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How to Start a Bistro

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Opening a successful bistro requires creating a business plan that includes the basic research and planning associated with any business launch married with your unique concept for your eatery. Using free business plan templates available from credible organizations, you can determine how to introduce your idea to your local market in the most profitable way possible.

Write the concept for your bistro, which will explain your unique selling differential, value proposition, brand and image in the marketplace. Include your menu, interior design, entertainment and any other aspects of your concept. Ask yourself how people would describe your bistro in one sentence or phrase.

Evaluate your idea based on the competition in your marketplace. Determine if you offer something unique, which might be an advantage or disadvantage. If you have a unique idea, ask yourself why no one else has considered your concept if it’s such a surefire winner. Consider imitating successful restaurant concepts in your marketplace, which might include price points, target customers or location.

Determine your target customer by age, sex, income level, geographic residence and other objective criteria to determine if you have enough potential customers to support your bistro or if you’ll have to modify your concept to suit the existing customer base your area offers. A bistro usually refers to a smaller eating establishment, which means you’ll need to make your profits with smaller menus and higher margins because of lower sales volumes. Test your concept using tasting parties to get feedback on your dishes and prices from your target customers.

Create a business plan that includes the following sections: bistro concept, competition analysis, start-up capital needed, operating budget once you open, marketing and profit projections. Visit the website of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which offers step-by-step help for writing business plans and launching and operating small businesses. Provide a detailed budget that includes your food costs and overhead expenses. Overhead includes nonfood costs such as rent, marketing, phones, insurance and labor that you’ll add to the cost of food per dish you serve.

Calculate your food cost as a percentage of your final ticket to guide you in planning your menu. For example, you might determine that to pay your overhead and make a profit, your food costs should be no more than 25 percent of each ticket. A $15 meal, therefore, would include only $3.75 worth of food. This will require you to research the cost of the foods you need to buy for each menu item, requiring you to contact and compare different food suppliers.

Meet with business professionals who can help you evaluate your business plan. Set up meetings with your banker, friends who have small business experience and organizations such as SCORE, which has local chapters offering the expertise of retired business executives who counsel new entrepreneurs. Take your final business plan to potential investors, partners and lenders to raise the capital you'll need to launch.

Contact an attorney with small-business expertise to ensure you meet your legal obligations, such as getting a business license, meeting your state obligations for running a food service establishment, working with your health department to verify you're compliant, purchasing the proper liability insurance and handling your payroll, sales and income taxes properly.

Fine-tune your marketing plan once you know your location, exact menu, target customer and launch date. Create a marketing plan that includes paid advertising, local promotions, public relations and a social media campaign. Create a website, Facebook business page, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and a YouTube account to maximize your exposure at the most affordable cost and to get customers and potential customers spreading the word. Invite the media to a prelaunch tasting party. Emphasize not only your food but your role in your area’s business community and contribution to the local economy to maximize your press coverage.


Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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