Starting a Small Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio


According to the New York Times, growth in Columbus has been spurred by a local arts event called Gallery Hop that "helped transform the formerly neglected, crime-ridden urban district into the vibrant, independent arts enclave that it is today." Many of the restaurants in the Ohio city of Columbus are art-themed, with original work on the walls and creative items on the menu. Your small restaurant could hew to a more traditional model or innovate as well. The most important legal steps to opening a new restaurant in Columbus are to obtain a food handlers' and a liquor license, if you plan to serve alcoholic beverages.

How to Open a Restaurant

  • Obtain the proper licenses and permits. It is important to do this step first because according to the Ohio Restaurant Association getting all the papers together can take up to a month. Go the the website of the Ohio Food Handlers to obtain a food handlers license in person. Then apply at City Hall for a business identification number, which will allow you to run a business in the jurisdiction of Columbus. If necessary, also apply for a liquor license. In Columbus, this will cost upwards from $300, depending on the liquor service and hours you plan to offer alcohol.

  • Hone your vision. You have already decided on an up-and-coming city with a taste for good food and on a smaller size, so you are part of the way there. Decide what type of food you would like to serve. If you are the chef, play to your strengths. Know how to bake a mean pizza? Or do you have all of your Thai grandmother's recipes written on note cards in your cabinet? These might be good places to start.

  • Choose your exact location in Columbus. A neighborhood called Short North might be a good first place to start looking as it has a relatively young, affluent crowd and plenty of cultural life.

  • Design your space. Keep in mind that the kitchen is the beating heart of a restaurant so it must be spacious, clean and efficient. A small restaurant is no longer small after about 15 tables or so, so limit your seating. Columbus is small and doesn't get much foot traffic in the evening so it might be hard to fill a large restaurant anyway. A small restaurant lends itself to a romantic dinner, so consider decorating with soft curtains, candles or individual tabletop lamps. Keep the accessories to a minimum; otherwise your small space may feel cluttered.

  • Hire any necessary staff. For a small restaurant you will only need one chef, and usually one or two waiters. If you are the owner and the chef you may want to consider hiring a manager. Write complete job descriptions and start looking ahead of time to make sure you get the most qualified individuals possible.

  • Hype your restaurant. Before opening, it is important to spread the word. Blitz the local print media, the Columbus Republic," and radio stations with advertisements. Make sure that you take advantage as much as possible of the "honeymoon period" when a restaurant first opens and people are curious about it to deliver great quality.

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  • Photo Credit Columbus monument at night image by Jakub Barvínek from
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