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How to Open a Restaurant in Ohio

Dahlia snaiderman

Dahlia SnaidermanAuthor

Opening a restaurant is a major undertaking — there are literally dozens of steps to complete, and mountains of paperwork, and plenty of overlapping requirements.

Even experienced business owners can feel overwhelmed by the prospect of opening a restaurant. But for many, becoming a restaurant owner is a calling and a passion — so we’re ready to help you navigate it.

We put together a guide about what Ohio restaurant owners need to know before getting started — whether you’re opening a hand-pulled noodle shop in Columbus, an Italian sandwich food truck in Cleveland, or a high-end Guatemalan restaurant in Cincinnati.

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Opening a Restaurant Checklist

So many things go into opening a restaurant. Use this free PDF checklist to set your new restaurant up for success.

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How to start a restaurant in Ohio

1. Decide on a restaurant concept

You’ve been dreaming of this for years - now it’s time to narrow down your restaurant concept. 

  • What kind of restaurant will you open?

  • What kind of food do you want to serve? What cuisine?

  • What other restaurants are in the neighborhoods you’re considering? How will your business differentiate itself from the competition?

  • Will your restaurant be full-service, or a takeout counter with a few small tables?

  • What demographics will you aim to appeal to? Who’s your target market, and where are they located?

  • Will you stick to operating a small business, or are you dreaming big and aiming to start a chain?

  • How many staff members will you need to hire? What style of service will they offer — warm and friendly, or formal and serious?

  • What will the physical business look like?

For example, at Zina Greek Street Food in Cleveland, OH, owner Demetrios Atheneos is bringing authentic Greek flavors to a small, lean operation. “It's important for me to open a real Greek restaurant where you can get real great Greek flavors,” he shared.” And Zina is built to withstand today’s restaurant industry challenges and to meet the needs of today’s consumers. “Everything I’m doing now is fast-casual, counter service. I’m targeting take-out and third-party delivery.”

Outline your mission and values — and how they’ll impact your brand

While you’re figuring out the details of your business, consider the values you want to embody as a business and as a boss. Also consider the mission you’ll be rally your team around. This will help guide your business decisions as you hire staff and build your brand.

At the end of this brainstorming, you can start thinking about a business name and designing a logo. How will the aesthetic decisions you make reflect your food, your mission, and your values? Choose a color scheme for your restaurant, your menu, and your marketing content.

2. Create a restaurant business plan

A restaurant business plan is the key to securing funding (and a bank account) for your Ohio food business — and it also helps you stay on track throughout the complex restaurant opening process.

First, pick a type of business entity. Choose from one of five business structures common in the US: LLC (limited liability company), sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or C corporation. You can learn about the benefits and drawbacks of each in our guide on restaurant business entities.

You’ll also need to decide on a profit structure. Will you have one owner who takes home all the profit? Will you create a profit-share structure to provide bonuses to employees? Will you share a stake in the business with investors? Work with a lawyer and accountant to draw up all the necessary paperwork and contracts.

Now you’re ready to create your business plan. You can work off of a template including the following sections:

  • Executive summary, including your restaurant name

  • Company overview, including your business model

  • Industry analysis (target market, location analysis, competitive analysis)

  • Marketing plan

  • Business model and service model (Quick service restaurant? Food truck? Fine dining? Fast food? A sit-down dining room?)

  • Operations plan (staffing needs, customer service policies and procedures, payroll plan, which restaurant POS you’ll get, which vendors and providers you’ll use for produce and laundry and more, which types of business insurance you’ll get)

  • Financial analysis (investment plan, financial projections like break-even point, expected cash flow, expected costs)

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Restaurant Business Plan Template

No matter where you’re at in your restaurant ownership journey, a business plan will be your north star. Organize your vision and ensure that nothing is overlooked with this free template.

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3. Secure restaurant financing

Opening a restaurant in the US can cost $95,000 to $2 million and beyond. Unless you have a huge amount of money saved, you’ll probably need to pursue some external restaurant funding options, like SBA loans (from the US Small Business Administration), lines of credit, crowdfunding, personal loans, bank loans, or alternative loans.

Learn more about each of these options, including application info and time to access cash, in our guide to restaurant financing and loans.  

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Restaurant Opening Calculator

This calculator lays out some of the fundamental financial costs of opening a restaurant, so you can start planning and bring your dream restaurant to life.

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4. Choose an Ohio restaurant location (and start renovating)

Choosing a location is one of the most critical decisions you’ll make throughout this journey. Do some market research on the demographics of your potential neighborhood and learn about the competition nearby.

You can buy, lease, or build a new restaurant space — all these options have positives and negatives, and whichever one you choose will impact your opening process as well as your startup costs.

Here’s a few factors Ohio businesses should focus on when evaluating a restaurant location to decide if it's the right one:

  • Target market and ideal customer profile

  • Real estate market conditions

  • Community

  • Size of the site

  • Previous tenants

  • Zoning and previous type of usage of the space

  • Foot traffic or car traffic

5. Apply for Ohio restaurant licenses and permits

Follow the new business guide made by Ohio.gov and the Ohio Business Gateway guide to Ohio licenses and permits. They even have a guide to opening a restaurant business in Ohio.

Some of the steps you’ll need to take to open your Ohio restaurant can include:

  • Employer Identification Number (EIN), to register your business with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

  • Register your business with the Ohio Secretary of State (SOS), which can be done online or by phone. This will get you your Ohio business license.

  • Register with the Ohio Department of Taxation, which will allow you to pay state taxes. You can also sign up for the Ohio Small Business Tax Training Program.

  • Visit BWC.Ohio.gov to learn about Worker’s Compensation Insurance requirements.

  • Register for a Vendor’s License in order to charge sales tax. You can do so online or through your County Auditor.

  • Get a liquor license from the Ohio Department of Commerce: Liquor Control Division (DOLC)

  • There isn’t a state-wide requirement for all employees to have a food handlers card, but it is required for supervisors and managers to complete a “person in charge” certification, which is equivalent to a Level 1 food safety certification, and have one person on staff who has completed a food safety manager certification, which is equivalent to Level 2. These certifications show that they’ve learned the food handling protocols to follow in order to prevent foodborne illness — from refrigeration to cross-contamination.

  • Apply for a certificate of occupancy from the Ohio Department of Commerce, and undergo the necessary inspections to show your space is safe and ready to use.

  • Apply for a food service license (or retail food establishment license) from your local health department, and undergo necessary inspections.

6. Develop your menu and beverage program

After all that paperwork, it’s time to get creative again. Start planning your menu, narrowing it down to your best dishes and drinks. Once you bring on other leadership roles like a chef and a bar manager, workshop the menu and beverage program with them (and your kitchen and bar staff) once they’re hired and trained.

Make sure your menu is full of food and drinks that will make your business stand out among the crowded restaurant landscape — and that your menu items are strategically priced to bring in profit.

Learn more about menu design and menu engineering to make the most of your menu.

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Menu Engineering Course

Take this course to make the most of your menu. Learn about menu psychology and design, managing your menu online, and adapting your menu to increase sales.

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7. Hire and train restaurant staff

Your employees keep your restaurant running. From the FOH staff welcoming your guests and creating a warm environment, to the cooks making the food that excited customers enough to give your business a shot, to the support staff that keep everything running smoothly, there are dozens of restaurant positions you can hire for.

You can find new restaurant employees by asking around your network, using social media like Instagram and Facebook groups, seeking out new grads from culinary schools in your area, and posting on industry job boards.

But in order to attract and retain the best staff in your city, you need to make your restaurant a great place to work. To do so, provide good compensation and meaningful restaurant employee benefits, including health insurance.

Here are some resources from Toast to help you attract, hire, and retain restaurant employees:

To learn even more, go through our video course on hiring and retaining restaurant employees.

8. Invest in equipment and restaurant technology

As you approach opening day, look through your restaurant technology options. Figure out what combination of products and systems make sense to help you set your operation up for success from day one.

New restaurants should strongly consider investing in the following:

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Restaurant POS Comparison Tool

A free, customizable Restaurant POS Comparison Tool to research and compare point of sale systems in one Excel spreadsheet or editable PDF.

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9. Create a restaurant marketing plan

Ohio restaurants need to be proactive about marketing: just opening your doors won’t draw the necessary crowds in. Marketing channels like social media and email marketing can be extremely powerful, as consumers love to learn about the people behind restaurants and the behind-the-scenes process of opening your business. Plus, posting appealing photos of your food can be a major draw to new customers.

Learn more about building a restaurant marketing plan with our marketing plan template, our social media guide for restaurants, and our guide to restaurant email marketing.

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Guide to Restaurant Social Media Marketing

Learn how to optimize your social media presence to showcase your brand, tell your story, attract new customers, and engage with your audience.

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10. Host a soft opening and grand opening

Once you’ve got all the moving pieces in place, it’s time to do a dry run with a soft opening. Invite all your family and friends, and encourage staff to do the same. They’ll get to experience the first live run-through of service in your new restaurant, and provide helpful feedback about what could be improved before you open to the public. Then, you can start planning (and posting about) your grand opening. Share photos all over social media, send out flyers around your neighborhood, and ask your network to invite their friends to get as many people into the restaurant on the big day as possible.

You’re ready!

To keep track of everything you need to do within a year of opening, check out our time-bound restaurant opening checklist below.

icon RESOURCE

Opening a Restaurant Checklist

So many things go into opening a restaurant. Use this free PDF checklist to set your new restaurant up for success.

Toast

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.