If you love food, you’ve probably had the dream about opening your own restaurant. You want to share your passion for good eats with the rest of your community, and you’ve got a good idea of what they might like. But opening your own chow-down joint isn’t always plain sailing. Just opening a run-of-the-mill burger shop could easily set you back $500,000. And a fine dining establishment can cost more than $1 million before your first guests sit down to eat.

So what are restaurateurs supposed to do about all this? Well, there is hope. Take Chris Dupont, for instance, a chef out of New Orleans, Louisiana. He started his own restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, for just $7,000 back in the 1990s. Before long it was a raging success. So how did he do it?

Diners Don’t Come For The Kitchen, They Come For The Food

One of Chris’s insights was to recognise that customers don’t turn up at your eating establishment to marvel at your $600,000 kitchen. They show up for the food, the atmosphere, and the music.

A practical way to save when starting a restaurant, therefore, is to avoid splashing out on overly expensive kitchen equipment. A good place to start is an independent high quality retailer (like Cooksmill) or check the local paper for people selling off second-hand items at discount prices. Also, look online for any deals on old equipment. Often you’ll find firesales by restaurants that have failed and want to sell off any remaining assets they can.

Negotiate The Lease

Next, start thinking about rent. When you start up a restaurant, you’ll quickly find out just how expensive it is to rent commercial premises. Negotiating down the price of a lease with the landlord can end up saving you thousands of dollars in the long run. Find out in advance of signing the deal whether the landlord is prepared to make compromises on the rental amount. Often you’ll find that they are, particularly if a unit has been empty for an extended period of time.

You can also check whether the landlord is willing to cover part of the costs of installing all the electrics, plumbing, and air conditioning. Landlords will often shoulder some of the costs if it increases their future rental income.

Don’t Get A Site Manager, Hire Your Own Building Team

It’s standard practice for restaurateurs to hire a contractor to manage the build-out of their restaurant. It means that you’re much less likely to run into problems part way through the build. But despite making life easy, it doesn’t come cheap.

You don’t have to go down this route, of course. Your other option is to hire all of the contractors that you need individually. (For example, plumbers, fitters, and electricians) Negotiate a price with each of them up front before any work gets underway. Once you’ve gotten a quote from everybody on the build then hire a manager to make sure that the project runs smoothly. By doing this, you avoid incurring extra managerial costs as well as making sure that the quotes from contractors are as low as possible.

Save Long Term Costs By Being Energy Efficient

You might not appreciate it right away, but thinking about the future in the early stages can save a bucket-load of cash further down the line. Instead of normal restaurant lights, choose LED lighting. Instead of leather seating, get faux-leather. Instead of marble flooring, get wood – you get the idea.

The bottom line? Building your dream restaurant requires both determination and guile. Always keep a keen eye out for any savings in the early months – you’ll need them.