How To Open a Restaurant in Vancouver

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Allie Van DuyneAuthor

Thinking about opening a restaurant in Vancouver?

Vancouver is a city in Canada that’s known for its natural beauty. With scenic mountains and clear, sparkling water, it’s no wonder that so many people visit and call the city home. Aesthetics aside, another major drawcard for the city is its food culture. 

Vancouver is home to Japadog, the B.C. Roll and London Fog. And for those looking to add their concoctions to the mix, we have good news. The market size of the restaurant industry in British Columbia is $86.9 million, making Vancouver a great location to start your restauranteur dreams. 

We put together a comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you get started with your own restaurant in Vancouver. Let's get into it: Here's how to open your Vancouver restaurant.

1. Decide on a Restaurant Idea

There are a lot of establishments that call Vancouver home, so diners have tonnes of choices when deciding where to eat. Out of the hundreds of options available, Vancouver boasts eight hatted restaurants, so standing out from the competition should be at the top of your list. Choosing a concept unique to Vancouver and intrigues locals and tourists alike is imperative for getting coveted bums in your seats. 

First, you should decide what type of food you’ll serve. Think about the ingredients you’ll showcase, the specials you want to be known for, and the drinks accompanying them. Whatever your ambitions are, put pen to paper and jot down your dream offering. 

As you narrow your vision, you might start to imagine the brand behind the dishes. Something that you can see soaring to the top of Vancouver’s food scene. Write down the mission and core values summarising your future restaurant and what you stand for as a brand. 

Is there a logo that you can picture on your dream shopfront in Granville or Robson Street? How about the aesthetic? Start fleshing out the look and feel of your brand. Your thinking here will lay down essential groundwork for making your restaurant a reality. 

Conducting a trial run is an excellent way to test whether your restaurant dream will fly. Try running a pop-up or food truck to validate your concept, build a rapport with foodies in Vancouver, and prove to investors that your restaurant is worth backing. 

2.  Create a Restaurant Business Plan

Speaking of investors – a well-crafted business plan is essential for guiding your onsite restaurant venture and securing financing. So, outline your concept and explain in detail how the new business will take shape and operate once the doors are open. Remember, Vancouver is a popular city for restaurants, so make sure your business outline provides a cutting edge that investors will go for. 

Here are some of the key elements of an effective restaurant business plan:

  • Executive summary, including your restaurant name
  • Company overview, including your business model
  • Industry analysis (dive deep into Vancouver’s food scene, potential competitors, and your target market)
  • Marketing plan (How you’ll grab the attention of Vancouver’s patrons)
  • Business model and service model (Are you a quick service or full service restaurant? Fine dining? Fast food? Dining room sit down? Decide that here)
  • Operations plan (staffing, customer service policies and procedures, restaurant point of sale system or pos software, payroll)
  • Financial analysis and business model (investment plan, projected profit and loss statement, break-even analysis, expected cash flow)

If this is your first time creating a restaurant business plan, it's worth getting a second set of eyes on it. Consider asking a restaurant owner in Vancouver who you trust to mentor you and ensure you're putting your best foot forward.

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3. Secure Restaurant Capital

To be completely honest, opening a restaurant in Vancouver isn’t cheap. Whether you're considering a franchise, partnership, or going solo, your restaurant will need a hefty chunk of capital. The good news is that there are several options for restaurant small business loans. Here are a few of them:

Equipment and Technology Loans. Negotiate with your bank or even provider a way to procure loans for kitchen equipment and restaurant technology like a pos solution, which can be one of the most expensive costs. 

Working Capital Loans. Working capital loans help cover operating costs while your restaurant has more expenses than income. Ideally, budget six to twelve months of operating costs until you reach a break-even point.

Lines of Credit. If you’re approved for a business line of credit, you’ll get a maximum credit amount but will only have to pay what you use. Like a credit card, the line of credit constantly revolves. As you pay your balance, you’ll have more credit to draw on for future expenses.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur to open a new location or are an experienced business owner, invest in shiny new equipment (oven upgrade or walk-in, anyone?), or managing cash flow over the next few months, you will need reliable funding to make your dreams a reality.

4. Choose a Restaurant Location

Choosing the right location in Vancouver for your restaurant is critical. You’ll need to research demographics, market, and real-time competition in your chosen spot and find somewhere that suits your vision and aesthetic. As a backup, you could also opt to go location-free by becoming a ghost kitchen.

If you choose to have a physical location for your restaurant, you can either buy or lease restaurant space, or you can build your restaurant from the ground up. Here’s how to decide if your location in Vancouver is right for you:

Target market and ideal customer profile

  • Real estate market conditions
  • Community
  • Size of the site
  • Previous tenants

Your restaurant’s location and layout should bring your concept to life. For instance, if you want to open a high-end steakhouse, you might need your own dedicated building. If you're serving burgers or ice creams on Beach Ave, maybe a food truck will do.

Remembering square footage will dictate your kitchen’s design and floor plan is crucial. For example, if you want to create a Japanese fusion concept with an exposed kitchen, you’ll need a sizable footprint to knock down walls and install adequate ventilation. And don’t forget, some landlords may not allow such modifications. 

5. Apply for Restaurant Licences and Permits

Similarly to retail stores, acquiring the necessary licences and permits to open a restaurant involves paperwork and patience.

Depending on your concept, the necessary licences and permits you’ll need — and the costs to acquire them — will differ. Some licences are required for every restaurant, while others depend on your requirements. Here are some other licences and permits you’ll most likely need to open a restaurant in Vancouver:

  • Food Service Establishment Permit: Issued by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, this permit ensures compliance with health and safety regulations related to food handling, sanitation, and hygiene.
  • Liquor License: You must obtain a liquor license from the British Columbia Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) and adhere to regulations regarding serving hours, age restrictions, and responsible alcohol service.
  • Business License: All businesses operating within Vancouver must obtain a municipal business license. This includes restaurants and food establishments. The license ensures compliance with local zoning regulations, taxation requirements, and business standards.
  • Outdoor Patio Permit: If you plan to have an outdoor patio for dining, you'll need to obtain a permit from the City of Vancouver. This permit regulates outdoor seating arrangements, safety measures, and compliance with local bylaws.
  • Signage Permit: If you intend to display signage for your restaurant, such as a storefront sign or outdoor banners, you may need to obtain a signage permit from the City of Vancouver. This ensures compliance with zoning regulations and aesthetic standards for signage.
  • Entertainment License (if applicable): If your restaurant plans to host live music performances, DJs, or other forms of entertainment, you may need to obtain an entertainment license from the City of Vancouver. This license regulates noise levels, operating hours, and entertainment activities to ensure compliance with local bylaws.
  • Patio Heaters Permit (if applicable): If you plan to use patio heaters for outdoor seating during colder months, you may need to obtain a permit from the City of Vancouver. This ensures compliance with safety regulations and environmental standards for outdoor heating devices.
  • Special Event Permit (if applicable): If you plan to host special events or promotions at your restaurant, such as food festivals, themed nights, or private parties, you may need to obtain a special event permit from the City of Vancouver. This permit ensures compliance with regulations regarding crowd management, noise levels, and event logistics.

Licences take time and money to acquire. If you're serious about opening a restaurant, start the process now.

6. Develop A Memorable Restaurant Menu and Beverage Program

With your head chef and bar manager, brainstorm your restaurant menu and beverage program to ensure you stand out in Vancouver’s buzzing food scene. 

For example, if you’re selling poutine, how can you offer a point of difference? What special touches can you add? What garnishes will you use? Is there any way you can market your company through your menu? How do your prices fare against other restaurants in the area?

Next, you'll need to establish pricing. This is where cost of goods sold, food cost, sales forecasting, inventory, profit margins, and other restaurant metrics come into play. Inventory management is essential to ensure you’re following Vancouver’s food regulations.

7. Hire Top-Notch Restaurant Staff

Your employees are the face of your restaurant, making them one of the most critical aspects of your success. From front-of-house servers to the kitchen, you can hire for dozens of positions.

You have a few options for acquiring employees, including referrals, job boards, and career websites. To find and retain staff, you need to make your venue a great place to work. 

8. Invest in Equipment and Restaurant Technology

Pen and paper is one way to take orders, but it’s not the best. Restaurant guests expect technology in their dining experience, and according to Toast’s Restaurant Technology Report, 95% of restaurateurs agree that technology improves business efficiency. 

Remember, restaurant guests don't always want to eat at your restaurant. So, invest in restaurant equipment and tech that facilitates off-premise dining that’s as enjoyable as your in-house experience. To keep up with the competition in Vancouver, you should consider investing in the following:

  • A cloud-based restaurant pos system
  • Kitchen display screens
  • An online ordering system for restaurants (possibly integrated with your pos system) 
  • Restaurant reporting and analytics
  • Restaurant inventory management software
  • Restaurant accounting software
  • Simple scheduling and team communication
  • A restaurant payroll solution
  • A restaurant user friendly loyalty or rewards solution
  • Contactless payment options and order-and-pay at the table technology that makes guests feel comfortable

With this technology powering your restaurant, your ability to increase revenue and establish yourself as a successful brand will be much simpler. 

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9. Create a Restaurant Marketing Plan

Opening a restaurant in a city like Vancouver requires a detailed restaurant marketing plan and budget that entices and engages customers. Your marketing plan should cover incentivising visits, offering mouth-watering specials, and social media and email marketing plans.

It’s a great idea to plan marketing activities on a daily and weekly basis across your platforms, including social media, radio, print advertising, and more. 

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to marketing, and restaurants are no different. Your plans should prioritise the channels where you have the greatest engagement and that your target customer uses. 

First thing on your restaurant marketing plan? Promotion of your restaurant's debut. 

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10. Host a Soft-Opening and Grand-Opening

Once you’re ready to take Vancouver by storm, you’ll want to host soft and grand openings to introduce your restaurant to the city. 

Before you open your doors to the public, the soft opening will be your trial run, where you invite your nearest and dearest – friends, family, and even your friendly neighbours – to be your taste testers for the night. They'll cut you some slack for any hiccups because they're rooting for you (hopefully).

This isn't something you announce to the world; it's more of a low-key affair for your inner circle. It's your chance to work out the kinks with your team in a stress-free environment. Trust us, there will be kinks, but that's all part of the process!

Now, onto the main event – the grand opening. This is when you swing your doors wide open and welcome the whole of Vancouver to come in and sample your delights. Sure, there might still be a few bumps, but that's just par for the course.

Don't forget to snap a few photos for social media to capture these milestones. Oh, and remember the significance of that first dollar bill. Frame it up and display it proudly for everyone to see.

Running a restaurant can be a wild ride, but remember to take a breather occasionally. Enjoy the journey, and treat yourself to a well-deserved drink at the end of a busy day. You're officially part of one of the most exciting industries out there!

And if, down the line, you decide to expand your restaurant business or open multiple locations, you know where to find us

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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.