food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 4 Tips For Finding A Restaurant Space

By Stephani Robson

Stephani Robson is a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and teaches in the Food Business Fundamentals program at the International Culinary Center.

Site selection is about much more than finding the right size of space in the right neighborhood for your food business. Have you ever considered that doors have to be a certain width to fit industrial kitchen equipment? What about the visibility that your restaurant will garner, or lose, depending on where the front door is?

There are so many different elements that go into choosing the perfect location. That’s why we sat down with Food Business Fundamentals instructor and Senior Lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Stephani Robson, to learn how to get it right when choosing a location for your restaurant or food business. With over 30 years of experience designing restaurants and teaching restaurant design, Robson’s advice is some of the best in the business! When looking for a site, Robson shares, “a broker can be really helpful, but remember that the broker is working for the landlord, not for you.” Brokers get paid only when the space is leased, so they have a real incentive to get you to commit. Her first tip: Always do your homework first, and be sure to get everything in writing so your lawyer can review it before you sign a lease.

Here are the 4 things she recommends checking with your broker as you look for spaces!


Ask about the rent and how it is structured— the rent you pay should not exceed 6% of your total sales.  If the rent you are quoted includes all property taxes, insurance, and common-area maintenance, that “all-in” rent should not exceed 10% of your sales.   Be sure to find out whether rents being quoted are “all-in” (including “CAM” charges, building insurance and your share of the property taxes) or “triple net.” If these aren’t included, you will have to pay another 10-20% a month to cover these additional occupancy costs.

Rents vary widely depending on city and neighborhood, so get a feel for local rents by talking to a broker well before you complete your business plan.  If your restaurant concept cannot easily generate the sales to cover the rent quoted using this 6% thumb-rule, do not sign the lease, no matter how appealing the space looks!

Street Level Matters

For restaurants, you really do need to be at street level. Spaces on second floors of buildings or above are also rarely successful for any kind of food business. However, a bar can sometimes work in a basement space that has direct access from the street— otherwise, save basements for storage and food prep! If a street level space you are looking at includes a basement, ask if there is any additional charge for the basement, or if you need to share that space with other building tenants. It’s not unusual to have to share the stairs to the basement with others which can make operations difficult if you need to use those stairs frequently.

Avoid Kitchen Upgrades

Find out if the space already has a grease trap or kitchen ventilation.  Adding these can be really expensive — as in thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.  But if these are already in place, you’ll probably need to give them a really good professional cleaning before use.  While you might be able to clean the grease trap yourself (although it’s a messy task!), you’ll need to spend a few hundred dollars or more having the hood and its associated duct-work professionally cleaned.  At the same time, have the ventilation and fire protection systems checked by an engineer.  That will cost you another couple of hundred, but will be money well spent.

Pay Attention to Doorways

Double check the width of all doorways before you buy any equipment.  Many restaurant owners have found that they can’t get that new freezer or oven into their building! Sometimes, you can make a tight squeeze work by taking off the equipment’s legs or doors, or by removing the building’s door and its jamb (that’s the trim around the doorway), but try to avoid this kind of hassle by measuring carefully before you shop for your kitchen equipment and restaurant space.

Ready to get started on the business plan for your restaurant, food truck, food product or other dream culinary concept? Register for ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals course starting September 14th, and you’ll have a solid business plan & pitch ready in just 6 weeks! Click here to learn more.

The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

Stephani RobsonStephani Robson has over thirty years of experience designing restaurants and teaching restaurant development and design.  She is a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and teaches in the Food Business Fundamentals program at the International Culinary Center.  Stephani holds a PhD in environmental psychology from Cornell and does research on how the design of restaurants affects guests and operators.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: Best Practices for Building Client Relations

Jacques Torres, Ron Ben-Israel and Jurgen DavidThe age old saying remains true—the customer really is always right. The success of your business relies on good customer experience. So, what does it take to make your clients happy? During our Pastry Plus conference this spring, Jacques Torres—ICC Dean of Pastry Arts, and Ron Ben-Israel—ICC Guest Master Pastry Chef, shared their experiences running some of the most successful businesses in pastry today. From custom designed wedding cakes to innovating new chocolate product lines, these chefs understand the importance of building client relations for continued business.

Their first tip for food business owners—start fostering long, healthy relationships from the moment your customers walk through the door. In this article, we share these experts best practices for building client relations to last a lifetime!

Listen To Your Customers

jacques torresInspiration for new products can come from even the littlest customers. This is the truth for one of Jacques Torres Chocolate’s most popular products, chocolate covered cheerios. One day, while at his shop, Jacques Torres noticed parents in the store giving their children Cheerios since it was all they would eat. That week, he went to the grocery store and bought a giant box of Cheerios to cover in chocolate (after all, he is “Mr. Chocolate!”).

Not thinking anything of it, he put a bowl of them out for customers to try. People would politely take one, then come back and take handfuls of the chocolate covered cereal to go. He knew he had a hit and had to act upon it.

Looking back on it now, he shares that, “In your career, you’re going to want to do things that you want to do, and there’s nothing wrong with that…But, after-all, your customers will be the one eating your products.”

Accept the Blame

ron ben israelIt’s easy to think that—especially in the custom cake business—your customers will only be one time purchasers that you won’t see again. But, it’s important to remember that everyone can become a repeat customer. That’s why when a recent Mother of the Bride complained that the wedding cake for her daughter was incorrect, Ron Ben-Israel found a way to fix the situation immediately.

After much investigation, he found out that the wedding cake sent to the venue was indeed the correct cake. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. However, instead of telling the mother that he was correct, he accepted responsibility for the situation and sent a personalized cake to the client. By going the extra mile to right the circumstances, the unhappy client became a repeat customer. Now, he is creating custom cakes for their whole family!

Respond To Feedback

panelistsIn this day and age, you can’t hide from a bad review or comment. Whether it’s a Yelp or Google review, a comment on Instagram or a direct message on Twitter, entrepreneurs are constantly receiving feedback—both good and bad about their businesses. Almost 20 years ago when Torres started his chocolate business, this wasn’t the case. He would receive feedback from his customers in person, without the potential of it escalating on social media.

Now that his business has grown to over 100 employees, it would be easy for Torres to ignore customer’s complaints and let someone on his team handle it. But, to this day, Torres still calls his customers personally to address concerns and find solutions that make them feel heard. Ultimately, what makes his business stand out is the way he works with his customers to provide a personalized experience—one that foster’s customer loyalty.


The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: 4 Ways To Bring Sustainability To Your Kitchen

In celebration of Earth Day this month, and as a part of our Understanding Your ‘Foodprint’ series, our latest installment of Business Bites: Reaping the Benefits of Going Green discussed the economic rewards of making ethical & sustainable choices for your restaurant or food business.

In a passionate discussion led by moderator Alek Marfisi (Owner of Upwind Strategies & ICC Food Business Fundamentals instructor), panelists Christina Mitchell Grace (CEO of Foodprint Group), John Oppermann (Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative), Naama Tamir (Co-Founder of Lighthouse Lighthouse Outpost), and Michael Chernow (Co-Founder of The Meatball Shop & Founder of Seamore’s) shared their experiences running, or working with, restaurants & food businesses promoting sustainable, zero waste practices. Read our full recap of the conversation here.

You won’t be able to change everything all at once. Instead use these tips and resources to help you get started by doing one or two things differently today. Whether you’re a food business owner, chef or home cook, making small changes to your foodprint can have large impacts on the environment. Check them out below!

For The Food Business Owner

Sustainable practices aren’t limited to just the kitchen—incorporating them into every facet of your business can not only reduce waste and help to save money, but also educates your customers on how their actions impact the environment as well. Share your stories with your audience and they’ll reward you by becoming loyal customers.

This infographic from the NYC Department of Sanitation will help introduce you to the world of efficiency, creating a more usable space for your business, which will lead to less waste. Download their full Zero Waste Design Guidelines here or evaluate how much waste you generate by using their calculator here.

This organization provides organic collection solutions for small food businesses including in-house education to make composting easy, reduce waste & recycling costs, and guide you in edible food rescue opportunities.

Carbon Credit Capital helps to calculate your company’s emissions and find solutions for going carbon neutral.

Whether you’re looking for local compost drop offs or shopping for recycled kitchen appliances, Big Reuse has you covered.

For the Chef

As a chef, being focused on sustainability isn’t just trendy, it’s imperative. Chefs have an opportunity to advocate for better practices in our food systems and educate their customers through the food that they cook. In addition to the positive marketing & storytelling for your brand, incorporating sustainable practices can help to cut costs as well.

It’s no secret that chef’s enjoy cooking with what’s in season, and this seasonal food guide from allows you to search by your location and time of year to see what’s available near you! By choosing ingredients that are local, your food dollar goes directly to farmers and you eliminate environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles.

According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association, 90% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully or over-exploited. Help to recover the world’s oceans by diversifying the fish that you use and educate your customers on making the right choice.

Meat has long been at the center of the plate, but by making vegetables more appealing and using descriptive words on your menus, you can draw attention away from resource-consuming meat.

ICC special guest panelist Naama Tamir is the owner of Lighthouse Brooklyn and Lighthouse Outpost. Her restaurants go beyond farm-to-table dining, embracing sustainability in everything they do. At Lighthouse, everything has multiple uses. They recycle, compost, and collaborate with other green-oriented businesses to grow, improve and educate their staff, guests and community. From recycling empty wine bottles into candles for the restaurant and turning cooking oil into bio diesel, to returning oyster shells to the Billion Oyster Project, everything is re-purposed into a new life. Places like Industrial/Organic are taking it to the next level, deriving organic chemicals and ingredients from food waste—simultaneously diverting food waste from landfills and creating recycled home & personal care products, dietary supplements and more.

For the Home Cook

If you live in NYC, you know that the NYC Department of Sanitation requires all residents to recycle, so you’re already on the right path to decreasing your carbon footprint. Here are a few small steps you can take to bring sustainability into your kitchen, and home!

This short, fun quiz explores what your foodprint is, introducing the subject of sustainability and educates you on your carbon footprint based off of your food habits. They’ll provide you with tips at the end that you can apply to improve your foodprint.

While most chefs are trained to practice whole-ingredient cooking, it can be more difficult to do so at home without the proper education. Reducing food waste as you cook at home not only saves you money, it provides a better tasting product while also making small positive changes on the environment.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, The Earth Day Initiative has launched their Do Just 1 Thing campaign to encourage people to switch to clean energy whether for their residential or business dwelling.

60,000 plastic bags are used every 5 seconds in the US, so it’s time to start doing your part. Carry a reusable tote that you can put groceries and any other purchased items into instead of a single use plastic bag. Start now because by March 2020, NYC will have officially banned single use plastic bags.


The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.

food business fundamentals

Business Bites Resources: Managing Your Staff

Maintaining a healthy team is vital to the success of your business. Whether you run a kitchen, own a bakery or are looking to open a restaurant, it’s important to learn the key steps to managing and motivating your staff to success. Jackie McMann-Oliveri, Director of Talent and Culture for Bold Food, joined us at Pastry Plus this March to answer everyone’s burning question, how do I retain employees and build a successful team? A certified Professional in Human Resources, Jackie is responsible for supporting all of Bobby Flay’s restaurants, and brings her HR knowledge and experience to ICC’s Food Business Fundamentals program.

jackie mcmann oliveriIn her 75-minute breakout class on managing your staff, Jackie shared the importance of selection and hiring, training and retraining, and lastly, engagement and retention to a sold out class of pastry professionals—pastry chefs, bakery owners, and aspiring pastry business owners. Jackie began by discussing what makes a great leader. Great leadership encourages quality work and staff retention, the hallmarks of a successful establishment. Read below to see Jackie’s three qualities of great leadership and learn how you can adapt them for your team!

Select and hire amazing people.

Hire for character and a passion for the job, not necessarily skills, which can be taught. More time hiring means less time firing.

Give them the tools and support they need to do their job.

An employee handbook is a necessity for effectively managing your staff. This handbook clearly states the rules and expectations of your business. While many companies have a handbook, Jackie recommends going over one topic a week at a short meeting, which keeps the staff engaged and reminds them of the rules in the workplace that must be respected.

People follow leaders, not because they have to, but because they want to. Leaders listen more than they speak, are trustworthy, and accessible to their staff. Recognizing employees through rewards and other means goes a long way in retaining staff, as does actively promoting a work-life balance.

Practice consistent accountability.

Practicing consistent accountability is necessary so that the rules are enforced and respected. Conversations with unhappy employees are uncomfortable, but having the conversation is necessary and usually results in a positive outcome. Get to know your staff and trust your gut. While navigating this in small business models can seem more challenging than a large company, these fundamentals on leadership and staff management are applicable to all business models.


The BUSINESS BITES, brought to you by the Food Business Fundamentals program at ICC, is a series of workshops, discussion panels, networking events and resources designed to support entrepreneurs in the food industry.