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Archive for the ‘Restaurant Start-Up & Management’ Category

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.


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.


Industry Inspection Checklist for Website

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

How can I prepare my establishment for an inspection under the new 2007 Georgia Food Code?

Short answer-Eliminate Risk Factors
To do that check off all items in list below

  1. Do I have a person in charge with assigned duties (pg 28-29) that has obtained their CFSM (see the Accredited certification link on the website pg 29), to answer question posed by the EHS during the inspection if onsite and/or have a person in charge to conduct duties (page 31) while I am not onsite (PIC present pg 28), demonstrate knowledge (pg 26-28), answer your employee health questions- what is your employee health policy?(must be written or be able to list 5 symptoms and illnesses (pg 31-39), go over the inspection report if at all possible, have CFSM certificate posted (pg 30) or answer questions and not risk factors out of compliance top part of form. Do I have active managerial control when I am onsite and when I am not (pg 30-31) -inspections can be conducted whenever food is being prepped or served?
  2. Am I absolutely sure that no employees are working with prohibited symptoms (pg 31), with illnesses or exposed to illnesses that are listed in the code (pg 31-39)? Do they know what illnesses they have to report to me (pg 32)? Do I know what illnesses I have to report to the health authority (pg 33)? Do I know when they should be excluded or restricted (pg 33-35) in the food service establishment?
  3. Are my employees washing their hands? Have they been trained how to (pg 40), when to (pg 41), where to (pg 41, 108-110) and are they doing it? Are they touching ready to eat food with their bare hands or using tongs, deli paper, scoop, or gloves (pg 51). Do they know when to change their gloves and to wash hands before putting on new gloves (pg 55)? Do the employees maintain a high degree of personal cleanliness (pg 42-43)? Are clean sinks (pg 124) available for handwashing (pg 122)?
  4. Do my employees know either to not eat or drink in prep areas (pg 123) or the proper way to have a cup with lids and straw stored in prep area (pg 43) or to taste food, if needed (pg 51)?
  5. Do I know the required temperatures limits that have to met in the code and am I sure that during receiving (pg 47), cook (pg 60-62), hot hold & cold hold (pg 67), reheating for hot holding (pg 64), and cooling temperatures are in compliance for all potentially hazardous foods (pg 66). Have I passed that information along to those that need to know (pg 28)? If we use time instead of temperature, do we have a plan and have proper documentation (pg 69-70)?
  6. Are there any PHF’s that we cook to order or serve raw (pg 76)? Do I have a consumer advisory on each page of menu where these items are offered in capitol letters including disclosure/reminder-page or other approved notification (pg 76)?
  7. Do we prepare PHF and hold them for more than 24 hours (pg 67-68)? Or when commercially prepared PHFs (not on exclusion list-pg 68) are OPENED, do we have them date marked? Do I have a date marking system that is used consistently as described in the code (pg 67-69)?
  8. Are my food contact surfaces cleaned with an approved dishwashing system which requires surfaces to be washed-rinsed-sanitized with proper strength of chemical (test kit) or heat sanitization (thermometer)? Are they free of food particles and buildup and allowed to air dry (pg 94-102)-including food equipment such as can openers, slicers, etc. (pg 54)? Are dispensing utensils clean (pg 96) and stored properly when in use (pg 54-55)?
  9. Does the food received come from an approved source and in good condition (pg 44-51, 74-75)? If I serve shellfish, do I have the tags in order on file (pg 50-51)? If I serve raw or under cooked fish, do I have proof that parasites have been destroyed (pg 62-63)? Do I have all food protected from contamination (raw below cooked-washed above ready to eat) during receiving, storage and prep (pg 52-54, 57-60)? Do I have damaged food segregated for pickup or discarded (pg 52, 123)? Do I make sure that foods that have been contaminated or improperly held have been discarded (pg 56, 59, 76-77)? Do I store foods covered or sealed when not in use (pg 52), unless they are being cooled on top shelf (pg 66)?
  10. Do I use any food additives (food colorings, sulfiting agents-if so are they approved and used properly (pg 47, 53)?
  11. Do I have posted CFSM certificate (when required i.e. 90 days, 2 years or now to meet demonstration of knowledge without RF violations in lieu of answering ?s in code), choking poster , permit (pg 20), inspection report as required in code (main door, drive thru pg 144), handwashing signs in restrooms that employees use and at prep handwash sinks (pg 122), and consumer advisory if serving undercooked animal foods (and not on each page of menu where undercooked item is offered when there is no menu pg 76).
  12. Do I have a thermometer to probe the types of foods you cook, hold and serve? How do I calibrate it and how do I sanitize the probe? (pg 83)
  13. Do I use raw eggs in dressings without a consumer advisory when I could use pasteurized (pg 53)? If I serve unpasteurized juices, do they contain warning labels or prepared under an approved HACCP plan (pg 50)? If I serve a highly susceptible population for the most part, do I use pasteurized foods where required (juices, eggs pg 77-79)?
  14. Do I store my chemicals labeled and away form food (pg 126-130)? Are personal items, medicines, and pesticides stored away from food and cleaning supplies (pg129)?
  15. Do I have a variance (pg 70, 150) or HACCP plan (pg 24-25) where required (such as smoking or curing foods for preservation, acidifying foods or adding additives so they don’t have to be held under temperature control or putting foods in reduced oxygen packaging (pg 71-74)? If so, do I have these plans onsite, the equipment to monitor critical limits, and insure corrective action as required in the plan (pg 143)? Do I have the required records and am I verifying their accuracy?
  16. Do I understand the condition of my food service permit, my responsibility as the permit holder (pg 20) to compliance, and access for inspection? Do I report new menu items that require new equipment or additional food safety procedures must be reported to the health authority (pg 21)? Do I understand that I must cease operation if imminent health hazards exist in my establishment (pg 21)?

The Franchise Registry

Friday, January 25th, 2008

When evaluating a franchise opportunity, look for system eligibility with the FRANCHISE REGISTRY. If the franchise system is eligible for this program, you will receive expedited loan processing through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). If the system is not listed, you should immediately contact them and inquire as to their eligibility status with the SBA. If they are not listed on this website, you cannot receive expedited loan processing through the SBA. (Per SBA Procedural Notice dated September 15, 1998.)

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