Want to start an online, delivery-only food business and not sure where to begin?

That’s where we come in. Our consulting agreement begins by working with you to effectively think through and manage each step of the process described below to help ensure a smooth business opening. And it doesn't end there. We're right there with you for your first six months to help your business get where it needs to be faster and more efficiently than you otherwise could on your own.

Our agreement includes key business document development, a business identity, website and email setup with branded custom content, marketing collateral and tools, established kitchen processes, on-demand consultation and much more.

We use our extensive experience with this model – we built it, after all – to help you optimize your time, keep unforced errors to a minimum and avoid making costly mistakes early on. You can count on us being there to advise you at each step, whether it's finding a suitable kitchen, purchasing the right equipment, creating your marketing strategy or picking the right staff. All of it.

Our 20-step checklist can help make some sense of what may be needed. Contact us anytime at 713.858.5468 or INFO(at)FEAST-BRANDS.COM with any questions or to learn how FEAST Brands, LLC can help you navigate a start-up and get you going faster than you think (and potentially save you thousands of dollars in the process).

Click on any step below for additional information.

1. First, find a mentor or two
who can act as a sounding board and help you evaluate key decisions as you get started. Get to know other chefs and small business owners in your area. Learn from their experience and operations. Engage, be interested, ask lots of questions. Your model probably won’t directly compete with theirs, and most people naturally enjoy helping this way. It’s a small community and friends and allies are important.

2. Research federal, state, county and local laws
regarding business structure, facility and health codes, kitchen operations, product labeling, etc., in your area. What is and is not allowed about your current and future plans? What permits and licenses are required? What about inspections? Strive for a full understanding of your legal obligations and responsibilities.

3. Figure out your niche
by roughing out some product lists and other ideas to get started with. For example, will you begin with a limited selection or a wide variety of products and services all at once? Will you have a flagship product or line, the one that you hope to be known for? How will you price your products? Will you have a loss leader? And who is your market? Families? Empty nesters? Also, don’t overlook how you may want to grow your business in the future.

4. Research how best to market food products in your area
so people will know what you have to offer. What works best in your market? Word of mouth? Print advertising? Radio? Start a marketing calendar to organize your mailings, social media posts and other events and activities that will drive visitors to your website and try your food. Have a solid “First 60 Days” marketing plan vetted and ready to go when you open.

5. Start investigating and organizing your financing options
to determine what is available to you because being properly capitalized going into this is critical. Food industry start-ups can come across as particularly risky to some financing avenues, so be prepared. Thankfully, there are several sources to look at such as microloans specifically for small businesses (commercial and government), ROBS financing, finding an investor or partner, friends and family, credit cards (many a business has started this way), crowdfunding and more. And it’s not all or nothing as many vendors may consider a line of credit for you, so always ask what’s possible. Regardless, before talking directly to anyone about money, you must complete the next step!

6. Take the first five steps and write a solid business plan
as a way of organizing your thoughts in paragraph form. What will your business be called? What business structure will you use (we strongly recommend consulting an attorney to advise on this)? Who are your customers? What will you sell them? How will you market to them? How will you deliver your products? Who is your competition? Where will your initial funding come from? What does your pro forma look like? A well-organized business plan is a living roadmap to get you from here to there, and something that should be regularly revisited and updated. There is no wrong way to write one so pick a method and format that works best for you. The SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION has some great tips on how to do this.

7. Create your brand
that will define you and your business and, please, do not skimp here. First impressions do matter, especially when selling online. Your brand will flow through to your website, product labels, emails, marketing collateral and much more. After an attorney, this is probably the second most important area where you should hire a professional. In today’s digital world, nothing will cast doubt on your credibility faster than a logo that looks like it was created on a ‘do it yourself’ site, or a website that looks like it was handed off to a relative because they’re ‘good with computers.’ Spend the money and do it right because customers will see right through an unsophisticated branding effort and tie it to the quality of your food products.

8. Register your business and secure your domain name
so you can start opening other accounts. Typically, business registration will be done through a state agency. Domain names can be secured through entities like NETWORK SOLUTIONS or GODADDY . This is also a good time to get your federal tax ID, sales tax and retail permits, and open a bank account, as well as any other administrative requirements as required by your state and local governments. Set up your accounting software (find one with a payroll function), files, records and other bookkeeping procedures, and make yourself abide by them going forward. You’re in business now!

9. Now that your brand is defined, get a marketing email account set up
with one of the major providers such as MAILCHIMP and start collecting addresses. Send occasional notes so people can stay updated on your progress as you get closer to opening. Share menu ideas, ask for favorites, whatever. Just let them know you’re still there from time to time and that things are progressing.

10. In concert with your email, bring your website online
through one of the major hosts such as VOLUSION. Design a clever Coming Soon page that can also accept email sign-ups. You’ll still have a way to go with content for the rest of the site at this point but at least there will be a branded landing page that can act as a teaser and accumulate emails.

11. Open social media accounts
for your business and start posting at least weekly. Ask all your friends, family and colleagues to acknowledge the pages. Have a way to collect emails. Talk about your company, and what you will be doing. Post and comment on attractive food articles that closely match your company’s stated values and future products and services. Stay useful and relevant with your content in the run-up to your opening.

12. Obtain your food manager’s certificate
through MIDWEST FOOD SAFETY (we no longer recommend ServSafe) for a comprehensive understanding of food safety and handling. Most local ordinances require a certificated food manager to be present in a commercial kitchen anytime food operations are underway. We recommend getting one whether required or not: it’s a short, one-day course and the knowledge is invaluable.

13. Identify your food suppliers
that will be your primary source of ingredients. This will probably be some combination of national (US Foods/Sysco), big-box (Sam’s/Costco), local grocery and specialty stores, and perhaps a local farm or two for super fresh meats and produce. Your product line will drive who is best suited for you. Regardless, your suppliers should squarely back up your publicly stated standards for food ethics, freshness, additives and use of processed foods.

14. Identify your service vendors
that will deliver your supplies and consumables. This will include everything from labels and packaging to paper towels to assorted parts and kitchenware. Be sure to evaluate shipping policies as they can wildly impact an order. Also, ask around about the best local repair services for coolers, vent hoods, etc. It’s not a matter of if something will happen but when, and you will want a reputable service company already on speed dial when it does.

15. Finalize your e-commerce website
with compelling content that draws customers in and keeps them there. Write your product descriptions and finalize product pricing. Give yourself enough time to “exercise” the final version to look for any bugs and last-minute tweaks. Get two or three trusted friends to thoroughly comb your website to look for typos, broken links, etc.

16. Find your kitchen and negotiate your lease
so you can start getting set up. Use a service such as THE KITCHEN DOOR or KITCH, or just Google “ghost kitchens for rent near me.” You can also do your own sleuthing with local churches, hotels, office buildings and museums that have kitchens but only use them part-time (or not at all), and that might be willing to rent. Consider a co-op or shared use space while you get started. For example, bakers usually bake at night, maybe one will rent you their space during the day. We recommend avoiding out-of-business restaurants as you will pay a premium in the lease for all that parking and a dining area you’ll never use. This is also a good time to get your commercial liability and workers comp insurance policies activated.

17. Source your equipment as required
to match your business model. If you haven’t found a fully equipped kitchen, you may need to purchase some equipment to fill in the gaps. The good news is that there is a large secondary market for all things stainless steel in just about every region. Sinks. Prep tables. Ranges and hoods. You name it. Check with a few local restaurants to see where they source their equipment and then negotiate the best deals you can with a supplier. Insist on discounts for bundled purchases and delivery as part of the transaction.

18. Identify and assemble your staff
that will be needed to support your business model. Will you need a sous chef? Prep help? How many? What days will you need them? What will you pay them, and when? How will you process payroll? What policies will you put in place? If you make direct hires, which you’ll have to at some point as you grow, you will want to be very familiar with all applicable labor laws.

19. Complete your final health department inspections
and start letting people know you’re open for business with a soft opening. Have a thoughtful menu ready to put out there on opening day, but don’t overdo it. Keep it simple at first, and use ingredients that can be spread over several menu items at once to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. Use the first couple of weeks to work the kinks out and get used to the tempo. Focus on quality and delivering value to your customers (literally), and get your “First 60 Days” marketing plan off to a good start.

20. Finally, have that hard opening
when the time is right and make a big deal about it! Consider hosting an open house at your kitchen with samples of your food, which are probably now a deductible marketing expense. Invite friends, family and customers. Build it up on social media and email. Post pictures of the event. Write and distribute a press release to local newspapers and radio stations. And don’t forget to have fun in the process!

While presented in relative order, many of these steps may be initiated simultaneously. Our intent in providing this information is to share a partial overview of some of the basic steps that should be considered when starting an online, delivery-only food business. You should seek more complete information about your specific business plans from additional sources such as culinary consultants, government websites, colleagues and other professionals.