All new restaurants must pass a series of inspections before they can open their doors for the first time. With each inspection, the inspector issues a certificate of validation, which needs to be displayed so customers and officials know you are operating legally.
Restaurants usually undergo unannounced health inspections twice a year. Inspectors like to catch you by surprise in order to gain an accurate sampling of your daily operations. However, if you are opening a new restaurant, you will be inspected before your first customer comes through the door, so you can consider this one a freebie. During this inspection, the health inspector will most likely focus on your equipment and food storage. For example, he or she may check to make sure your walk-in cooler is reading the correct temperature and make sure your establishment has enough hand sinks and located in the correct places. The health inspector will also check to make sure you have your food service operator’s license and any other documentation the health code requires.
- High failure rate for startups. Independent restaurants that are just starting out have a higher failure rate than franchises. This is because their brand may be new and unfamiliar to the public, so they have to work hard to win them over.
- Trial and error marketing. New restaurants that are not a part of a chain do not have a proven marketing strategy. Though you can try and copy from the franchises, many of your marketing initiatives will fail, because you have to learn what works for your specific concept and target market.
- Funding difficulty. Most banks will consider a new independent restaurant a risky venture, because the failure rate for independents is higher than chain stores. However, an excellent credit rating and personal assets will help secure any loans you need to take out. » More on Funding Your New Restaurant
Independent restaurant owners can open more than one location, and it is a great way to earn more profit and spread your successful concept to new areas. However, you will want to make sure your first location is able to run on its own, because you will be spending most of your time getting the new store locations up and running. If you have to micromanage multiple locations, you will burn yourself out, and both stores will suffer.
Your local fire marshal will perform a walk-through of your new restaurant to make sure it complies with local fire codes. The fire marshal will check to see that you have an appropriate number of fire extinguishers in various areas of your restaurant. He or she will also check the specifications on your sprinkler systems, in both the front of house, back of house and the fire suppression system over your cooking equipment. Your storage areas will also be checked to assure no exits are blocked and supplies are not stacked in a manner that can pose a fire hazard. You will also need to have maps of escape routes in both the dining room and kitchen areas, with exits clearly marked
Though you will see the building inspector at various times throughout the entire construction process, before you open, he or she will perform one final walk-through of your new restaurant and double check everything, from the cooking equipment to the width of your walkways. Once the inspector is satisfied that your restaurant matches the blueprints and complies with local building codes, he or she will issue a certificate of occupancy. This document means that you are legally able to occupy the facility. Depending on your city, you may have to display the certificate for all visitors to see.
Your city’s sanitation department will want to inspect your restaurant as well. This inspector will pay particular attention to your grease interceptor. He or she wants to be sure your interceptor has adequate size and capability to separate grease from your wastewater, so it does not cause expensive blockages. The sanitation inspector may also check the temperature of your dishwasher’s outgoing water. Some cities only allow water below a certain temperature to enter the sewer system.
Depending on your location, you may also receive an environmental assessment. This inspection determines the environmental impact of your restaurant and is conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA inspector will check your drainage system to assure no harmful chemicals will enter nearby rivers, lakes and streams. He or she may also perform an air quality check to determine the amount of pollution your cooking tasks will add to the atmosphere.
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