On the Line / Operations / How to Start a Fast Food Restaurant

How to Start a Fast Food Restaurant

Opening a fast food restaurant takes a lot of money, time, and resources. Here is our guide on how to start, complete with a checklist to get you started today.

Opening a Restaurant Checklist
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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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DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

Want to open a fast food restaurant, but not sure where to start? 
While your goal might be fast service, it’s totally okay for your process to be slower. In fact, it’s important for you to take your time making sure you have everything you need to get your new business up and running. 

Consider this list your recipe for success, with all the necessary ingredients to best prepare for and launch your new endeavor. 


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1. Choose a Business Format

While most fast food restaurants tend to follow a similar format, with quick and easy counter service, you still have some room for creativity as you decide on what your businesses will look like.

Some questions to consider as you decide on the format of your fast food restaurant include: 

  • Will you focus on window or counter service? Both? 

  • Will you offer a drive-thru option?

  • Will there be a place for customers to sit and eat, or will your format encourage more of a grab-and-go system?

  • Will you go with a brick-and-mortar storefront, or take your restaurant on the road with a food truck?

Think about which format will best reach your target customers, where you want to reach them, and what funding and resources you have available to bring your vision to life. Whatever format you choose will help you navigate the rest of the steps on this list, so think carefully about what makes the most sense for you and your business.

2. Create Your Business Plan

Once you know what type of fast food restaurant you want to create, you’re ready to begin developing your business plan, which will guide you through the rest of the process. While specific details and information will change and evolve as your process unfolds, think of your business plan as your blueprint for success. Business plans will be different from restaurant to restaurant, but here are some components that every business plan should include: 

  • An executive summary and overview of what your business will look like

  • The people who make up your team

  • An industry analysis, including data on your target market, location, and competition

  • An outline of your marketing strategy

  • Operations details, including company policies, systems, suppliers, and what jobs to hire for

  • Financial analysis, including key costs and first-year projections

3. Pick Your Location

You know you want to serve hungry customers looking for a quick and delicious bite – but how do you know where you’ll find them? 

Maybe you want to attract travelers looking to pick up a speedy dinner en route to their destination. If you set up shop off a highway exit, how far out of their way will customers have to go to get to you? Is it a distance most customers will be willing to travel? Or, maybe you prefer an airport setting, bringing in jetsetters on their way to their next adventure, or business professionals traveling for work and in search of an easy meal before a flight.

Mall food courts see a wide range of customers looking for a quick bite between shopping sprees, from kids and families, to college students and older couples. And a classic brick-and-mortar storefront on a busy street, close to working professionals, college students, and other city dwellers, is often an option full of potential.

Wherever you decide to set up shop, your location will play a major role in determining how well you’re able to bring in customers (and how much revenue you’re able to make). Here are some components to keep in mind as you select your spot: 

  • Accessibility: How easy is it for customers to get to your fast food restaurant? Is it walkable, or accessible by bike, car, or public transit? Do you offer parking?

  • Permits and zoning requirements: What paperwork do you have to complete and what restrictions do you need to be aware of in order to operate your business at this location? 

  • Rent and utilities: Are you accounting for all operating costs in your budget, and is it sustainable (including rent, utilities, and other charges)?

  • Sustainability: How much is your restaurant able to account for its carbon footprint? Does this matter to you or your customers?

  • Aesthetic: What is the vibe of the general location? Is it appealing? Will your customers feel comfortable not only in your shop, but in the general vicinity? 

4. Apply for Licenses and Permits

Now that you know where your fast food restaurant will be, it’s time to get the licenses and permits you’ll need to operate your business.

Everything from your sign to the music played in your restaurant, to the health of your building and your employees, to your pool table, and even where you place your dumpsters, may require a license or permit – so obtaining the necessary paperwork is an integral step as you set up your restaurant. Make sure you leave plenty of time to plan accordingly!

Restaurant Opening Calculator
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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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5. Taxes, DBA, and EIN

While we’re on the topic of paperwork, it’s also a good idea to make your tax-related requirements a priority, including:

Having this information ready to go will help you be in the best possible shape to hit the ground running when it’s time to open the doors of your fast food restaurant!

6. Create a Marketing Plan

In order to engage and excite your specific target audience, your marketing plan should be unique to your restaurant, your services, and your customers. As you develop your brand and your voice, you’ll have a better sense of exactly what that will look like, but no matter how you shape your plan, here are some components that might be helpful to consider: 

  • Branding – including name, logo, colors, fonts, and anything else in your brand kit

  • Social media presence – including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, and more

  • Production – building visual (photo and video) and written content to engage customers via social media, email lists, or other marketing channels

  • Advertising – in addition to social media, advertising includes radio, print advertising, digital advertising, email marketing, and other relevant campaigns

  • Search engine optimization – strategic accessibility of your website on relevant search engines

7. Understand Your Finances and Operating Expenses

You may have already started to think about costs in terms of your location, licenses, and permits, but now it’s time for a deeper dive into all of your finances and operating expenses to make sure you’re able to get your fast food restaurant off the ground – and keep it going.

Start by calculating how much it will cost you to open up your fast food restaurant and exploring how to finance your endeavor. Some entrepreneurs prefer more institutional financing options, like loans, cash advances, and lines of credit, while others start with crowdfunding, friends and family fundraising. Take your time figuring out what works best for your and your business needs. 

In addition to opening expenses, it’ll be important to account for operating expenses. Understanding projected costs, revenue, profitability, and your business trajectory is essential to ensuring your business will be financially sustainable in the long run. Tracking performance metrics like your break-even point, cost of goods sold (COGS), overhead rate, prime cost, food cost percentage, gross profit, and employee turnover rate will help you get a good grasp of this data.

8. Design Your Menu

Congrats, you made it through the paperwork! Now, it’s time for the fun part – designing your fast food restaurant menu.

From burgers to sandwiches, to tacos, salads, and burritos, to milkshakes and ice cream, the options for a fast food menu are nearly unlimited. Start by choosing which type of cuisine you want to serve and build your menu out from there. Think about how you can leverage taste, quality, and speed, as well as how you’ll sell your food – will you offer combos and specials? Include drinks, snacks, and desserts? How will you measure what menu items attract the most business or are most popular, and adjust your service accordingly to meet customer needs and maximize revenue? Will you collect and incorporate customer feedback? What will set your menu apart from other fast food restaurants? 

As your business and business plan develop further, answers to these questions will become more clear. Keep an open mind and have fun channeling your inner creativity as you craft the perfect menu for your restaurant.

9. Establish Key Operating Infrastructure

Now, it’s time to figure out where the food for your menu is coming from. That means choosing a supplier.

Your food is your business, so making sure you’re sourcing ingredients from high-quality, trustworthy, and reliable suppliers will be integral to the success of your restaurant. Here are some tips as you explore your options:

  • Think about what size supplier you might want to work with – do you prefer smaller and more local or bigger and more established?

  • Notice how comfortable you feel communicating with them and how easy it is to build trust – are they consistent, reliable, and responsive?

  • Consider the quality – how fresh is their food, and are their prices fair for the products they offer?

  • Take into account how their values align with yours and your business – for example, do they use sustainable and ethical sourcing practices?

Once your food supply gets to your restaurant, it’ll be important to have systems in place to help you manage your inventory, prevent food waste, and establish the most economical approaches to your food and business costs.

10. Select Your Equipment and Point of Sale (POS) System 

After sorting out your food supplier and inventory tracking systems, the next step is choosing the right equipment to turn your ingredients into quick and easy, best-selling meals. 

From ovens to food processors, to mixers and slicers, to refrigerators and freezers, to storage systems, sinks, ice makers, safety equipment, and so much more – your fast food restaurant will require a wide range of tools and appliances to deliver for your customers and bring your restaurant vision to life. Take your time figuring out what equipment will work best for your cuisine, customer, and service needs.

And don’t forget – your restaurant isn’t limited to your kitchen. Restaurant technology is another key piece of equipment, and will be instrumental in keeping track of customer orders, sales, payments, and other data. Consider your point of sale (POS) system options and choose one that best meets your specific restaurant needs.

11. Map Out Your Floor Plan 

Is the layout of your fast food restaurant welcoming and easy to navigate? Will customers know where to order, where to sit, where to enter the drive thru, where to pick up their food? 

What about the exterior of your shop? Is it inviting and attractive? What does your sign look like? How will you grab the attention of your customers? Will you have lights or other appealing decorations?

The way your business is designed is the way your customers will experience it – customer experience will determine, in large part, revenue, profitability, and the longevity of your restaurant. The answers to these questions – as well as others you uncover along the way – will help to inform your design process, so take your time thinking through what will need to go into the layout and aesthetic of your shop in order to keep your customers coming back for more! 

12. Build Your Team

There’s no “I” in “fast food.” 

Even the most brilliant entrepreneur can’t open a new fast food restaurant alone – which brings us to our last (but definitely not least) step: building your team.

Developing a plan for finding, hiring, training, supporting, and retaining your restaurant staff isn’t easy but the people you bring on will be the key to bringing your vision to life. Take your time identifying the best possible team to help set your fast food restaurant up to be a lasting success. 

Restaurant Floor Plan Templates
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Restaurant Floor Plan Templates

Use these restaurant floor plan templates to get inspired as you map, or reimagine, the layout and space setup for your restaurant.

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You must have Javascript enabled in order to submit forms on our website. If you'd like to contact Toast please call us at:

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The most delicious fast food service often comes from a slow-cooked business plan.

Congrats, you’re ready to go! As always, feel free to refer back to this list if you need a little guidance at any point in your process. And remember – just because the food is fast, your process can still be slow. Take your time setting yourself up for success, have fun, and good luck! 

Restaurant Business Plan Template
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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.

Download
You must have Javascript enabled in order to submit forms on our website. If you'd like to contact Toast please call us at:

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