Opening a new food service facility – you can do it!

In 1999 I entered the food service industry.  I was a green as you could be!  What I did have in my corner was two things: a desire to make it and a good business background.  After many bumps in the road and opening several new facilities I finally figured it all out.

I regularly meet people attending my classes that are currently running home based businesses from cake decorating to catering.  I want to first say that there is NO jurisdiction in the state of Maryland that allows home based food operations.  All food must be produced in an approved licensed facility and you must follow the law.

Here are the basics of what you will need to consider before opening up your first food service business.

  • How much cash do you have available to get the business going?  Remember you may not turn a profit for a while so don’t think of this as a get rich scheme.
  • What is going to be the legal form of your business? Consult your lawyer AND tax person on this – each has a different perspective when it comes to corporations, LLC, sole-proprietorship, etc…
  • What is going to be on your first menu? What do you envision for 1 year, 2 years and even 5 years from now?  Don’t dream to big here but be realistic about what you are going to expect  to be serving as your business grows.
  • Who are your customers going to be?  Describe them.  Demographics, income level, etc.
  • Take a food safety manager training class.  Yes do this now!  It may open your eyes up to all that is involved and you may change your mind.  Better now than before you start a build out and paying fees.
  • What equipment do you need to produce the food you are going to serve?
  • Make a list and start a budget for what you think your equipment costs, building costs and operating costs will be for 6 months.  Add 20% to that number and you should have that much on cash on hand or financing to cover it.
  • Will you look for an existing similar business to purchase or start from scratch?
Now that you have thought all that through and your ready to take the plunge you will need to do the following:
  • Find your location and negotiate lease.  Make sure you ask for free rent period during build out. 90 days is fairly standard on a 5 year lease.
  • Sketch out a plan and contact an architect if required.  Many jurisdictions now require stamped drawings to be submitted for permits.
  • Contact your local health department.  Ask for Planning.  Since each county is different follow the information they provide to you. You should be prepared to show them drawings and proposed menu.
  • Contact contractors and make sure they have experience building a food service facility.  Get references.  Make sure the contract has a penalty if they do not complete project on time.
  • Contact food suppliers – don’t forget about sourcing from smaller local companies if you are just getting started.  Take advantage of the knowledge food sales reps have.  Most have been in your shoes before.
  • Contact a pest control company. Get a contract.  You will need this for Health Department.
  • Contact equipment maintenance company.  Get a contract with someone you trust to maintain your equipment.  This should include regular preventive maintenance visits.
  • Get your HACCP plan together.  This is a state of Maryland requirement.
  • Receive your use and occupancy permit and final health inspection!
  • There are a lot of other administrative duties to be taken care of between conception and completion but these are the big items you must have before you serve your first customer.
If this sounds a little to overwhelming to you, maybe you are not ready to enter into a full facility.  The good news there are options.  Consider contacting your church if they have an approved facility and rent space there.  Many taverns have kitchens for rent – consider that as a first step, but again don’t plan on a getting rich.  Go Mobile!  That is how I got started.  The mobile trend has never been so popular.  There are also ads in popular online listings for kitchen space.  But beware of something that sounds to good to be true.

SMF Training Solutions is more than a Training company.  We also offer a variety of consulting services including restaurant start up. If you are considering opening your own facility and would like a free 15 minute phone consultation please email me a request along with your proposed plans and a good time to contact you.  My email is


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