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The first few months of operations are the most critical for the restaurant startup. With competition fierce — you likely have a handful if not dozens of restaurants located within a few blocks of yours — every decision is important.

Here, we share a few lessons to help you establish a firm foothold in your local market in 2019.

1. Run as Lean as Possible…Without Sacrificing Quality

With food cost making up a large portion of your overall expenses, it can be challenging to increase your profit margins. You may be tempted to buy lower-quality supplies and ingredients to save a little money, but realize the bigger effect such a move could have. Your profit margins might be greater per dish, but if people soon stop ordering a dish because it doesn’t taste good, you’ve lost out.

Work to find the best price for high-quality ingredients so that you never compromise your restaurant’s reputation in an effort to save a little money.

2. Keep Meticulous Accounting Records

Sure, accounting might be your least-favorite task, but it’s still one of the most important things you need to handle. Categorize each expense appropriately so that filing your restaurant startup’s taxes is easier in the spring. And if you’re not up for the task of managing your accounts, hire an accountant to help.

3. Be Smart with Your Budget

While you don’t want to add unnecessary expenses to your restaurant startup costs, you do want to allocate enough for everything, including your salary and marketing (these are often set aside initially, with the plan to add them in later, but they should be included in your budget from Day 1).

Make sure all your expenses fall into the budget. If they don’t, ask yourself whether they’re really necessary right now.

4. Invest in Training Your Staff

Sure, you can hire any 16-year-old off of the street, but is that in your restaurant’s best interest? If you run a high-end seafood restaurant, you want seasoned wait staff that knows how to treat customers who spend up to $500 a table.

Once you’ve vetted the best candidates for your staff roles and hired new employees, empower them to do their jobs well by offering comprehensive training. It may take several weeks for them to fully get into the swing of things, so be patient and offer your support.

5. Don’t Be Married to Your Menu

Your chef may have learned how to make his Pasta Primavera dish in the foothills of Tuscany, but if it ain’t selling, it shouldn’t stay on your menu. Using your restaurant management software, you need to constantly monitor which dishes are doing well and which aren’t. Don’t be afraid to take items that aren’t popular off of your menu or test out something new.

6. Host Special Events to Boost Business

Pinpoint the days of the week when business is slow in your restaurant and plan events to draw a crowd. An Italian restaurant could offer pasta-making classes, or you could rent out the back room for banquets and parties.

7. Teach Your Staff to Treat Regulars Like Family

Patrons who frequent your restaurant are gold; not only do they spend more than others at your restaurant, but they likely bring friends or tell others about you. Treat these customers with the utmost courtesy and respect. Encourage your host staff to memorize familiar faces and greet them by name when they arrive.

Your restaurant startup may struggle at first as you learn what works and what doesn’t for your business, but after a few months, you should find your stride.