staff education – in the long term it really does make a difference!

Nancy Caldarola, Ph.D., RD, is a consultant to the hospitality industry and an active GRA member. Her group, Concept Associates Inc., offers ServSafe® and ManageFirst® classes as well as operations improvement projects, training programs, food safety audits, HACCP, menu engineering and nutritional analysis, and profitability improvement consulting.


Food Safety Education is Vital in Our Industry

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

A restaurant closing article caught my attention recently. It happened in a neighboring state and involved a well-known eatery in a major city. The article described the results of an inspection after several probable and three confirmed Salmonella cases were associated with consumption of food from that restaurant in June. One of the Salmonella outbreak victims was reportedly hospitalized.

A health department spokeswoman stated that the restaurant was closed and cited for four high-priority violations, including holding food at improper temperatures, roaches and rodent activity. The ill customers are recovering. No mention has been made of insurance payments, legal proceedings or lawsuits, or other negative press. However, when the restaurant reopened in late August, it was again re-inspected by the Board of Health who found no high-priority violations; however, the inspection report indicated that a follow-up inspection was required within 30 days after four intermediate and five basic food violations were cited.

So what went wrong for this restaurant owner? The facility is in a state that requires a certified food safety manager be in the kitchen whenever the restaurant is operating. What was that certified food safety manager doing? Was food safety education not being used correctly?

Well, we can all agree that there was probably much more involved in the unfortunate restaurant than was reported. There always is. Still the bottom line is that customers got sick and went to the hospital. The restaurant got bad press in the paper and on TV. When customers hear about a restaurant causing a foodborne illness, it is hard to keep the doors open. No one wants to eat in that restaurant.

What we know: The restaurant was closed. There was a Board of Health investigation. The restaurant had to be totally cleaned and all food items tossed – total loss to the owner. All employees had to be retrained so the Board of Health would re-inspect. Probably some employees were fired and new ones hired and trained. The newspaper also reported the results of the re-inspection and 30-day next inspection; all not good for trying to rebuild customer trust.

What we expect: Insurance premiums will increase. There will be lawsuits. The restaurant will struggle to regain customers and sales and will eventually close.

Did this have to happen? No, it did not.

The cost of recovery is overwhelming after a foodborne illness outbreak. This is the result of taking shortcuts, doing incomplete follow-up, not paying for a professional pest control service, thinking the other employees will take care of cleaning and a million other excuses. Managers and owners must take responsibility for the cleanliness and food safety in their foodservice establishments. It is everyone’s job to ensure the restaurant is clean and food is safe. We should never have our restaurant’s name in the newspaper with a bad review or a foodborne illness report.

But it happens. So what is a restaurant to do? If your restaurant receives a call from a customer that she or he is ill after eating in your location, take the call seriously. Take the caller’s in- formation, ask what day she/he ate at the restaurant, the time and the menu items ordered and eaten. Then ask her/him to visit their physician. If possible, have samples of the exact menu items, from the day the customer was eating at the restaurant, pulled and put into containers for testing. If there is a foodborne illness, the physician will contact the restaurant and then your insurance company can get involved.

This is one way to handle these calls. Follow the procedures that your insurance company requires and use the forms that they give you to use. It’s also important to go back over all kitchen preparation steps with the food in question – to be sure all times, temperatures, handling, cooking and storage processes were correctly followed.

Be sure to document if any were incorrect – do not try to cover up any errors. It’s too late if a foodborne illness has been reported and confirmed. Now you have to overcome and correct.

The cost of prevention is always more affordable. If we learn about food safety and make sure we are doing the right things with correct handling, cooking, serving and storing of food products in our operations, we can control the outcome. ServSafe® is the food safety certification program for managers developed by the NRA and offered through the Georgia Restaurant Association. The program combines the latest FDA Food Code, food safety research and years of sanitation training experience into either a classroom or online format.

Managers learn to implement essential food safety practices and create a culture of food safety in their own operations. All class content and materials are based on actual job tasks identified by foodservice industry experts from across the hospitality industry.

ServSafe® was the first certification program for the industry and continues to be the leader. This affordable certification program is your first step to prevention. You still must implement what you learn in the program in your operation with your employees.

Regular self-inspections and audits of your operations by consultants are also ways to ensure you are taking preventive steps to help minimize future costs and maximize returns on your investments in your customers. Use checklists, logs and other tools to train employees and systemize operations. These are important for consistency and follow-up on standards of operations and performance.

And speaking about standards of performance, do you have them for your restaurant? If not, how do we know what excellence and quality is in the operation? Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) also detail cleanliness and sanitation levels, as well as food temperatures, cooking temperatures and even dish machine temperatures.

As the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Recovery is expensive; prevention is much more affordable and should be based on solid ServSafe® education content. Use tools and consultants smartly, and you will set up your restaurant for success.

Nancy Caldarola, Ph.D., RD, is a consultant to the hospitality industry and an active GRA member. Her group, Concept Associates Inc., offers ServSafe® and ManageFirst® classes as well as operations improvement projects, training programs, food safety audits, HACCP, menu engineering and nutritional analysis, and profitability improvement consulting. Visit www. for more information and to register for ServSafe classes.


A Course in Catering

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

By Shannon Wilder

These days, an increasing number of Georgia restaurateurs are adding catering to their menus as a way to bring in much-needed additional revenue.

As with any new business venture, there are challenges and concerns along the way. Fortunately, restaurant owners in the Peach state who are ready to make the leap can get expert advice from catering industry leaders such as Patrick Cuccaro, general manager of Affairs to Remember and past chair of the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA).

Cuccaro and the Affairs to Remember team have hosted the GRA’s four-hour catering boot camp at the firm’s Atlanta location three times a year for the last four years. How great is the demand? According to Cuccaro, the boot camp has been sold out – with a wait list – each and every time it’s been offered. The four-hour sessions are offered free to GRA members.

Embrace the Changing Landscape

Catering in 2013, Cuccaro says, is a far cry from the white-clothed banquet tables and sterno-fueled chafing dishes of yesteryear. And keeping up with trends in entertaining is crucial to a new caterer’s success.

“Catering is like haute couture,” Cuccaro says. “What’s hot today is not tomorrow. If we become stale, it is at our peril. In off-premise catering, we’ve witnessed the transformation of catered events from merely “feeding people” to sophisticated entertainment and social interaction. As recently as a decade ago it was acceptable to roll out a few exciting new food ideas every year. Today, that just won’t fly. We create several hundred new dishes a year. We must continually reinvent the customer experience.”

Those restaurants that have already embraced the seasonal/locally grown movement will have a leg up when it comes to opening a catering operation. One of the biggest trends Cuccaro says he’s seen of late is a willingness of catering clients to embrace seasonal menu items – even if it means not knowing exactly what’s going to be on the menu until the very last minute.

To support that trend, Affairs to Remember has established its own garden. The effort not only provides outstanding raw product for the firm’s menu items, it also supports a greater commitment to sustainability. The food goes full circle, Cuccaro says, explaining that Affairs purchases uses its own organic material as compost in the garden.

Perfect the Food

The centerpiece of any catering operation is, of course, the food. And regardless of size, any catering operation has to have a grasp of how well food will travel.  Testing new dishes, like Cuccaro describes above, is only half the battle. A dish may work wonderfully well in the restaurant, where it only has to go from kitchen to table. The journey to the venue is often quite a different story.

“We call it road worthiness,” says Cuccaro. “Catering is an art and a science. Every single new food that you introduce must pass several litmus tests.”

Those include how the food survives the trip, and how well it stands up to sitting in limbo between the time it arrives and the time it reaches a plate.

“If a food hasn’t been tested properly,” he says, “the likelihood of failure is exponentially higher. We spend hours analyzing our roadworthiness, as must all successful caterers.”

Focus on the Basics

Newly minted caterers make mistakes on the operational front as well. What’s the worst from Cuccaro’s point of view? “Deciding to go into catering without enough skin in the game. Trial and error is not a business plan – it is a brand killer.”

Too often, restaurateurs risk their reputation on an ill-thought-out attempt to add a few dollars to the bottom line. “Imagine serving your restaurant’s signature steak to 150 guests at a private, hosted event, “ he says. “Just when the steaks are perfectly cooked, the best man unexpectedly launches into a round of toasts. That beautiful signature steak that was perfect a mere 15 minutes ago is now a gray hockey puck.

“Do you think these guests, who are eating your hockey puck for free, will become paying future customers? Doubtful. This happens all the time. Brand destruction for the sake of incremental catering revenue is not a pretty sight.”

At the other end of the spectrum, he says, the most common errors for caterers who’ve been in the business for a while include food safety infractions, unprofitable pricing and failure to grow the infrastructure to meet volume demands.

A Winning Strategy

With almost four decades under its belt, Affairs to Remember has borne witness to a sea change in the industry, says Cuccaro. Catering has shifted from merely serving food to providing a memorable experience from start to finish, and Affairs to Remember has risen to the challenge. As proof, the firm was awarded the 2013 Best-Caterer-in-the-South ACE Award at the recent Catersource Conference & Tradeshow in Las Vegas.

The ACE Award for the South Region is selected from entries from 12 states, including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

Of winning the award, Cuccaro said it was a special honor, adding, “It’s a pleasure just to practice our art and craft. To be recognized for doing so is the icing on our cake.”


Pinkerton Honored for Innovative Leadership in Craft Brew Industry

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

There’s no doubt that John Pinkerton likes beer. As brewmaster and owner of Moon River Brewing Company, Pinkerton serves as the ambassador of local beer in Savannah – it’s the only local brewery in the city.

Opened to the public in 1999, the brewery was voted #28 by BeerAdvocate on its list of Top 50 American Brewpubs in 2003. And in 2010, Pinkerton proved his mettle when the brewery won a Gold Medal for its Rosemary India Pale Ale in the “Herb and Spice or Chocolate Beer” category at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival.

Pinkerton was recently selected a finalist in the GRA’s 2012 GRACE Awards Innovator category and is a recipient of the Savannah Craft Brew Festival’s Pioneer Award.

“I see brewpubs really leading the charge in the craft brew industry because we are the
interface between the consumer and the breweries, more so than the breweries themselves,”
Pinkerton says. “Most people have their experience with the breweries when they go to the
store and buy their product off the shelf. Whereas with brewpubs, you’re right there where
they make the beers, you’re often in the position to talk to brewers, and it has a very strong, local cultural factor.”

For nearly 20 years, Pinkerton has worked in every aspect of operations, both in brewpubs and in regional-scale production breweries. Over the years, he’s also established a sense of leadership and service to the craft-brewing industry. He was a founding member of the Rubber Boot Society’s steering committee (a Mid-Atlantic brewer’s guild), as well as a longtime member of the Brewers Association. He also helped establish the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild in 2010 and is currently serving as president of the organization.

He frequently serves as a judge for regional and national beer competitions, and he also volunteers his expertise for conferences and festivals.

Pinkerton was instrumental in getting HB 472, the Brewpub Bill, passed this past legislative session, an initiative the GRA worked on and supported. It increases the amount of beer brewpubs can produce annually from 5,000 to 10,000 barrels and allows sales to distributors.


Federal Government Issues New I-9 Form

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the federal government issued a new I-9 form March 7 — and while the new form is available for immediate use, employers have a 60-day grace period to begin using it, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The new form, which verifies the identity and work eligibility of newly hired employees has been made clearer and more user-friendly and will be required for new hires starting May 8, 2013.

USCIS said it realizes employers will need extra time to update their business processes to accommodate the new form, particularly businesses that use electronic I-9 forms. As a result, certain older versions of the form can be used for the next 60 days, or through May 7, 2013.

 Employers do not need to complete a new I-9 for existing employees who already have an I-9 on file, unless their employment needs to be re-verified.

The new form includes a revised layout that expands the form to two pages from one, along with improved instructions. A downloadable form and more details are available on USCIS’s website. Employers also can call the agency at (800) 870-3676.

Employers must maintain I-9 forms for their employees as long as they work for the employer and for the required retention period after the end of employment. That period either is three years after the date of hire or one year after the date employment ended, whichever is later. Employers also must make their I-9 forms available for inspection by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, and the Labor Department.


I-9 Form

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

To download the I-9 form click the link below.



Atlanta Community Food Bank

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Founded in 1979, the Atlanta Community Food Bank currently distributes almost 2 million pounds of food and other donated grocery items each month to more than 800 nonprofit partner agencies in 38 counties in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Distributing these donations to low-income Georgians, our partner agencies provide dynamic links between the local community, the Food Bank and our supporters.

In addition to our core business of food distribution, the Food Bank has a number of projects that help build community including The Atlanta Prosperity Campaign, Atlanta’s Table, Community Gardens, Hunger 101, Hunger Walk/Run, Kids In Need, and the Product Rescue Center.


Restaurant Launch Guide: How You Make Your Dream a Reality

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

October 2008

by Margie Walker

There comes a point in your career when you face a crossroads: Do I continue down this path or do I risk everything and pursue my dream of owning my own place? Patrick McNamara of Noble Fare in Savannah came to that place in this career, and he decided to go for it. “My culinary clock was ticking,” McNamara explained. “I was 39, and they say if you haven’t done it by 40, you’re not going to. So I was feeling that it was now or never.” McNamara has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 14, starting out as a dishwasher. “All I ever wanted to be was a chef,” McNamara said. “I’d worked with many talented chefs in my career and I knew it was time for me to blend all the things I’d learned and do my own thing.” With the help of his wife, Jennifer, and his extended family, McNamara bought a building and set out to make his dream a reality.

As a chef or a general manager, you might harbor a similar dream of launching your own concept. Perhaps you have it all mentally sketched out, down to the color of the walls. Or maybe you just have a general idea of what you want. Either way, here are some steps you need to take to begin your entrepreneurial journey.


You will first need to secure an ally to help you understand and map out the contractual parts of your business. A good lawyer will help you with:

  • licensing
  • operating agreements
  • lease negotiations
  • business plan development

A commercial broker can help with:

  • site selection
  • lease negotiations

A bad lease agreement is the No. 1 mistake of new operators. You need to have a favorable lease so you can be successful for the next 30+ years. Scott Serpas, owner of Serpas True Food, suggests being very aggressive when negotiating a lease. “There is no real set lease contract. You have to push and prod and give a little when you negotiate your contract. Know what you need beforehand, especially around the cost of upfitting. Once you sign the lease, you no longer have any leverage and it’s on you.”

Next, you need to have your financing secure. Locate private investors or fi nd a banker that believes in you. Work with an accountant to develop the necessary documents and knowledge you will need going forward:

  • develop pro forma financial projections
  • secure financing
  • understand tax liabilities/opportunities

You have your business incorporated, your location selected and financing secure.

Next, you need two people to make your concept a reality. An architect and general contractor will:

  • design estimates to bring your conceptual ideas to paper, and
  • provide construction cost, scheduling and estimates of furniture and fixture cost.

Steve Minton recently opened JaMan Caribbean Café in Statesboro, GA. Minton advised that the most difficult part of the construction process is “delays caused by subcontractors. Every delay by subcontractors is money lost due to pushing back the opening timeline.” Minton opened one restaurant with a contractor that did all his own work and the job was completed in six weeks. The same restaurant in a different location with a contractor that relied heavily on subcontractors took six months.

Before you can start any work, insurance must be finalized. As stated previously, be sure you have an experienced insurance agent and adequate coverage. One well known Atlanta restaurant is in a protracted lawsuit that has cost them nearly $300,000 in legal fees. This could have been avoided if they had had a solid agent and proper coverage. You will need the following:

  • builders risk
  • general liability
  • workmen’s compensation
  • liquor liability
  • property and casualty
  • employment practices
  • health

The state of Georgia’s permit laws are challenging. An expeditor and/or lawyer can help you navigate the system.

  • Hire expeditors to navigate the licensing process.
  • Line up inspectors: fire, health, electrical, building and others.

Pulling the inspectors in early in the project and working closely with them will help your process go much smoother. Minton says that he “gets inspectors involved before any nail is pulled or struck.” By involving them all throughout the process, Minton saves time and money by avoiding  “tear-outs” and “re-do” requests.


Hopefully by now you are seeing some progress with your build-out. You now need to make decisions regarding:

  • kitchen equipment
  • furniture
  • fixtures
  • technology partners (phone, music, point of sale, credit card, website, etc.)
  • finalizing graphics for signage and logos
  • utility providers (water, gas, electric, waste removal, grease removal, etc.)
  • uniforms
  • determining outside vendors (food, alcohol, landscaping, valet parking, cleaning, linen rental, pest control, etc.)


To open smoothly, employees must be hired and trained. This is also a good time to solidify the menu and concept with the executive chef.

  • Hire employees.
  • Set training plans.
  • Refine concept/menu tastings.

Don’t overlook the importance of bringing in an expert to help you with the following:

  • marketing/promotions
  • public relations
  • advertising

Test, test and re-test everything. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve learned that operating a restaurant is all about multitasking. In any given day, you may be the plumber, bartender, human re sources, server and chief bottle washer. The good news is, with the proper systems in place you can realize your dream of having a successful, fun operation. The best thing about owning a restaurant is you are never bored. Every day is a new adventure! The Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) is a great place to net work for all the individuals listed above. Their mission is to provide operators with the right resources for success. In fact, there is a number of GRA partner members (food purveyors, utility providers, CPAs, lawyers, etc.) with significant restaurant experience that will be happy to help you in your journey.

For additional resources and a more detailed opening checklist, please consult â– 

Top Five Expensive Opening Mistakes

  1. Starting out under-capitalized. Have 18-24 months of working capital set aside.
  2. Not having enough experience in the type of restaurant you want to open. Have at least two years of similar operations experience. If you’re new to the restaurant industry, find a high-volume restaurant and wash dishes there for 30- 60 days. Being a restaurant owner isn’t always as glamorous as you might think.
  3. Not checking with county codes to see if your new kitchen design is in compliance, or assuming a building that was previously used as a restaurant is up to current code.
  4. Assuming that the equipment in a restaurant you are taking over will be sufficient for your new concept. After all, aren’t all fryers the same?
  5. Thinking that these mistakes are hypothetical!

 Top Four Success Tips

Success Tip #1 When working with architects, make sure you ask about their experience with restaurants. If they are inexperienced, supply them with a list of typical interior resources such as storage rooms, pantry and plans for running lines for drink stations. Serpas worked with an architect that did not have restaurant experience, but his contractor had many years of restaurant experience, so as a team, they made sure all the bases were covered.

Success Tip #2 Do a yearly review of all your fixed costs, such as insurance and utilities. For example, did you know that liability insurance premiums have recently decreased? Don’t assume that your providers will contact you with possible ways to decrease your bills. Minton found out that he could lower his general liability in urance by 30% just by closing at midnight instead of 1 a.m.

Success Tip #3 Make sure your location has safe, well-lit parking. All things being equal, people will go down the road rather than fight traffic getting in and out of your restaurant. McNamara said parking was a No. 1 priority when choosing his building. Parking is a premium in Savannah, so the fact that a new 600-car garage had just been built across from the building he was looking at made it his top choice

Success Tip #4 Did you know that you have to actually have your certificate of occupancy before the city of Atlanta will consider finalizing your liquor permit? Don’t be stuck unable to serve alcohol upon opening.

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