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Sushi Business: Start and Grow a Thriving Sushi Restaurant

Danielle Collard
6 Jan 2023

Japanese food exports were worth just shy of 1 trillion yen before Covid-19 hit[1]. Now, the Japanese government wants its food industry to continue to grow into a multi-trillion yen wealth generator. Given the health benefits, the broad flavors, and the inimitable personality of Japanese cuisine, itโ€™s not hard to understand why the food has such strong appeal, with sushi in particular becoming ever more popular across the world.

There are currently over 4,000 sushi restaurants in the United States[2], ranging from small sushi business owners to sushi franchises, and all of them provide the best, fresh seafood for Americans across the country.

If you're a sushi-lover looking to get into the restaurant business, maybe the growing demand for Japanese cuisine presents you with the opportunity you've been waiting for. Read on for tips on how you can enter the sushi restaurant business and thrive.

What do people expect from a sushi restaurant?

When it comes to sushi restaurants, people expect an authentic experience that transports them straight to Japan. The atmosphere should be inviting and relaxed, the food fresh and flavorful, and the service attentive yet unobtrusive. In short, patrons of a sushi restaurant are looking for a unique culinary adventure they won't forget anytime soon - one that satisfies both their taste buds and their curiosity about Japanese culture.

In choosing a sushi restaurant, many of the conceptual decisions used to construct a business plan will come naturally. You'll naturally want a themed restaurant based around Japanese culture, which could either mean a traditional Japanese theme or a more modern design common in many Japanese urban areas.

What dishes do other sushi restaurants tend to offer?

In addition to sushi, a successful sushi restaurant could offer other Japanese dishes as part of its menu. 

Starters you could include are: edamame, miso soup, and seaweed salad. 

Soups such as udon noodle soup, ramen, and miso ramen are popular dishes that your customers will love. 

For main courses, traditional Japanese fare such as tempura and teriyaki are familiar to fans of Japanese dishes. Here are the key differences:

Tempura is food that has been lightly battered and deep-fried. The batter usually consists of flour, eggs, water, and salt. Teriyaki is a type of cooking in which the food is cooked with a sweet soy sauce glaze. It can be used for meats such as chicken or beef as well as vegetables. The difference between tempura and teriyaki is that tempura has a crispy texture from being fried, while teriyaki has a subtle sweetness from the glaze.

Teriyaki sauce may be familiar even to those new to Japanese cuisine. Food franchises such as Subway have adopted teriyaki into their menu, and it has proved very popular outside of Japan, just as it does inside.

As you can see, although you'll want to build your menu around sushi, with traditional and modern varieties (like the sushi burrito!), Japanese cuisine offers many alternatives for customers wishing to enjoy and explore.

Start your sushi franchise with a world-class restaurant POS

No restaurant business can provide the excellent service expected in the 2020s without the constant support of a hospitality POS (point-of-sale) system. It helps sushi businesses like yours complete transactions quicker and more reliably than ever before.

Epos Now customers can:

  • Take their business online, offer takeaway, and market their business with AppStore integrations and flexible business software.
  • Sell high-quality sushi quicker with KDS (kitchen display screen) linking for the front and back of the house.
  • Expand and adapt the business structure and obtain more potential customers on a system that grows alongside trade.

Find out more

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What are the most popular sushi dishes?

When it comes to sushi, there are many dishes that have become popular over the years. From classic nigiri and sashimi to modern creations like rainbow rolls and dragon rolls, sushi restaurants offer a wide variety of options for diners looking to explore Japanese cuisine. Each dish is unique in its own way, offering flavors and textures that can tantalize any palate.

Most sushi is made with rice and fresh seafood, but nigiri and sashimi are two of the most popular types of sushi. Nigiri sushi is a small ball of rice topped with fish or other seafood like shrimp or squid. Sashimi is slices of raw fish without rice.

Popular nigiri and sashimi dishes include salmon, tuna, snapper, yellowtail, and unagi. They can have different shapes, look different, and restaurants regularly put their own spin on these classic dishes, but both taste delicious! We encourage you to get creative with your own versions of these dishes; be it with shapes, sizes or presentation.

With a specialist sushi chef in the kitchen firing ace sushi on a fresh grill, the delicious food your sushi restaurant will provide is sure to prove popular.

How to start a sushi business

From finding the right location to hiring qualified staff, there are many steps involved in launching a successful sushi franchise. The first step should be to create a business plan, which will serve as your roadmap throughout the process and help ensure your venture is well thought out.

Creating a sushi business plan

A business plan should include details such as expected start-up costs, target customer base, menu items and unique selling points (USP) and marketing strategies. When building your plan, you will need to conduct a lot of research on the sushi industry, as well as how to run a business. You'll need to consider factors such as how to acquire a liquor license and alcoholic beverages, local zoning laws, and health regulations before making any major decisions about opening a sushi restaurant.

When you know the industry's laws, have completed market research to learn about the competition, and have compiled a budget, you'll be in a position to begin looking for your first location.

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Settling on a location

It may be that your business already has a location to operate from. If this is the case, then you can use the characteristics of that location to help shape your business plan. If not, then you'll need to choose your location carefully to maximize the great opportunity your plan offers.

The relationship between a restaurant and its location is crucial for several reasons. For example, the area your restaurant is in might have lots of passing traffic who see the new sushi hotspot and want to come in to try your specialty rolls. Without that crucial passing traffic, marketing the business will be that much harder.

Furthermore, areas with more restaurant competition, especially if they offer Japanese cuisine, will make it difficult to capture your market. Indeed, your target market will have a greater presence in different areas. Finding a gap in the market means seeing a place with potential customers and not much competition, a winning combination!

However, you will need to factor in the rent and utility prices of your location. More popular areas will likely cost more, so balance this with your expected return of investment to ensure your business will be a financial success.

A good location will also:

  • Be in an area people think of as fashionable, which will help improve your brand.
  • Be in a convenient location for all customers and staff members to access. This is particularly important in rural areas where travel may be limited.
  • Be in a beautiful neighborhood, making traveling to the restaurant more pleasant and safer.
  • Have reasonable utility, rent, or real estate prices that make running a sushi business affordable.

Purchase equipment and furniture

When creating a business plan, you'll have allocated funds for equipping your restaurant. As with any restaurant, the kitchen can be one of the more expensive areas to set up.

Your kitchen will likely need the following:

  • At least one large refrigerator and one larger freezer.
  • Several sets of worktops with industrial-grade utensils.
  • An industrial dishwasher and/or a large sink.
  • A wide range of pots, pans, colanders, sieves, and more.
  • One or more ovens and microwaves.
  • One or more sushi-maker machines.
  • A hot-store counter for finished dishes.

Your kitchen purchases can be made with your menu in mind. It's often a good idea to hire your sushi chef beforehand, which allows you to work together to kit the kitchen out with the most appropriate equipment.

Conversely, the restaurant area will need to meet several requirements simultaneously, such as:

  • Spaciousness vs capacity: Create a dining floor that feels spacious but can seat as many diners as possible. 
  • Accessibility: You need to ensure waiting staff and customers can navigate the floor easily. 
  • Atmosphere: Create an atmosphere for your restaurant so it is memorable to customers, along with delivering great service and food. 

Some sushi businesses include many close seats or stools to imitate the feel of a traditional Japanese restaurant while increasing capacity. Others prefer to create an easy, relaxed dining space. Your furniture will be a key component in how you create your desired vibe.

A spacious and relaxed atmosphere can also be created through decoration. Plants, artwork, and other notable features in your restaurant can build a sense of brand but also give customers a sense of privacy when seated and separate tables.  All of this can quickly add up, so be sure to research costs in your business plan.

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Develop a marketing and branding strategy

How you market and brand yourself is a key step on the way to sushi success. As with many other parts of the business, strong research and planning often make the biggest difference. So here are a few typical ways you can begin to create a name for yourself.

Establish a strong social media presence

Leverage popular social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., by regularly creating shareable content tailored towards appealing to your target audience โ€“ such as recipes for new sushi dishes or photos of freshly made rolls.This can help increase visibility about the restaurant's offerings online and encourage customers to share their own photos.

Gather a marketing list

Marketing your business isn't just about winning new visitors; it's also about retaining customers. Those customers who come into the store, and may not follow you on social media, can be retained through a mailing list.

You could start a newsletter with updates on the menu, promotions, and other business news. Even if you only publish quarterly, appearing in previous customers' emails can inspire further visits and establish stronger bonds between your business and customer base.

Create a logo, color theme, and a brand voice

Depending on your target market, how you craft the design elements of your business could be very different. But everything from your logo and name, color, furniture, decorations, and the language you use on your menu contributes to your business' identity.

Committing to a style allows customers to relate to and experience an atmosphere in your restaurant. To execute your brand effectively, this needs to be decided early so you can decide on your core values and communicate them to your customers.

Alternatives: open a franchise

If you're hesitant about being able to market an independent business in your area, franchising could be the solution. You'll still need an initial franchise fee, but the sushi business is chock full of potential franchisees with well-established sushi products. These include companies such as Koi Sushi Bar, Samurai Sam's Teriyaki Grill, Rock n Roll Sushi, and AFC Sushi.

Franchising means inheriting a well-known brand, its customer base, social media platforms, and many other valuable attributes. While this loses some of your independence over your operation, you'll still make profits from the business, which will vary depending on your business. Plus you can gain more customers quickly due to brand recognition.

Get started in sushi with a full Epos Now business suite

With your menu, location, equipment, and staff ready, the last thing to tick off is the restaurant POS your business will rely on. An Epos Now restaurant point of sale helps you create a stable business ready to expand into a sushi empire with multiple establishments. Design your own operating model based on your individual needs with hardware and software options, an in-house payment processing service, and much more:

  • Sell online, in-store, pick-up, takeaway, and any other way you can with an integrated, stock-controlled system.
  • Keep your staff and customers informed with detailed product and allergen information on your dishes at the point of purchase.
  • Benefit from detailed reporting to adapt your pricing strategy, manage inventory, staff, and more.
  • Grow your business without ever losing touch with 24/7 access through cloud-based trading.

Get in touch with our expert team by submitting your details below, and join over 55,000 businesses using the Epos Now POS system.

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