How to Sell a Restaurant in 90 Days

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October 31, 2011 by Shelli Margolin

How to Sell a Restaurant in 90 Days

A True Story


Restaurants are not necessarily an easy sell.  However, if they are priced at their proper value and positioned to sell in the right forums, they can be sold in a timely manner to the satisfaction of both the buyer and seller. Preparing the restaurant’s books and records for sale is as important as bringing in the right buyer. The following is a true story of a restaurant that recently sold through an experienced restaurant business broker.

When the Johnston’s[1] bought their pizza deli in Los Angeles five years ago, the plan was to build a business for their children to takeover.  Both Mr. & Mrs. Johnston had fulltime careers that they wanted to keep.  With the help of their son, the restaurant was able to sustain a positive cash-flow for several years.

However, both of their children started pursuing college educations in an unrelated field. Thus, the Johnston’s dream of passing the business on to their children vanished.  Mr. Johnston began spending more and more time running the restaurant while his son was in school.  Working at a full-time career and working in the restaurant soon became extremely stressful.

The stress and loss of motivation, along with a family illness, spurred the Johnstons to sell.  At the listing meeting, two pertinent questions were asked, 1) is your hood, floor drains and refrigeration exhaust in working order with valid permits and 2) what are your gross sales & net sales? These are the two most import issues regarding readiness for sale and determining price.

All the equipment and permits where in order. Thus, replacement costs were determined for the furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E).

Unfortunately, they didn’t have organized books and records.  Plus, a fair amount of sales where in unrecorded cash.  Once they reviewed the documentation they had and came up with annual totals for sales and expenditures, a legitimate profit and loss statement was created that a buyer could understand.

Because they hired staff to work the hours the family couldn’t, their net profits were negatively affected. The profit and loss statement was then adjusted to show what the restaurant would earn if the restaurant was owner-operated.

There was still the problem of the cash revenue. Some of the cash was pocketed as profit and some was used to pay employees and for inventory purchases.  It was expressly explained that onus was on the seller to prove the cash sales to a buyer.

Once there was a legitimate the profit and loss statement and the FF&E replacement cost was established, an asking price was determined based upon a multiple for restaurants selling in Los Angeles.

Twenty-one days after the listing was launched, an acceptable offer was presented.  The buyer was not exactly a good match, as he was looking for an investment and not a hands-on owner-operated restaurant.  However, the buyer was enthusiastic and he wanted to pursue the sale.  The Johnstons agreed. During the due-diligence period, the buyer wasn’t convinced of the cash sales. He made a formal request and was released from the offer.

Within two weeks another acceptable offer was presented.  This time the buyers were a family, the Garcias[2], who wanted to run the restaurant as onsite owner-operators.  They understood the concept of cash sales, however they needed proof.  Thus, the Garcias spent more time with the Johnstons during the due-diligence period.  Through an on-site visit, they gained confidence in some of the cash amounts that were stated.  However, it was not enough to justify the full asking price.  Together a price was negotiated with which everyone was comfortable.  The deal closed within 90 days from the time the listing was launched.

If a restaurant is marketed to the correct audience and can prove its net income, the right buyer is out there.  There is a lot that goes into selling a restaurant, much more than many other types of businesses.  The above story is just one example of restaurants I’ve sold. We currently have over 3,000 buyers in our database alone.  For a free consultation, please don’t hesitate to call me. Shelli Margolin-Mayer, Restaurant Broker: (310) 882-2200 ext. 128. I’m happy to help.



[1] The real names have been changed to protect privacy.

[2] The real names have been changed to protect privacy.

Restaurants, Business Sales Process, How to Buy, How to Sell, Franchise, Business Valuation, Businesses for Sale

Broker Information

Shelli Margolin

4551 Glencoe Ave., Suite 210
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
Office: (310) 882-2200 ext 128
Direct: 310-882-2200 x128
Lic#: 00902695

Logos Member of the California Association of Business Brokers Member of the International Business Brokers Association Member of the M&A Source Holder of the Merger & Acquisition Master Intermediary designation, M&A Source's highest qualification Holder of the Certified Business Intermediary designation, IBBA's highest qualification Holder of the Certified M&A Professional designation from Coles College Trained by the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts to conduct business valuations