Picture it: You've found the perfect location for your new restaurant. Unfortunately, it is in an existing building that has never been a restaurant. This means that before you can start construction you need to make sure that the building is eligible for an eating establishment license.
Check the Location’s Zoning Ordinances
Some locations are obviously in commercial zones, such as busy downtowns and developed strips of highway. Other locations may be on the fringes of a commercial and or residential zone. Before you even call the landlord about lease options, contact the town manager to find out if the building is properly zoned for a restaurant. Be sure to ask about serving alcohol in that particular area as well. Some towns prohibit the sale of alcohol within so many feet of a church or house of worship, while other towns still maintain “dry” ordinances left over from prohibition.
Assess the Building Size
Even the most cavernous of buildings quickly shrink when you start adding in kitchen equipment, walk-in coolers, restrooms, and a bar. You may find, once you have measured out the space that it is not big enough for your original idea. Then you have two options, downsize your restaurant or look for a new space.
Find Out About Safety Requirements
Once you’ve determined the location to be in the proper zone for a restaurant and that it is big enough, you need to know how safe it is. A local building inspector or code enforcement officer can walk you through all the safety requirements needed to pass a building inspection. Along with a fire suppression system in the kitchen, the building may require an entire sprinkler system. The code enforcement officer will also look at the general safety of building to decide if it is fit to operate as a restaurant.
Determine the Parking Situation
Good parking can make or break a restaurant. If customers can’t access your restaurant directly, then you might as well be invisible. Some areas require a certain amount of parking based on the number of seats in the restaurant. Even if there aren’t any specific parking regulations for the location, you still need to assess if parking is going to be an issue, especially during the busy lunch and dinner rush.
Don't Forget About the Bathrooms
One of the most overlooked areas (and one of the most expensive to update) of a new restaurant are the bathrooms. Even if there are pre-existing restrooms on site, they need to have ADA approved doors, stalls, toilets, and sinks. You also need certain a number of toilets per number of seats in the restaurant. Contact your local state health inspector for the details in your area.
Negotiate the Lease
Once the building has passed all the initial inspections and you know what work needs to be done, you need to negotiate a lease with the landlord. If the building is in a high traffic area, there won’t be too much to negotiate. The landlord can probably fill the spot easily, with or without your restaurant. If the space has been vacant for a long time, you have some haggling room. Also, find out what construction the landlord is willing to pay for. You do not want to pay for things like plumbing, ductwork and electrical (can’t take those with you, now can you?) if at all possible.