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How to Open a Diner With No Money (2024 Guide)

Nick PerryAuthor

How much money do you need to open a diner?

How to Open a Diner With No Money

Many people have what they believe is a big-time food establishment idea. If you love food, you’ve probably thought about opening a restaurant at some point.

You might have a great idea, but an idea alone isn’t enough to become successful in the restaurant industry. Restaurants are difficult and expensive to open, and about 30% fail within the first year.

Sometimes, it’s easier to start small. But even opening a small restaurant like a diner costs a pretty penny. The average startup costs for a small restaurant are $375,500 and can be higher or lower depending on where you’re opening. If you don’t have much money to work with, you can still open a diner with no money.

In this article, you will learn what you can do to open a diner with no money. It starts with guts, vision, and a lot of determination.

What do you need to open a diner with no money?

When you don’t have money to open your diner, you need a lot of work ethic, passion, and commitment to seeing your vision through. These are the steps to take:

  • A diner concept: This is the easy part! You must have an idea of your concept if you’re even reading this article.

  • A diner business plan: Your business plan is absolutely crucial. This shows that you’ve clearly thought through your idea and you understand both the day-to-day operations and long-term financial planning you’ll need to do to make a profit. From drawing in customers to maintaining a sustainable profit margin, your business plan communicates to potential investors that you know what you’re doing.

  • Diner capital: We’ll get into this later, but you need to find money somewhere.

  • Licenses and permits: Licensing and permit rules vary from state to state. You’ll need to explore what’s needed in your location and the feasibility of getting everything done on a certain timeline, especially if you plan on serving alcohol.

  • Menu: Another fun part, you’ve probably already thought about some menu ideas. After coming up with the ideas, though, you need to think about menu costing to understand how much you’ll need to sell and at what price to turn a profit.

  • Diner staff including FOH, BOH, and managers: You don’t need to start hiring immediately, but you should understand from early stages what kind of staff your diner will need and what staffing will cost.

  • Diner technology: We’re living in a tech age and restaurant technology is no different. There are more solutions out there than ever, and it can be overwhelming for small restaurant owners. If you’re looking for more information, check out our rundown of the 9 most important types of restaurant technology you need to run your business more efficiently.

  • A marketing or promotional plan: The diner space is competitive! Your diner marketing plan should tie in with your overall business plan and communicate to stakeholders how you plan to attract customers and turn them into lifelong regulars.

  • An opening date/launch plan: As an addendum to your marketing plan, your launch plan will lay out the plan from pre-opening to opening day. Whether you have a series of special test openings or just one big launch day promotion, you should document your complete opening and launch plan.

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How much does it cost to open a diner?

Diners are generally less expensive to open than full-scale restaurants, but it all depends on the space. Opening a restaurant can cost anywhere from $95,000 to more than $2 million. But as diners tend to be on the smaller size and offer less complex menus, the average cost is more in the range of $375,000. (It’s certainly more affordable to buy an existing diner than start a new one from scratch.)

How to open a diner with no money?

Don’t have $300,000 lying around? Us neither! Okay, so let’s discuss how to open a diner with no money.

Use a restaurant incubator

Restaurant incubators allow you to dip your toes into your restaurant idea before going to the public. These shared spaces offer kitchen facilities to practice your concept and give you access to mentorship and coaching.

The benefits of an incubator may include:

  • Equity-free capital

  • Business development training

  • Mentorship programs and workshops

  • A community of supportive culinary professionals

There are incubators all over the country, from giants like yogurt company Chobani Incubator to more local program like Boston, MA’s CommonWealth Kitchen.

Apply for restaurant loans or explore capital opportunities

Like any business, diners have loads of restaurant financing options available. They’re all different, though, and may have very specific terms, so it’s important to go through any financing option with a financial advisor.

Generally speaking, aspiring diner operators have access to business loans, community development loans, micro-lending programs like the SBA loan program, and some alternative lending programs. Check out your local restaurant association or Rotary Club to learn about more potential local financing options.

Peer-to-peer lending services may also be available to help, but these services typically include a long review process that some restaurant owners don’t have the patience for.

Finally, alternative lending programs have become popular in the restaurant industry. Restaurant-specific lenders understand the nuances and challenges of the restaurant industry and function almost like investors to give you guidance and repayment terms that make sense for your diner.

Find an investor

Investors are famously restaurant-adverse, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. There are ways to find a restaurant investor, but expect it to take some time and a lot of honing of your pitch to get it absolutely perfect. (Which isn’t a bad thing!)

Better yet, you could try to find an angel investor. These deep-pocketed investors get behind an idea more for the people involved than the potential for a massive financial windfall. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or someone in your community, you never know where you might find someone who believes in you and your idea. Lean on your network to discover opportunities and learn of people who may be willing to invest in local talent or businesses.

Get creative with crowdfunding

Believe it or not, crowdfunding can work for diners. Sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and Wellfound can be good resources to fund your diner, or at the very least get you some startup capital.

Crowdfunding is challenging, however, and you’ll need to have a truly awesome pitch to get people excited enough to donate to a local diner. That means tapping into the local community and building enthusiasm for a diner that will make a demonstrably positive impact. Grassroots campaigns are the name of the game when you’re trying to crowdfund a diner. Make sure to offer awesome incentives for backers and be ready to market the heck out of your diner.

Start small

Pop-ups, food trucks, test kitchens — there are many ways to give your diner a proof of concept before leasing out a space. Just ask the many pop-up restaurants that have started a new trend around the US.

Yes, diners depend a fair amount on ambiance and a pop-up might not capture the concept you’re going for, but it is a good opportunity to at least test your menu. How many breakfast food trucks have you seen? That alone might give you some insight into what the local community is craving.

A short-term rental or starting as a food truck are great ways to find a proof of concept, test menu items, and understand your potential customers without a major upfront investment.

Reach out to your local restaurant association

Last but certainly not least, local and national organizations are amazing resources for anyone who wants to open a diner with no money. These organizations could help you find leads on restaurant space, potential investors, or just serve as mentors as you develop your business plan.

Some worthwhile resources to check out are:

The National Restaurant Association, where you can find events and webinars about restaurant growth and advice for small businesses.

Your state restaurant association, which may have specific programs or perks to help new restaurant owners.

  • Local groups like rotary, which encourage dialogue and idea exchanges about businesses from all over the world.

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It’s not cheap to open a diner. But if you want to open a diner with no money, you can do it; you just need to have a great vision, enormous passion, and a willingness to take on some debt. Take some time to hone your concept, make sure you can articulate it well, and get down to brass tacks to fully understand the financials and operations of your business. Then get out there and get people as excited about your diner as you are!

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