How to write a business plan for a dark kitchen?
Writing a business plan for a dark kitchen can be an intimidating task, especially for those just starting.
This in-depth guide is designed to help entrepreneurs like you understand how to create a comprehensive business plan so that you can approach the exercise with method and confidence.
We'll cover: why writing a dark kitchen business plan is so important - both when starting up, and when running and growing the business - what information you need to include in your plan, how it should be structured, and what tools you can use to get the job done efficiently.
Let's get started!
Why write a business plan for a dark kitchen?
Being clear on the scope and goals of the document will make it easier to understand its structure and content. So before diving into the actual content of the plan, let's have a quick look at the main reasons why you would want to write a dark kitchen business plan in the first place.
To have a clear roadmap to grow the business
Running a small business is tough! Economic cycles bring growth and recessions, while the business landscape is ever-changing with new technologies, regulations, competitors, and consumer behaviours emerging constantly.
In such a dynamic context, operating a business without a clear roadmap is akin to driving blindfolded: it's risky, to say the least. That's why crafting a business plan for your dark kitchen is vital to establish a successful and sustainable venture.
To create an effective business plan, you'll need to assess your current position (if you're already in business) and define where you want the business to be in the next three to five years.
Once you have a clear destination for your dark kitchen, you'll have to:
- Identify the necessary resources (human, equipment, and capital) needed to reach your goals,
- Determine the pace at which the business needs to progress to meet its objectives as scheduled,
- Recognize and address the potential risks you may encounter along the way.
Engaging in this process regularly proves advantageous for both startups and established companies. It empowers you to make informed decisions about resource allocation, ensuring the long-term success of your business.
To maintain visibility on future cash flows
Businesses can go for years without making a profit, but they go bust as soon as they run out of cash. That's why "cash is king", and maintaining visibility on your dark kitchen's future cash flows is critical.
How do I do that? That's simple: you need an up-to-date financial forecast.
The good news is that your dark kitchen business plan already contains a financial forecast (more on that later in this guide), so all you have to do is to keep it up-to-date.
To do this, you need to regularly compare the actual financial performance of your business to what was planned in your financial forecast, and adjust the forecast based on the current trajectory of your business.
Monitoring your dark kitchen's financial health will enable you to identify potential financial problems (such as an unexpected cash shortfall) early and to put in place corrective measures. It will also allow you to detect and capitalize on potential growth opportunities (higher demand from a given segment of customers for example).
To secure financing
Whether you are a startup or an existing business, writing a detailed dark kitchen business plan is essential when seeking financing from banks or investors.
This makes sense given what we've just seen: financiers want to ensure you have a clear roadmap and visibility on your future cash flows.
Banks will use the information included in the plan to assess your borrowing capacity (how much debt your business can support) and your ability to repay the loan before deciding whether they will extend credit to your business and on what terms.
Similarly, investors will review your plan carefully to assess if their investment can generate an attractive return on investment.
To do so, they will be looking for evidence that your dark kitchen has the potential for healthy growth, profitability, and cash flow generation over time.
Now that you understand why it is important to create a business plan for a dark kitchen, let's take a look at what information is needed to create one.
Information needed to create a business plan for a dark kitchen
You need the right data in order to project sales, investments and costs accurately in the financial forecast of your dark kitchen business plan.
Below, we'll cover three key pieces of information you should gather before drafting your business plan.
Carrying out market research for a dark kitchen
Carrying out market research before writing a business plan for a dark kitchen is essential to ensure that the financial projections are accurate and realistic.
Market research helps you gain insight into your target customer base, competitors, pricing strategies and other key factors which can have an impact on the commercial success of your business.
In particular, it is useful in forecasting revenue as it provides valuable data regarding potential customers’ spending habits and preferences.
You may discover that customers in your area could be drawn to convenience and ordering online. Additionally, market research could reveal that customers might be willing to pay a premium for high-end and gourmet meals.
This information can then be used to create more accurate financial projections which will help investors make informed decisions about investing in your dark kitchen.
Developing the sales and marketing plan for a dark kitchen
As you embark on creating your dark kitchen business plan, it is crucial to budget sales and marketing expenses beforehand.
A well-defined sales and marketing plan should include precise projections of the actions required to acquire and retain customers. It will also outline the necessary workforce to execute these initiatives and the budget required for promotions, advertising, and other marketing efforts.
This approach ensures that the appropriate amount of resources is allocated to these activities, aligning with the sales and growth objectives outlined in your business plan.
The staffing and capital expenditure requirements of a dark kitchen
Whether you are starting or expanding a dark kitchen, it is important to have a clear plan for recruitment and capital expenditures (investment in equipment and real estate) in order to ensure the success of the business.
Both the recruitment and investment plans need to be coherent with the timing and level of growth planned in your forecast, and require appropriate funding.
A dark kitchen might incur staffing costs for a head chef, sous chef, line cooks, dishwashers, and delivery drivers. Additionally, the kitchen would need to purchase equipment such as commercial kitchen appliances, utensils, and restaurant supplies. The dark kitchen would also need to cover costs for technology such as a POS system, kitchen tablets, and other delivery technology.
In order to create a realistic financial forecast, you will also need to consider the other operating expenses associated with running the business on a day-to-day basis (insurance, bookkeeping, etc.).
Once you have all the necessary information to create a business plan for your dark kitchen, it is time to start creating your financial forecast.
What goes into your dark kitchen's financial forecast?
The financial forecast of your dark kitchen's business plan will enable you to assess the growth, profitability, funding requirements, and cash generation potential of your business in the coming years.
The four key outputs of a financial forecast for a dark kitchen are:
- The profit and loss (P&L) statement,
- The projected balance sheet,
- The cash flow forecast,
- And the sources and uses table.
Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail.
The projected P&L statement
Your dark kitchen forecasted P&L statement enables the reader of your business plan to get an idea of how much revenue and profits your business is expected to make in the near future.
Ideally, your reader will want to see:
- Growth above the inflation level
- Expanding profit margins
- Positive net profit throughout the plan
Expectations for an established dark kitchen will of course be different than for a startup. Existing businesses which have reached their cruising altitude might have slower growth and higher margins than ventures just being started.
The forecasted balance sheet of your dark kitchen
The projected balance sheet of your dark kitchen will enable the reader of your business plan to assess the overall financial health of your business.
It shows three elements: assets, liabilities and equity:
- Assets: are productive resources owned by the business, such as equipment, cash, and accounts receivable (money owed by clients).
- Liabilities: are debts owed to creditors, lenders, and other entities, such as accounts payable (money owed to suppliers).
- Equity: includes the sums invested by the shareholders or business owners and the profits and losses accumulated by the business to date (which are called retained earnings). It is a proxy for the value of the owner's stake in the business.
Analysing your dark kitchen projected balance sheet provides an understanding of your dark kitchen's working capital structure, investment and financing policies.
In particular, the readers of your plan can compare the level of financial debt on the balance sheet to the equity value to measure the level of financial risk (equity doesn't need to be reimbursed, while financial debt must be repaid, making it riskier).
They can also use your balance sheet to assess your dark kitchen's liquidity and solvency:
- A liquidity analysis: focuses on whether or not your business has sufficient cash and short-term assets to cover its liabilities due in the next 12 months.
- A solvency analysis: takes and longer view to assess whether or not your business has the capacity to repay its debts over the medium-term.
The cash flow forecast
As we've seen earlier in this guide, monitoring future cash flows is the key to success and the only way of ensuring that your dark kitchen has enough cash to operate.
As you can expect showing future cash flows is the main role of the cash flow forecast in your dark kitchen business plan.
It is best practice to organise the cash flow statement by nature in order to show the cash impact of the following areas:
- Cash flow generated from operations: the operating cash flow shows how much cash is generated or consumed by the business's commercial activities
- Cash flow from investing activities: the investing cash flow shows how much cash is being invested in capital expenditure (equipment, real estate, etc.) either to maintain the business's equipment or to expand its capabilities
- Cash flow from financing activities: the financing cash flow shows how much cash is raised or distributed to financiers
Looking at the cash flow forecast helps you to make sure that your business has enough cash to keep running, and can help you anticipate potential cash shortfalls.
Your dark kitchen business plan will normally include both yearly and monthly cash flow forecasts so that the readers can view the impact of seasonality on your business cash position and generation.
The initial financing plan
The sources and uses table or initial financing plan is a key component of your business plan when starting a dark kitchen.
It shows where the capital needed to set up the business will come from (sources) and how it will be spent (uses).
This table helps size the investment required to set up the dark kitchen, and understand how risks will be distributed between the business owners, and the financiers.
The sources and uses table also highlights what the starting cash position will be. This is key for startups as the business needs to have sufficient funding to sustain operations until the break-even point is reached.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what will go into the financial forecast of your dark kitchen business plan, let's have a look at the written part of the plan.
Need inspiration for your business plan?
The Business Plan Shop has dozens of business plan templates that you can use to get a clear idea of what a complete business plan looks like.
The written part of a dark kitchen business plan
The written part of a dark kitchen business plan is composed of 7 main sections:
- The executive summary
- The presentation of the company
- The products and services
- The market analysis
- The strategy
- The operations
- The financial plan
Throughout these sections, you will seek to provide the reader with the details and context needed for them to form a view on whether or not your business plan is achievable and your forecast a realistic possibility.
Let's go through the content of each section in more detail!
1. The executive summary
In your dark kitchen's business plan, the first section is the executive summary — a captivating overview of your plan that aims to pique the reader's interest and leave them eager to learn more about your business.
When crafting the executive summary, start with an introduction to your business, including its name, concept, location, how long it has been running, and what sets it apart. Briefly mention the products and services you plan to offer and your target customer profile.
Following that, provide an overview of the addressable market for your dark kitchen, current trends, and potential growth opportunities.
Next, include a summary of key financial figures like projected revenues, profits, and cash flows.
Finally, in the "ask" section, detail any funding requirements you may have.
2. The presentation of the company
As you build your dark kitchen business plan, the second section deserves attention as it delves into the structure and ownership, location, and management team of your company.
In the structure and ownership part, you'll provide valuable insights into the legal structure of the business, the identities of the owners, and their respective investments and ownership stakes. This level of transparency is vital, particularly if you're seeking financing, as it clarifies which legal entity will receive the funds and who holds the reins of the business.
Moving to the location part, you'll offer a comprehensive view of the company's premises and articulate why this specific location is strategic for the business, emphasizing factors like catchment area, accessibility, and nearby amenities.
When describing the location of your dark kitchen to a third party financier, you could emphasize the potential customer base in the area. You could explain that there is a high population density which could result in a high demand for delivery services, and that the area has a diverse range of businesses which could create a broad customer base for the kitchen. Additionally, you could discuss the potential for growth, as the area could be well suited for a dark kitchen due to its proximity to major transportation links and access to a large, metropolitan area. Finally, explain that the area has a good infrastructure, with reliable utilities and access to necessary resources for running a successful dark kitchen.
Lastly, you should introduce your esteemed management team. Provide a thorough explanation of each member's role, background, and extensive experience.
It's equally important to highlight any past successes the management team has achieved and underscore the duration they've been working together. This information will instil trust in potential lenders or investors, showcasing the strength and expertise of your leadership team and their ability to deliver the business plan.
3. The products and services section
The products and services section of your business plan should include a detailed description of the offerings that your company provides to its customers.
For example, your dark kitchen might offer a variety of restaurant-quality meals, such as Italian, Mexican, and Asian dishes, as they can be quickly prepared and delivered to customers. You could also offer meal-replacement kits, such as pre-cooked proteins, pre-chopped vegetables, and pre-made sauces, so customers can quickly assemble meals in their own homes. Additionally, you could offer catering services, allowing customers to order large meals for special occasions with quick delivery.
When drafting this section, you should be precise about the categories of products or services you sell, the types of customers you are targeting and how customers can buy them.
4. The market analysis
When outlining your market analysis in the dark kitchen business plan, it's essential to include comprehensive details about customers' demographics and segmentation, target market, competition, barriers to entry, and relevant regulations.
The primary aim of this section is to give the reader an understanding of the market size and appeal while demonstrating your expertise in the industry.
To begin, delve into the demographics and segmentation subsection, providing an overview of the addressable market for your dark kitchen, key marketplace trends, and introducing various customer segments and their preferences in terms of purchasing habits and budgets.
Next, shift your focus to the target market subsection, where you can zoom in on the specific customer segments your dark kitchen targets. Explain how your products and services are tailored to meet the unique needs of these customers.
For example, your target market might include young professionals with busy schedules that don't have time to cook. These customers may be looking for convenient and high-quality meal options. They are likely to be tech-savvy and willing to order food online.
In the competition subsection, introduce your main competitors and explain what sets your dark kitchen apart from them.
Finally, round off your market analysis by providing an overview of the main regulations that apply to your dark kitchen.
5. The strategy section
When writing the strategy section of a business plan for your dark kitchen, it is essential to include information about your competitive edge, pricing strategy, sales & marketing plan, milestones, and risks and mitigants.
The competitive edge subsection should explain what sets your company apart from its competitors. This part is especially key if you are writing the business plan of a startup, as you have to make a name for yourself in the marketplace against established players.
The pricing strategy subsection should demonstrate how you intend to remain profitable while still offering competitive prices to your customers.
The sales & marketing plan should outline how you intend to reach out and acquire new customers, as well as retain existing ones with loyalty programs or special offers.
The milestones subsection should outline what your company has achieved to date, and its main objectives for the years to come - along with dates so that everyone involved has clear expectations of when progress can be expected.
The risks and mitigants subsection should list the main risks that jeopardize the execution of your plan and explain what measures you have taken to minimize these. This is essential in order for investors or lenders to feel secure in investing in your venture.
1. The dark kitchen could experience unexpected staffing shortages due to employee illness or injury. This could lead to delays in preparing and delivering orders, resulting in lost customers. 2. The dark kitchen may face security risks due to criminal activity in the area. Stolen equipment, robbery, and vandalism could lead to significant financial and operational losses.
6. The operations section
In your business plan, it's also essential to provide a detailed overview of the operations of your dark kitchen.
Start by covering your team, highlighting key roles and your recruitment plan to support the expected growth. Outline the qualifications and experience required for each role and your intended recruitment methods, whether through job boards, referrals, or headhunters.
Next, clearly state your dark kitchen's operating hours, allowing the reader to assess staffing levels adequately. Additionally, mention any plans for varying opening times during peak seasons and how you'll handle customer queries outside normal operating hours.
Then, shift your focus to the key assets and intellectual property (IP) necessary for your business. If you rely on licenses, trademarks, physical structures like equipment or property, or lease agreements, make sure to include them in this section.
You could have key assets such as a commercial kitchen with the necessary equipment and a team of experienced chefs. Furthermore, you might have intellectual property such as recipes, techniques, and processes that have been developed over time to create the unique dishes your kitchen specializes in.
Lastly, include a list of suppliers you plan to work with, detailing their services and main commercial terms, such as price, payment terms, and contract duration. Investors are interested in understanding why you've chosen specific suppliers, which may be due to higher-quality products or established relationships from previous ventures.
7. The presentation of the financial plan
The financial plan section is where we will present the financial forecast we talked about earlier in this guide.
Now that you have a clear idea of what goes in your dark kitchen business plan, let's look at the solutions you can use to draft yours.
What tool should I use to write my dark kitchen's business plan?
In this section, we will be reviewing the two main solutions for creating a dark kitchen business plan:
- Using specialized online business plan software,
- Outsourcing the plan to the business plan writer.
Using an online business plan software for your dark kitchen's business plan
The modern and most efficient way to write a dark kitchen business plan is to use business plan software.
There are several advantages to using specialized software:
- You can easily create your financial forecast by letting the software take care of the financial calculations for you without errors
- You are guided through the writing process by detailed instructions and examples for each part of the plan
- You can access a library of dozens of complete business plan samples and templates for inspiration
- You get a professional business plan, formatted and ready to be sent to your bank or investors
- You can easily track your actual financial performance against your financial forecast
- You can create scenarios to stress test your forecast's main assumptions
- You can easily update your forecast as time goes by to maintain visibility on future cash flows
- You have a friendly support team on standby to assist you when you are stuck
If you're interested in using this type of solution, you can try The Business Plan Shop for free by signing up here.
Hiring a business plan writer to write your dark kitchen's business plan
Outsourcing your dark kitchen business plan to a business plan writer can also be a viable option.
Business plan writers are skilled in creating error-free business plans and accurate financial forecasts. Moreover, hiring a consultant can save you valuable time, allowing you to focus on day-to-day business operations.
However, it's essential to be aware that hiring business plan writers will be expensive, as you're not only paying for their time but also the software they use and their profit margin.
Based on experience, you should budget at least £1.5k ($2.0k) excluding tax for a comprehensive business plan, and more if you require changes after initial discussions with lenders or investors.
Also, exercise caution when seeking investment. Investors prefer their funds to be directed towards business growth rather than spent on consulting fees. Therefore, the amount you spend on business plan writing services and other consulting services should be insignificant compared to the amount raised.
Keep in mind that one drawback is that you usually don't own the business plan itself; you only receive the output, while the actual document is saved in the consultant's business planning software. This can make it challenging to update the document without retaining the consultant's services.
For these reasons, carefully consider outsourcing your dark kitchen business plan to a business plan writer, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of seeking outside assistance.
Why not create your dark kitchen's business plan using Word or Excel?
Using Microsoft Excel and Word (or their Google, Apple, or open-source equivalents) to write a dark kitchen business plan is a terrible idea.
For starters, creating an accurate and error-free financial forecast on Excel (or any spreadsheet) is very technical and requires both a strong grasp of accounting principles and solid skills in financial modelling.
As a result, it is unlikely anyone will trust your numbers unless - like us at The Business Plan Shop - you hold a degree in finance and accounting and have significant financial modelling experience in your past.
The second reason is that it is inefficient. Building forecasts on spreadsheets was the only option in the 1990s and early 2000s, nowadays technology has advanced and software can do it much faster and much more accurately.
And with the rise of AI, software is also becoming smarter at helping us detect mistakes in our forecasts and helping us analyse the numbers to make better decisions.
Also, using software makes it easy to compare actuals vs. forecasts and maintain our forecasts up to date to maintain visibility on future cash flows - as we discussed earlier in this guide - whereas this is a pain to do with a spreadsheet.
That's for the forecast, but what about the written part of my dark kitchen business plan?
This part is less error-prone, but here also software brings tremendous gains in productivity:
- Word processors don't include instructions and examples for each part of your business plan
- Word processors don't update your numbers automatically when they change in your forecast
- Word processors don't handle the formatting for you
Overall, while Word or Excel may be viable options for creating a dark kitchen business plan for some entrepreneurs, it is by far not the best or most efficient solution.
- Having an up-to-date business plan is key to maintaining visibility on your future cash flows.
- A business plan has 2 parts: a financial forecast highlighting the expected growth, profitability and cash generation of the business; and a written part which provides the context needed to interpret and assess the quality of the forecast.
- Using business plan software is the modern way of writing and maintaining business plans.
We hope that this guide helped you to better understand how to write the business plan for a dark kitchen. If you still have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.
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