Restaurant Startup Checklist: How To Open a Successful Restaurant

Posted on August 09, 2019

Restaurant Startup Checklist


Opening your very own restaurant is a great way to indulge in your passion and make a living at the same time. If you hope to make the most of your investment in time, money and energy, it’s best that you have a plan. To ensure you’ve got everything you need to set yourself and your business up for success, use this restaurant startup checklist.

Set Out With the Right Intentions

With any business, you have to take a step back and ask yourself if this is truly your passion. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money from your passion, but your passion absolutely has to come first.

It will likely take a while before you start turning a profit from your restaurant, and you’ll probably have to endure roadblocks, stumbles, and falls along the way. If your heart and soul aren’t in the restaurant, your staff and customers will be able to tell. Do you think you’re truly ready for the road ahead?

Decide on Your Concept

Restaurant Theme


Before you start looking at the equipment needed to start a restaurant, you have to decide on your restaurant’s concept. Besides the specific type of cuisine you want to serve, you have to think about the overall look and feel you want for your establishment.

Do you want something fancy, something that makes guests feel right at home, or would you like a theme, like a tiki lounge? Would a food truck or pop-up restaurant suit you better?

Examine your concept inside and out, as every little detail adds to the overall ambiance and dining experience for your customers, your dishes and your overall presentation.


Equipment Needed to a Run a Restaurant


Get a Lay of the Land

Do your research to see if there are any other restaurants in the area that serve your fare or have a similar concept. This isn’t to say that you should scrap your restaurant plan if there’s a place that serves the same type of cuisine as yours, just that you’ll need to find a way to stand out rather than blend in. Here, it helps to focus on longevity rather than an idea that will become little more than a flash in the pan that fizzles out within a few months.

Craft a Thorough Business Plan

A vital aspect of how to run a restaurant successfully involves learning how to plan successfully. Your business plan should be as detailed as possible. On it, be sure to include:

  • Market analysis
  • An overview of your restaurant (concept, physical location, expected profits)
  • An executive summary

This step is bound to take you a while, but a well-thought-out plan better guarantees overall success. Plus, if you need investors to help you get your business off the ground, they’ll expect a proper business plan before agreeing to fund you. This plan is just as much for them as it is for you. Be sure to work with a financial planner who has experience helping business owners.

Have Reserve Funds

No matter how well-thought out your plan is, there’s simply no telling what could happen. Having a source of funds in the event of a financial emergency goes a long way in giving you a sense of peace every day that you wake up and run your business. This reserve fund could be what helps you to keep the doors of your restaurant open during slow periods and unexpected business slumps.

Usually, it can take roughly nine months for new restaurant owners to break even, so it’s best to have at least that much in your reserve stash. Once you do start to turn a profit, continue to put money back into your stash. That way, if there’s an expected sale on business equipment you need, or if you have a sudden breakdown in your current equipment that could bring operations to a halt, you have instant access to the necessary funds.

Hire the Right People

Imagine having the perfect concept, a winning business plan and a sizeable reserve fund, but your staff is what causes your business to fail. You need the right people to bring out the best in your establishment and keep things going. Focus on hiring chefs and kitchen staff well-experienced with working in your type of environment and your type of cuisine. Servers should have a background in whatever type of dining establishment you have, such as fine dining or a restaurant that serves foreign food.

Do yourself a favor and conduct background checks on everyone you hire. Everyone. Remember, you’re trusting your livelihood to your staff, and you want to make sure those individuals are worthy of your trust and access to such information as credit and debit card numbers and your restaurant’s profits.

Take your time while mapping out your restaurant strategy. Just like great food takes time to prepare and cook, the same is true of any business plan.

Learn How to Run a Restaurant Successfully

If you already have an idea for your future restaurant, but want to improve on your culinary or business skills, a culinary arts program could be right for you. At OCI, you’ll learn the fundamentals of being a great chef, and receive hands-on training, to prepare you for your career as a chef. You’ll also learn what it takes to run a restaurant successfully, and how to start your own. If this sounds like you, contact us to get started.

10 Skills Needed to Be a Chef [Qualities of a Good Chef]

Posted on July 30, 2019

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The Food Network raised the bar for chefs around the world. Foodie shows have made being a chef even more chic and fashionable. If you’re an aspiring cook who wants to have a career in the food industry, you need a good education to refine your palate, learn the business side of the industry, and take your passion for food to the next level.

Do you have the skills needed to be a chef? Here are 10 skills that you’ll need to become a great chef.

1. Passion for Culinary Arts

Being a chef is hard work. Often, you’ll work holidays and parties when everyone else is having fun. You need passion for cooking and food to make your way through the industry. Cooking has a lot of science and math involved, but presentation and recipe development is like music and painting. You’ll have to bring passion to your craft.

2. Love of Learning

Even the greatest chefs keep honing their craft and learning once they’ve reached the peak of their career. The food industry keeps changing. You will have to keep up with trends and new techniques that change how people approach food. Even though you might be the instructor, you’ll need to be a good student.

3. Stamina

A professional kitchen is a busy place with long hours. You’re going to spend a lot of hours on your feet, working hard preparing food for patrons. A hot kitchen on a hot summer day isn’t a place for the faint of heart. Lifting heavy boxes of produce takes muscles. It’s important to consider the physicality of the work.

4. Willingness to Practice

As a chef, you’ll need to practice your craft to get things right when you’re under pressure. You may fail the first few times you combine sauces, sides, proteins and seasoning to create that plate of greatness. Failures often teach more than perfection. Practice is what takes you from a mediocre chef to a great one.

5. Business Savvy

The best chefs understand that running a kitchen isn’t just about the food. You have to have to understand how to keep inventory, how to balance your bank account and how to market your business. To make a profit, you have to budget and know how to price an item on the menu. You might be able to hire people to do the actual work, but you should have a sense of how things need to get done. If you don’t watch your bottom line, you won’t be successful.

6. Good Communication

You’re going to be part of a team, whether you’re first starting out or at the pinnacle of your career. The best chefs know what makes a good chef is the people you have on your team helping you get food out to the masses. Being able to communicate effectively makes a big difference in the tone of your kitchen and business.

7. Ability to Take Criticism

You won’t be able to please every palate. You have to be able to listen to your customers and accept criticism, even though some of it may not be constructive. The best chefs know that they might not always get a dish right. What will you do when someone spits out your food and tells you it sucks?

8. Great Leadership

One of the qualities of a good head chef is that of being a leader. You can’t simply be a boss. You have to be someone who can motivate others, no matter what is happening in their own lives. When you’re working in a kitchen, you can’t be a lone wolf who tries to do it all. If you can’t lead a team, it’s going to be hard to run a restaurant.

9. Attention to Detail

Recipes aren’t exact science, but when you run a kitchen that caters to the public, you have to pay attention to the details. Consistency in the food keeps people coming back to your restaurant. You can’t afford to have hair in the food, unseasoned sauces or missed garnishes. Every plate has to be precise and taste the same as the plate from last week.

10. Grace Under Fire

Cooking in your own kitchen requires a lot of concentration to avoid a fire, spills and injuries. Imagine a busy restaurant with dozens of people all trying to perform their own tasks. Being a chef is quite stressful at times. Keeping a cool head when everything around you is chaotic is a great skill for a chef. You’ll earn the respect of your colleagues and customers.

Do You Have the Qualities of a Good Chef?

If you think you have some of these qualities or are interested in cultivating them, contact the Oregon Culinary Institute about enrolling in a culinary arts program. Take your love of cooking to new heights, and build a solid foundation for your future culinary career.

6 Cake Decorating Techniques You’ll Learn In Baking School

Posted on July 22, 2019

Cake Decorating Techniques

Professional cake decorating techniques are the difference between the cakes your mom made for you growing up and that gorgeous wedding cake you see on the cover of Bon Appétit. Both are created with love, but unless your mom was Martha Stewart, or dad was Paul Hollywood, the cake probably wasn’t the most photogenic slice of art.

Professional cakes are designed to be stunning, and as baking show judges tell us: presentation is just as important as taste. All professional cakes are designed for photo opportunities, whether they are for weddings, birthdays, or other formal events.

So to really reach the level of star baker, and design your picture-perfect cake, here are the professional techniques you will need to master to set your cakes apart from homemade ones.

1. Use a Scale to Measure Your Ingredients

It sounds simple – but it matters. Baking is a science, and requires a bit of math to make sure recipes are precise, more so than just regular cooking. Measuring your ingredients by weight using a scale can give you a more exact amount of light, powdery ingredients like flour and sugar you might be using.

Differences can come from how tightly your bags of ingredients are packed, how tightly you pack them into your measuring cups and more. Use an ingredient weight chart to find the weight you should use for a cup of white flour (135 grams) or granulated sugar (200 grams).

2. Create a Smooth Frosting Base

Many amateur bakers struggle with getting a perfect, photo-ready smooth finish to their frosting. In cake decorating class, one of the first things you learn is how to prepare a cake for frosting.

Creating a crumb coat will help keep crumbs separate from your frosting, and it’s one of the first steps in creating a cake with a more professional appearance. Use a warm spatula or knife to spread a thin layer of frosting over your cake. Chill the cake for about 15 minutes to let this frosting barrier set, forming the ideal base for another layer of frosting. Use a cake turntable to spread the final layer and create a smooth finish.

3. Decorating With Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream frosting is one of the most commonly used kinds of frosting, making it an important skill to master. Buttercream is versatile and can easily be adjusted for stiffness, color, and flavor.

There are 3 main types of buttercream frosting:

Classic

The classic kind is based on butter and sugar. It has a fluffy texture and is ideal for textured designs.

Rolled

Rolled buttercream is firmer, and has a base of shortening and corn syrup. It functions similar to fondant, and can be cut into shapes to apply to your cake. Unlike fondant, it has a glossy finish.

Meringue

Meringue buttercream frosting is divided into Swiss and Italian. Swiss is smooth and creamy like classic, but has a smoother texture and more subtle taste. Italian meringue is a little bit stiffer than Swiss and is better to use in hot weather.

4. Piping Royal Icing

As you learn how to decorate cakes professionally, royal icing becomes an important tool in your arsenal. It can be intimidating to many bakers, but it creates a beautiful effect.

When mixing the icing, sift the ingredients carefully to ensure the icing will be smooth and shiny. Pipe the borders of your design first, to create a barrier. Let these dry and harden for about half an hour. After the edges are set, add water to the icing slowly until it has a syrupy consistency. Use this icing to flood the design, and let sit overnight to let the glossy finish set. Royal icing is ideal for piping on fondant, since it hardens and matches its firmness.

5. Applying Fondant

Fondant is used in many modern cake decorating designs, and when applied correctly it creates a flawless layer. Traditional fondant and marshmallow fondant can be used for the same purposes, but some people prefer the taste of marshmallow fondant.

Fondant needs to be rolled out on a flat surface dusted with powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar to fondant that feels too sticky or loose to work with. If it’s too stiff, glycerin can made it more malleable.

When it is rolled out to the desired size and shape, drape the fondant over your rolling pin so you can position it over the cake. Use a tool to smooth the applied fondant down. Air bubbles can be removed with a toothpick. Trim the fondant once it is smoothed onto the cake.

6. Piping Techniques

Piping techniques are the basis of traditional cake decorating. Once you have a firm grasp on different pipe tips and the shapes they create, you can get creative and use them to create just about any design on a cake.

Create a cactus garden on your cake or ice an homage to the 1970s with a shag rug icing job. The possibilities are endless and extend beyond shells, swirls and rosettes. Make sure to remove air bubbles from your piping bag, because they can ruin a piped design. Practice involves icing either on a piece of parchment paper or on a bottle, so you can get used to icing at an angle.

Learn How to Decorate Cakes Professionally

Think you know how to do all these techniques? Great! You’re on your way to becoming a master baker. But if you’re looking for professional guidance, and to hone your skills and techniques as a baker, reach out to the Oregon Culinary Institute today.

Learn more about admissions and how to enroll in a baking program that will help kickstart your professional cake making career.

10 Networking Tips for Chefs in the Restaurant Industry

Posted on July 15, 2019

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No matter how gifted you are in the kitchen, your career may never get off the ground if you’re unable to sell your skills to others. Networking as a chef can be overwhelming, especially if you’re fresh out of school. These 10 tips can help you structure your strategy to make worthwhile connections immediately.

1. Keep in Touch With Classmates

If you participated in a culinary program, you already have an untapped network of valuable contacts. Reach out to former classmates and see what they’re up to. Some may be working in successful restaurants, while others might be training under distinguished chefs. Those connections can be key to getting your foot in the door.

Let your fellow students know what prospects interest you. The more peers you keep in touch with, the more opportunities you’ll learn about.

2. Do Research

Many styles of cooking are defined by regional flavors and techniques. Having an open mind to new tastes can help you discover the most influential chefs in your area. Visit revered restaurants, eat the food and learn to prepare it. When it comes time to interview for positions, you can sell your knowledge of local cuisine and demonstrate your proficiency in cooking it.

3. Attend Culinary Conventions

Culinary conventions are a great way to learn what’s new and current in the culinary industry. You can meet other professionals like yourself, as well as potential mentors or future employers. After you register, you’ll want to do several things to prepare:

  • Know the layout of the venue
  • Research key attendees
  • Make a list of booths you wish to visit
  • Dress to impress

This is your chance to be up close and personal with real-world contacts. Set yourself up for success with a thorough strategy.

4. Set Measurable Goals

Goals are easier to track when you have ways of quantifying them. This can be especially helpful if you find speaking with strangers an intimidating experience. Set yourself a goal to touch base with a certain number of contacts when you attend networking events. Tell yourself to follow-up with so-and-so by a specific date. It becomes easier to see your progress.

5. Invest in Business Cards

Connecting with restaurant professionals is much easier with business cards. You don’t want to lose a potential associate because you don’t have your contact info at the ready. Keep a small number of business cards in your wallet every day, just in case you meet someone unexpectedly. When you attend culinary conventions, bring a thick stack and give out as many as you can.

6. Prepare Thoughtful Questions

Professionals in any industry are impressed when you can demonstrate curiosity about the right things. Imagine what you would ask any culinary expert if he or she were standing in front of you. If you know of meetings in advance, do ample research and prepare questions that are specific to that person’s background and culinary history.

7. Know Your Culinary Perspective

A chef’s identity is often represented in the food that they cook. Your recipes should demonstrate your way of life, your preferred techniques or any regional specialties. Some examples of culinary perspectives include the following:

  • Sustainable practices
  • Vegan or vegetarian
  • Molecular gastronomy
  • Fusion cuisine
  • Barbecue pit techniques

Whatever your style is, focus on establishing a network that contributes to it. You can have more than one perspective as a chef, but you should follow a course you’re passionate about.

8. Reach Out With Professionalism

When it comes time to contact industry acquaintances, make sure you’re professional about it. Emails are fine but draft it as you would any formal letter. Include a greeting and a salutation. Start by reminding the person who you are and include a brief description of where and when you met. Be succinct; don’t ramble on needlessly. A short email is much easier to respond to.

9. Be Active on Social Media

The popularity of social media makes it a necessity for any budding chef. When you follow the right accounts, you can learn more about hot restaurants in your area, culinary events, and even new recipes. You also have an opportunity to showcase your skills and knowledge through your own posts.

Joining Facebook groups can also be a good start towards finding and establishing yourself within your particular culinary area. Some culinary schools may also have alumni facebook groups which you can join upon graduation.

Be sure to clean up your accounts before you start meeting culinary contacts. Remove anything unprofessional or potentially embarrassing.

10. Join a Culinary Organization

Once you know your culinary focus, consider joining an organization that specializes in it. These groups bring together chefs with similar interests and provide opportunities for employment, additional training, and networking. Alumni chefs from your culinary school are also a great resource, and worth reaching out to.

Marketing yourself can be challenging no matter the industry. For chefs, it’s important to be confident in your abilities and your training. If you’re looking to start your culinary career, and learn the skills necessary to break into the restaurant industry, reach out to the Oregon Culinary Institute about starting a program. Our courses cover a wide range of topics with a focus in both cooking and baking. Contact us today to ask questions or request information.

What Is Culinary Math? How Your Math Skills Can Improve Your Cooking

Posted on July 09, 2019

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Chefs aren’t immune from academic standards. To be a good cook, you have to know science, math, reading and more. Culinary math isn’t necessarily like algebra, but it will take knowledge about ratios, decimals, fractions and percentages. You’ll have to be familiar with the metric system and English units of measurement.

Recipe Conversion

The skills most people learn in elementary school are important for chefs. If you’re making a recipe for 50 portions, but only want 25 or need to increase the portions to 100, you have to know how to convert that recipe. If you have an unusual number of guests, it might get even trickier. Most recipes are written for 25, 50 and 100 guests. What do you do when you have 135 guests?

Knowing how to scale recipes may take converting ounces to pounds or calculating gallons from cups. There may even be times when you need to convert liters to quarts or grams to ounces. Metric measurements may not be common in the United States, but the rest of the world uses them.

Measuring Ingredients

Baker’s math involves weight and ratios. Instead of using a specific recipe, a baker may be given a percentage. For example, a yeast-dough formula may say flour, 100%, water 35%, milk 35%, fresh yeast 4% and salt 2%. It sounds complicated, but it’s a common language for bakers. Every ingredient is weighed, which lets bakers be more precise. Bakers are quickly able to scale a recipe. Although baker’s math can seem intimidating, once you understand that the weight of the flour determines the amount of the rest of the ingredients, it’s pretty easy.

Bakers also need to understand ratios. Pie dough consists of 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter and 1 part water. Just weigh out 3 pounds of flour, use 2 pounds of butter and 1 pound of water. Who needs recipes when you have ratios? Of course, you can mix in additions, such as salt and cheddar cheese if you’re making an apple pie. But once you understand the basic formula, you can scale a recipe to make as much or little as you need.

How Do Chefs Use Math in Their Cooking?

Recipe measurements might be one of the most obvious ways that chefs use math, but that only touches the surface. Food that comes into the restaurant often has trimmings that may not be usable in regular recipes. For example, a beef tenderloin only has about 59% edible portions. At over $10 per pound, you can’t waste the 41% that won’t make it to the table as a steak. Good chefs repurpose usable trimmings to reduce food costs. Creative chefs find ways to use trim and leftovers to lower costs for waste removal.

Some chefs are responsible for creating meals that are healthy and must count calories and nutrition. It’s just basic division and multiplication, but it can be complicated when you have a full recipe of a sauce, but only use two or three tablespoons for a dish.

Chefs also have to be able to calculate how much food is required for a party of 50, 100, or more guests. How much tea and coffee will they drink? The figure might be different for a brunch than it would for an evening dinner.

How many servers are required to serve 50 or 100 guests? Hire too many and it eats into your profits. Hire too few and you upset the host. Calculating these items isn’t a guessing game. The industry has standards that can help you know exactly how many people you’ll need and at what cost you need to charge to keep your business successful.

Don’t Forget the Business Side

Chefs who cook for their friends and family aren’t as concerned about the business side of cooking, but if you want to make a career of cooking, you have to know business math. How can you determine what to price an entrée for to make money? How will you know if you’re making a profit and what your margins are without math to calculate the food and labor costs? You’ll need math to track inventory and create new orders.

Math skills will tell you if an investment is a good decision. You can calculate and understand different interest rates. You may not actually have to calculate payroll, but when you look at the numbers, you should be able to understand how payroll is done. Maintaining enough staff to prepare and serve food while keeping payroll costs at a minimum isn’t a guessing game. You can use math to calculate these things.

Think You Have What It Takes to Be a Chef?

A career as a chef or baker can be one of the most rewarding professions. You’ll need a solid education that teaches advanced cooking techniques and incorporates culinary math to be successful. If you’re looking to take your love of food to the next level, contact Oregon Culinary Institute today to learn more about our culinary programs.