Food & Drink | Restaurant Do's and Don'ts

Setting up shop needn't be an expensive task

by Jeremy Wilgus

Contributing Writer

If you’ve made it this far, found a place, calculated your costs, even begun to find staff, I’d say you’re doing pretty well. In fact, you’re pretty much past the stage where you have to deal with massive competition for scarce resources. Now everything that’s left to do is up to you, and how much work you’re willing to put in toward the final stretch is going to determine how successful you’ll be. This week, we’ll cover what you need to do to furnish your shop and equip your kitchen.

You’ll need to make sure your restaurant looks as good as it can. If you went with a bare bones, or skeleton rental, that means installing floors, walls, ceilings, and everything that goes with it. If you chose an inuki (furnished) space, you’ll probably need to make some modifications to the existing setup.

If you can do some of this work on your own, that will help save money, but it’s important to know what your limits are. With as many restaurants and bars to choose from as there are in Tokyo, you can’t afford to have a shop that looks too shabby. Saving money by doing a bad job on your own can cost more in the long run, by which time you’ll have created a negative image in the minds of people who could’ve become regulars.

You’ll also need to source equipment for your kitchen and bar area. Professional level kitchen equipment is incredibly expensive, and without the resources available to a large chain or restaurant corporation, buying equipment new is a reckless gamble. The “good” news is that restaurants go out of business all the time, which means used equipment is widely available. Stores like Tenpos Holdings, Inc. are a godsend, as they are large warehouses selling everything from professional level gas ranges and refrigerators to plates and silverware sets.

In terms of utensils, small dishes, and the like, you would be surprised by what’s available at 100 Yen Shops. Many restaurant owners use Ikea for their relatively cheap dishes and glassware, as well as tables and chairs. If you are in Tokyo, you should also take a day and explore the Kappabashi area between Ueno and Asakusa, and the restaurant supply stores there. Online stores such as Askul Corp. can also be useful for deliveries of dry items like napkins, take-out boxes, and other things you’ll need to order regularly.

Finally, and this is a big, if incredibly simple step: You’ll need to get a restaurant license. To do that, you’ll need to have a food hygiene supervisor on your staff. It can be you, or a partner, or an employee, but it should a permanent member of staff. You’ll need to get in touch with your ward or city Health Center to find out when the day-long courses are held. Once you have completed the course, you’ll be able to arrange an inspection.

You can pick up the list of requirements at your ward’s Health Center (and probably should do that before pretty much everything else we’ve talked about). There are shockingly few requirements for getting a restaurant license. You need a double sink with hot running water, a separate sink with a soap dispenser for employees to wash their hands, a separate changing area for staff, and a working refrigerator, and that’s about it.

An inspector will come and check your space and whether or not you have the required equipment. More than likely, you’ll be certified to open on the spot.

This leads us to a dark, unpleasant fact: depending on the type of restaurant, health inspections are carried out once every five, six, or seven years. Essentially, restaurants in Japan are only as clean as the owner and their staff want them to be. It will be up to you to set the standard in your restaurant or bar, to make sure it’s as clean as you can make it.

Aside from customer health and safety, with the widespread use of social media and restaurant review sites, customers will quickly identify restaurants that fail to provide a clean and safe dining space. One cockroach skittering across a table can stain your restaurant’s reputation permanently, and it’s vital that you keep your business as clean as you can both for your customers’ enjoyment, and your own livelihood.

After all of that, take a deep breath. It’s time to get ready for your opening day.

This is the fifth installment of a six-part series that will appear on the first Sunday of every month through March 2018.