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How to Open a Restaurant in Washington

Dahlia snaiderman

Dahlia SnaidermanAuthor

Thinking about opening a restaurant in Washington state? It’s a long process, and it’s expensive — but we’re here to walk you through it so you can make it to the grand opening and reap the rewards of a successful new restaurant.

In this article, we’ll cover what aspiring restaurant owners need to know about opening a restaurant in Washington. Whether you’re opening an upscale Peruvian restaurant in Seattle, a wine bar with tapas in Spokane, or a family-friendly burger joint in Leavenworth, guide will walk you through the main steps of the process.

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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 Washington

1. Decide on a restaurant concept

Pick what type of restaurant you want to open by answering the following questions. They’ll help you nail down a viable business idea that you’re ready to invest in.

  • What kind of food will you serve? What kind of cuisine will you specialize in? Are you an expert in this cuisine, or will you hire one?

  • How will you differentiate your restaurant from the competition nearby?

  • Will you offer a full-service experience or open a takeout counter with a few tables?

  • What demographics do you want to appeal to? Who’s your target market?

  • Will you open a small business, or will you eventually expand and franchise?

  • How many staff members will you hire? What style of service will the restaurant offer? What skills do your new staff need?

  • What will the physical business look like, from BOH layout to signage?

  • How many business owners will be involved in the restaurant?

  • Will you serve alcoholic beverages or be a dry establishment?

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

Consider the values you want to embody as a business, and the mission that you and your team will work to achieve every day. This big-picture thinking will help guide major business decisions, like who you hire and what kind of environment you’ll cultivate for both employees and customers.

In Seattle, Chef Melissa Miranda just opened Kilig, her second restaurant, with the mission to spotlight a greater variety of Filipino dishes — and to do so with style and a strong focus on community, she told SeattleMet.

Next you’ll need to decide on your business name and create a visual brand to match, including your logo, color scheme, and the fonts you’ll use on social media, on your menu, and throughout your restaurant space. Check out Kilig’s Instagram page for an example of exceptional branding in action.

2. Create a restaurant business plan

A restaurant business plan helps your new food establishment secure funding by presenting a feasible, viable path to profitability. It also helps you open a business bank account, and it provides a roadmap to follow throughout the opening process.

Before you start writing your business plan, choose your preferred type of business entity. Choose from one of five business structures common in the US: Limited liability company (LLC), sole proprietorship, general partnership, S corporation, or C corporation. You can learn about the benefits and drawbacks of each in our guide on restaurant business entities.

Then, pick your profit distribution structure. Will you, the restaurateur and business owner, take home all the profit? Will you have investors who get a stake in the business? Will you profit-share with your employees? Work with a lawyer and accountant to draw up all the necessary paperwork and contracts.

Now you’re ready to create your business plan. Include detailed information in each of the following sections:

  • Executive summary, including your restaurant name, concept, and type of food

  • 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)

  • Your history and qualifications as an entrepreneur

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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

Washington food businesses will need a lot of startup capital before they can move through the opening process, because opening a restaurant in the US costs from $95,000 to $2 million and beyond. Most restaurant owners opt to pursue external funding options, like Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, lines of credit, business loans, 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 a Washington restaurant location (and start renovations)

Buying, leasing, or building restaurant space are all great options, each with upsides and downsides, with varying impacts on your opening process as well as your startup costs.

Do some market research on the demographics of your potential neighborhood and the restaurant competition nearby — picking the right location is critical to the success of your restaurant.

Here’s a few factors Washington businesses should consider when evaluating a restaurant location:

  • 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

  • How it suits your concept - is it big enough for onsite dining, if you plan to offer it?

5. Apply for Washington restaurant licenses and permits

Restaurant businesses in Washington will need to apply for licenses and permits before getting started. Some licenses are administered federally or by the state of Washington, while others are local. Application fees vary widely for different types of businesses in different counties, so consult your local government business center to ensure you’re doing it all correctly.

Follow this excellent guide for new restaurants in Washington from the Washington Department of Health, and this roadmap for all new businesses from the Washington Secretary of State.

Here’s an outline of some of the license applications and permits you’ll need to open in Washington:

  1. Get a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN, also referred to as an EIN), which connects your business to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and registers you to pay federal taxes.

  2. Register your new restaurant with the Washington Secretary of State.

  3. Apply for a state business license through the Washington State Department of Revenue — you’ll then receive info about taxes from the Department of Revenue, your UBI (Universal Business Identifier), and your business license.

  4. Attend a Business Tax Basics workshop to learn about business tax, income tax, and sales tax requirements.

  5. Register your food establishment with your local health department to get a food establishment permit and/or food service license — for example, here’s info about getting a food establishment permit in Spokane County. You’ll need to submit plans for review and undergo health permit inspections.

  6. Contact your county or city government to learn how to apply for building permits and/or a certificate of occupancy, including plan reviews for new constructions or renovations, and inspections that ensure you’re complying with local ordinances.

  7. Apply for a liquor license through the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

  8. The Washington Department of Public Health says all employees need to have a food handlers card, and every business must have at least one Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM). These food safety licenses show that either a manager or each staff member has been trained in the proper food preparation protocols that prevent foodborne illness. Consult with your county health department to learn if food service establishments in your county need to fulfill any other requirements.

  9. Learn about insurance requirements, including unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation.

6. Develop your menu and beverage program

Start dreaming up your food and drinks menu. Start big, with lots of ideas, and narrow it down to a cohesive and profitable menu that’s manageable in terms of inventory and prep tasks. Run your drafts by your chef and bar manager once they’re on board — they can help you refine it.

Learn more about menu pricing, menu design and menu engineering to make the most of your menu — and start thinking about how you’ll manage inventory of both food products and beverage components.
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Restaurant Menu Templates

Use these menu templates as a starting point for your menu design or to give your menus a refresh.

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7. Hire and train restaurant staff

There’s dozens of restaurant positions to hire, so it’s worth it to put the work in up front to find (and retain) the best staff in your city or county. When searching for new employees, put calls out to your network and community from previous restaurant jobs, post on social media like Instagram and in industry Facebook groups, seek out new grads from culinary schools in your area, and post on industry job boards.

Then, get ahead of any staffing problems by making your business an outstanding place to work — by providing good compensation and meaningful restaurant employee benefits, including health insurance. Building staff support into your budget from the beginning means you’ll face less turnover and fewer hiring challenges.

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

Go through our list of essential restaurant equipment and start shopping: get everything from cambros to knives to dishwasher machines and restroom supplies. Then, start thinking about restaurant tech.

Restaurant technology helps your restaurant run smoothly while helping you track the performance of your business. Peruse your restaurant tech options and choose the combination of products and systems that make sense to help you set your operation up for success. 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

Two of the most effective marketing channels for restaurants are social media and email marketing.

Posting on social helps share what your restaurant is about, from the food to the staff to the space, and once you get those guests in the door, share promos and offers with them through email marketing — and they’ll make their way back for another meal.

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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Restaurant Marketing Plan

Create a marketing plan that'll drive repeat business with this customizable marketing playbook template and interactive calendar.

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10. Host a soft opening and grand opening

Host a soft opening: invite family and friends, plus the family and friends of your whole staff, and run through service for the first time to work through any snags you hit — and then update your business’s processes so the real grand opening goes smoothly.

Afterwards, start planning (and advertising!) your grand opening — post all over social media, reach out to local media, post flyers, and do whatever else you can think of to get the word out. Fill the restaurants and run through service for real.

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.

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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.

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.