We opened a small takeout place in a VERY small town. This proved to be a mistake - so you get the benefit of my blunder without having to actually endure the aftermath.
First of all, do a study. You need to know what kind of foot traffic is regularly in the area where you plan to open. Watch my lips, foot traffic and transient traffic are the heart and soul of the takeout business. They mean more to a takeout place than to a "destination" restaurant where people will drive to it as their sole destination. This is what killed us. We had regular patrons who would buy lunches and dinners from us multiple times a week - but if you don't have that flow of new clientele, you're doomed.
Second, you have to open something that isn't already there. Newness, freshness and a unique experience will get you word of mouth and interest in a first visit. It's up to you and your staff to bring 'em back. (This was never our problem, people still stop us on the street to tell us how much they miss us. No other place in town offers what we did...multi-ethnic cuisine.)
Don't be afraid to advertise in a big way when you first start out. Newspapers, maybe a radio spot on NPR in your area, handouts, fliers, specials for people who mention/bring in the ad. Don't be afraid to hand out small samples of what you do - be it mini versions of baked goods or small samples of menu selections. For charitable organizations, offer to do platters of food as long as you get mentioned at the event. Bruschetta, for instance, with bean spread is extremely inexpensive, but robustly flavored - and your name, address and phone number will be prominently displayed as people are munching on your food.
Hire people who will represent you appropriately. If this business is your heart and soul - and the entity you wish to define yourself by, you don't want some clown whose only experience is McDonald's. Professional, well spoken, responsble, honest people, paid commensurately, will stay with you and "have your back." If an employee simply thinks of your business as "a job" their loyalty level can be compromised - and their performance will reflect it.
At Christmas time, I remembered how the takeout joints in NY did so well. After wrestling at Macy*s with someone over a sweater you planned to buy for your uncle George, you don't want to go home and rattle pots and pans. Takeout is the answer. I was all prepared for a rush of customers at Christmas-shopping season - and what do you think happened? A big fat nothing. NO ONE shopped in our town!! Everyone was buying their take-home dinners in the 2 surrounding larger towns with Wal-Marts and other shopping. It was so frustrating - and a big indicator of what lay ahead.
Eventually we had to give it up because it was costing our own savings to run the place, even though our regular customers loved it. It was a heartbreaking experience - because I trained for this by going to cooking school. The entire time I worked behind a desk, I was dreaming of having a restaurant - I simply chose to do it in the wrong place. My husband and I will still take the odd SMALL catering job or miscellaneous cry for one of my cheesecakes...But we miss the day-to-day.
Don't be shy about purchasing second hand equipment from a reputable dealer. You will be giving a second life to a piece of equipment that was unfortunately purchased by someone whose business did not succeed. We have a 20 qt. Hobart and other equipment which we won't be selling...because gluttons for punishment that we are, we want to open something in the city where we land. Make no mistake, I'll do the necessary studies and background work. Opening up a place is so much more than simply installing a stove and cash register into a storefront.
The small business administration may be able to help you as well. Contact them and get what you can. Good luck and keep us posted!
Make a business plan! See if your location will cash-flow for you. Talk to other business people in the area to determine the number of customers and when they are around, etc. All this information is available at the local SBA or Chamber of Commerce. But we are talking BUSINESS here, and WHAT YOU SELL IS SECONDARY TO YOUR BUSINESS SKILLS AND PRACTICES! Good products and ideas go under everyday due to a mismanaged business! Places like McDonalds do fine because they are owned by businesspeople who may not know a lick of cooking but can run a business tighter than a cats' @ss. I get tired after of 12 years of doing things myself of hearing people with no BUSINESS EXPERIENCE talking about dropping tons of money for the romantic notion of being a restaurant owner or bar owner because on "Cheers" it looked like so much fun to hang out with all your buddies and watch the money come in.
Chiff and Peach -- you guys are GREAT! You should go on the road; maybe then the failure rate of new foodservice establishments would plummet. (If they'd only listen! and not learn the hard way as you did, Chiff )
Watch out for Chambers of Commerce. They are willing to "happy talk" you into opening a business...you want to see hard facts and figures and if the chambers don't want to show them to you, they're hiding something. The Chamber of Commerce did all they could to "support" us before we opened, then we never saw them again.