How to Open a Retro Diner

Written by shanika chapman
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How to Open a Retro Diner
A retro diner (diner image by michael langley from

For more than a century, diners have been providing no-frills comfort food and endless coffee to communities around the nation. Retro style diners, in particular, appeal to all sorts, with their mini-jukeboxes, retro decor and unique construction. According to the National Restaurant Association, the industry is expected to grow in 2010. The ingredients for success are relatively simple: good food, friendly service, a clean atmosphere and reasonable prices. Add to that a crash course in business management, and a savvy entrepreneur could do well to start his own retro diner.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Liability insurance
  • Business license
  • Health inspection
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Retro furniture and decor
  • Employees
  • Food management software
  • Suppliers

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  1. 1

    Contact your state's health department to learn the laws governing restaurants in your area, as well as permit and inspection requirements and fees. Request a copy of your state's food regulations and thoroughly review them. If you intend to allow smoking or sell alcohol, learn the rules and fees associated with both.

  2. 2

    Enrol in a crash course in business management or consult with someone experienced with operating a restaurant. Then develop a business plan for your diner and establish who you will serve and in what capacity. For example, a 24-hour diner should be positioned in a location that is accessible to highways, businesses that have nightshifts or college kids who maintain late hours. If you will only be open during breakfast and lunch, a location near a residential area might be better suited. Consult with an accountant, insurance agent and lawyer to help you identify your tax liability, insurance liablity and draft paperwork for your diner.

  3. 3

    Determine whether you need to buy an existing diner to revamp or simply procure commercial land in which to construct your diner. Start by developing a concept for your retro diner. Then determine how you intend to bring it to life. Retro diners have a particular look. While many are manufactured by diner design companies, others are constructed from railroad cars or trolleys. You'll either need to hire an architect or contractor familiar with diner construction to revamp an existing building or hire a diner construction company to build your diner from the ground up. It may be easier and financially advantageous to simply purchase a completed diner to put on your land.

    Select a high-visibility location near accessible and popular roads with adequate parking. If buying an old restaurant, verify that the kitchen equipment is operable and that there is good ventilation and enough power outlets. If operating a 24-hour diner, implement good street lighting.

  4. 4

    Outfit your kitchen with stainless steel equipment, stoves, refrigeration, storage containers and utensils. Purchase retro furniture and decor, such as stools, car booth seats, reproduction signs, murals, jukeboxes and candy machines.

  5. 5

    Develop your menu and price list. While the majority of your menu should include popular, local comfort foods, one way to separate your restaurant is by offering a signature dish or dessert that can't be found elsewhere. Once you've established a menu, meet with local produce, dairy and meat suppliers and ask about minimum order requirements, delivery schedules, notification time if the supplier runs out of a product, return policies in the event of damage and if any products are subject to seasonal pricing.

  6. 6

    Invest in a food costing and inventory software program to help you determine food and ingredient costs, selling prices, portion sizes and nutritional analysis, as well as a point-of-sale system that tracks inventory, payroll and other accounting expenses.

  7. 7

    Hire an experienced cook and wait staff. Avoid employee turnover by offering reasonable wages along with whatever benefits you can afford, such as a free meal per shift or discounts on meals for family members; and by respecting your employees and encouraging a family atmosphere. Train your employees to understand your vision for the diner and what you expect out of them. Be willing to fire those employees who aren't upholding your goals.

  8. 8

    Schedule an inspection of your diner with the health department. Upon approval, open your doors for business.

Tips and warnings

  • To further promote a retro feel, consider having your wait staff dance to certain songs throughout the day or by request from customers.

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