How to Appraise a Restaurant Business

A restaurant may be appraised by a propective buyer.
A restaurant may be appraised by a propective buyer. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

There are several reasons for appraising a restaurant, along with many nuances to the appraisal itself. Let’s review how a prospective buyer can appraise a restaurant for purchase. There are three general ways that restaurants' sale prices are established: based on profits, assets, or “key costs,” referring to its location value. The buyer should be aware of whether the restaurant is making a profit and what furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) are included in the sale. If a restaurant is profitable, a buyer can take a financial approach to the appraisal. If the restaurant is not turning a profit, it still has value in its equipment. In some cases, a restaurant is sold for key costs: its location, property/lease value and entitlements.

Profitable Restaurants

Review all the financial data available. This includes a minimum of the past three years’ tax returns, profit and loss statements, and any additional records of cash sales (cash sales often are not reported on tax returns or elsewhere). Note that cost of goods sold (COG) is usually around 20 to 40 percent of revenues depending on the type of restaurant.

Thoroughly review all books and records.
Thoroughly review all books and records. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Obtain a list of all FF&E that will be included in the sale price. Although the sale will be predicated on the annual profits, the restaurant can’t operate without equipment that has the required permits.

Review the entire lease thoroughly before signing it. Understand the monthly rate and any common area maintenance (CAM) fees, along with any other charges and fees. Also, review the term and option to extend.

Use a multiplier of the annual profits to determine the restaurant’s value. In a good economy, the rule of thumb for profitable restaurant value is two to three times the restaurant's annual profits (or discretionary earnings) plus inventory. In a bad economy, it is more likely a 1.5 to 2 multiple of discretionary earnings plus inventory.

Unprofitable Restaurants

Examine the hood, floor drains, three-part sink and permitted refrigerator units to make sure they are functioning. The restaurant industry is probably one of the few industries where you can sell a business that isn’t making a profit, as the biggest barrier to entry is the initial build-out cost. A restaurant will sell for its permitted and functioning equipment or sometimes for its location and entitlement to operate at that location.

Check out the hood, floor drains, three-part sink and permitted refrigerator units.
Check out the hood, floor drains, three-part sink and permitted refrigerator units. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Determine what, if any, FF&E are included in the sale, as the restaurant build-out and obtaining the permits for equipment is expensive. Appraise the hood, floor drains, three-part sink and permitted refrigerator units. Ranges, ovens and other equipment are valuable, too, but they are easier to replace without requiring permits. The FF&E should be appraised upon replacement costs in order to determine the value. Don’t overlook the employees; they are often an important asset to consider too. Get a good understanding of their salary and benefit structure.

Restaurant staff is an asset too.
Restaurant staff is an asset too. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Make a thorough review of the lease or the real estate purchase agreement. Make sure the zoning and alcoholic beverage licenses are all in order, before you sign any binding agreements.

Tips & Warnings

  • It is always a good idea to enlist the aid of a professional. An experienced business broker will provide well-rounded guidance in the appraisal and purchase process. A buyer can engage attorneys and accountants, but a business broker is much more cost-effective. Also, consult your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). SBDCs are funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and offer free and low-cost business assistance.

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