How to Start a Carryout Restaurant

With modern busy lifestyles, it's hard to cook every night. Carry out/takout restaurants offer an easy solution to this problem. A carry out/take out restaurant is a food place where you can order food over the phone or in person and then take it with you. It's convenient for people who don’t have time to sit down and eat at the restaurant, or for those who want to eat at home, but don’t feel like cooking for themselves.

Delivery-only restaurants are also growing in popularity. Opening a carry out restaurant is a great way to enter the restaurant business with low overhead, as carry out places only need space for a kitchen and greeting area, and can forgo paying for a dining area.

Learn how to start your own Carryout Restaurant and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start a carryout restaurant by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your carryout restaurant. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the startup and ongoing costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a carryout restaurant?

You'll need a stove, cooking utensils and basic cooking equipment, a hood, countertops, and food and supplies. Even so, costs for a small carry out restaurant are minimal. A low-budget restaurant can be started for about $10,000 to $15,000 if you buy used equipment and find undervalued space you can rent cheaply in your town or city.

What are the ongoing expenses for a carryout restaurant?

Ongoing expenses include building rental, food, labor costs, insurance, utilities, and maintenance of your kitchen (cleaning, maintenance and repair of appliances, etc.). These costs may exceed several thousand dollars per month, or hundreds of thousands of dollars per month, depending on the size of your restaurant.

Who is the target market?

Target market for this business are busy professionals, families, elderly individuals, and people who either can't cook for themselves or don't want to.

How does a carryout restaurant make money?

Carry out restaurants make money by charging customers for food preparation and delivery.

How much can you charge customers?

What you charge clients depends entirely on what food you serve and where you're located. A sandwich shop will charge less than a take-out seafood restaurant.

How much profit can a carryout restaurant make?

Most restaurants operate on thin profit margins of between 2% and 8%. However, this depends entirely on your menu and pricing. If you generate good word of mouth, it's possible to have profit margins exceed 20%.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Make your restaurant more profitable by offering delivery options and by specializing in a particular kind of food. Instead of being a general cafeteria-style restaurant, niche down and offer only pizza or submarine sandwiches. Or, start a seafood, sushi, Thai, Mexican, or some other specialty take-out business.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your carryout restaurant is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

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For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

Federal Business Licensing Requirements

There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a carryout restaurant. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

A themed restaurant is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a themed restaurant.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your themed restaurant will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Food Regulations

When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a carryout restaurant

Promote your restaurant primarily through word of mouth. Do a good job on each and every delivery, and encourage people to share their experience with friends and family. When first starting, you can send out flyers and business cards, and even run a few ads. However, restaurants usually thrive on word of mouth advertising which cannot be replicated with other, more traditional, advertising methods.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Create an experience for your customers. Go beyond just delivery or take-out. Make the buying experience memorable. For example, if most other restaurants in the area are older and established, be the hip, fresh restaurant that's fast and serves higher quality food than everyone else. Don't be afraid to charge higher prices, either. Just because you're a take-out restaurant doesn't mean you have to compete on price if the quality is there.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Carryout Restaurant In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

This business is right for an individual who wants to open a restaurant but doesn't want the additional stress of managing a dining area. Since the focus is on cooking and delivery or take-out, there's less overhead and less to worry about. At the same time, the business owner needs to have a flexible work schedule and ability to adapt to stress. Just because there is no dining area doesn't mean it's a stress-free environment.

Business owners should also be passionate about cooking and food prep.

What happens during a typical day at a carryout restaurant?

A typical day in this business is very busy. Orders come in and prep cooks need to stay on top of them. If the business delivers food, then a strict delivery schedule needs to be maintained. If the business is successful, expect orders to be non-stop from open until close.

Aside from order taking and fulfillment, managers must take stock/inventory in the morning and reorder supplies as necessary. Owners must oversee and manage the workforce and labor requirements based on business volume.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful carryout restaurant?

You must have good organizational skills. If you plan on preparing food, you must also be a good line or prep cook (or a trained chef) and have good communication skills. You should also have excellent managerial skills for a restaurant business, which includes expediting orders and managing a fast-paced working environment.

What is the growth potential for a carryout restaurant?

Growth potential is amazing. A small take out or delivery company can operate on a skeleton crew of between 3 and 5 people. However, the business can also grow into a franchise operation. Mello's Carry Out in Chicago is an example of a successful small carry out restaurant. Ando Food, in New York City, is an example of a larger restaurant.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a carryout restaurant?

Reach out to your local community. At the end of the day, people will come to your restaurant for the food, not the atmosphere — especially since this is a carry out/take-out restaurant. Focus on making high-quality food people can afford. Host some prominent members of your community for a special "grand opening", where you offer them samples of your menu. You might even rent out space at a local park or set up a table and a few chairs outside your establishment. Call the local T.V. and radio stations and invite them to your grand opening.

How and when to build a team

Build a small team to start of at least 5 people. You'll need several prep cooks and staff to manage the deliveries and expediting. You'll also want someone handling the paperwork (legal, HR work, payroll, etc.).

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Tool.

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