Before anything else, ask yourself why you want to open a restaurant. Do you think it's cool to? Do you think restaurateurs make heaps of money? If you have answered yes to any one of these questions, it's time you talked to a few restaurant-owners to understand what it is to open and run a restaurant. It requires a great deal of passion and commitment. If you are indeed passionate about it, you may be on the right track. But what about commitment? But more on that later. First things first -- capital. You might have what it takes, but what if you're struggling with funds? Fortunately, that's not necessarily a deal-breaker. We've come across successful restaurants that started out small in every possible way, including budget.
We spoke to Parikshit (better known as Parry) from Charcoal, co-owned by Abhinav, Akhil and Jeevan in Hyderabad, who shares his story and gives insights on how he started — below a friend's house, which was an old barber shop — and where Charcoal still operates from after two summers.
Small and steady
If borrowing money from a bank or getting funded by investors scares you, there's a way out. Save up or "borrow from family and friends," as Parry puts it. If you're thinking of opening a restaurant for the glamour factor, you'll shut shop soon enough. Starting small gives you the advantage of making mistakes. It won't cost you as much as it would if it were a bigger set-up.
"We started in a 10 x 8 room below my friend's house. It was a small barber shop that we tore down to open Charcoal. Not having come from money, we had to trim our costs and overheads to make our dream work."
He believes it's important to have a vision. If you don't have a vision, you won't know where you want to go with the business. Even if the business is small, having a vision will help you get bigger and better.
If you have a cushion of money to fall back on, then you can open a restaurant tomorrow just because you want to. If you don't have that luxury, you must get your hands dirty. It won't be enough to just be the face of the business; you have to get down to its entrails. Starting small will give you ample opportunities to work with the chef, deal with suppliers and other nuances of the trade. If you don't know your own business, you can't expect to grow it. The key is to never stop learning. The more you learn, the better the understanding you have of it. And that will help you grow it. You may want to start small, but you might not want to stay that way.
"There's so much to learn and the devil is in the details. Now is when you can sit with the chef and watch him work, talk to all the suppliers and understand that side of the business. You can make mistakes and not have to pay heavily for them. Now is when you can learn from them."
Eye on the ball
Whatever you do, always have an eye on the ball. Restaurant operations are not a piece of cake. It's a full-time job that requires you to be a part of it every step of the way. When you're constantly learning and have timely goals set for yourself, you can't afford to lose focus. Your first year should be spent in getting your product spot on. Get your food to a place where people will commute from across town just for it. You can set up your restaurant as nicely as you can, but if the food you serve doesn't match up, the place is going to be empty soon enough.
"Forget about making money for a year. That's not why you're here. Money will come later if you focus on food and the business. Cut corners elsewhere but make sure you're serving the best food. That's the only reason why people will come to your restaurant, nothing else."
Parry has a final and crucial last word of advice: "Don't forget to have fun!"