An introductory guide to navigating the interface and starting a successful restaurant.
How to Start in Chef
Most of the game can be controlled through the mouse. A few keyboard commands are worth memorizing: in addition to the usual A, W, S, and D the Q and E keys rotate the interface clockwise and counterclockwise. These two are particularly useful in the early game when setting up your restaurant.
The game has two main view screens: a city view that breaks down neighborhood by neighborhood, and a restaurant view once you rent a building and set up shop. You'll begin in city view and return to it periodically as your influence grows.
As in many strategy games, the first decisions are the most important ones. You begin with only $7500 which means starting out with a modest place near the periphery of the map.
Two types of starting location that can work are a small kitchen/small restaurant and a medium kitchen/medium restaurant. Between the two I prefer medium/medium--it's a little harder to break even at first but there's more profit potential. Look around the map for one that rents at $200 a week or less and that doesn't have any negative attributes.
Once you rent your building, the game tutorial will tell you to put down a counter. The counter goes in the kitchen. After that I'd suggest Grandma's stove top, an oven, a refrigerator, and a blender. (Am not really sure how useful the blender is on the starting menu but I tend to buy it).
You don't really need either a fryer or a grill at first--there's only one thing your starting menu requires a grill to cook and the cheapskates who will be your first customers are more interested in the cheapest things on your menu. Might as well wait until the game unlocks better equipment before splurging on extra equipment.
The basic setup will be enough to keep you going when you hire a second chef. (Your avatar counts as the first chef). Two chefs can share the same counter - this is useful to know during the early game when you're counting every dollar.
Now it's time to furnish the guest area. It really doesn't matter what paint job or what flooring you choose. It also doesn't matter what your avatar looks like (which is why I didn't mention the avatar sooner).
One thing that does matter but the game doesn't really alert you is that different tables and chairs have different sized footprints. That makes a difference with the style as well as the number of seats. Go with the wooden table and chairs: they're slightly smaller which will maximize your restaurant's capacity. Set down a mixture of two seater and four seater tables and do your best to pack them together like sardines. It's probably enough to provide seating for 40 to begin with; I did a bit more in this screen shot.
Nobody likes a bare walls restaurant. The decorations that matter in this game are themed "rustic" or "modern" or "elegant." Different types of customer prefer different themes. At first all you get are cheapskates who are easy to please. After several play-throughs the most successful decor strategy was to go all modern for a first restaurant, then all elegant after opening a second restaurant.
Pick out several modern paintings and wall decorations and put a few pieces of furniture into the odd corners where tables wouldn't fit. The game will prevent you from starting the clock until enough decor is up to attract a few cheapskates. I strongly recommend installing more decor than the minimum: ambiance brings good reviews, and good reviews earn influence points, and spreading your influence is the way to fill tables and attract better customers.
Next up is your menu. You might as well serve everything except the grilled dishes you can't serve yet. All you're getting at first are cheapskates so don't worry too much about quality--you just need to charge enough to break even. One simple formula is to charge at least $5 for each main course and then triple the cost of ingredients for everything else.
Before you open you'll need at least one server. I recommend starting with two of them. Head over into the staff menu (far left on the bottom of your interface screen, with the big chef's hat) and distribute their skill points. The first servers you hire will come with five points each: put one point each into greeting customers and into writing up orders quickly because those are the two things that tend to bottleneck. Then distribute the other three points however you prefer among the five remaining skills. New skill points accumulate rapidly during the early game so you'll be able to fill in any gaps pretty quickly.
Your First Days in Business
Your avatar, employees, and customers operate on their own AI. A player's job is to make managerial decisions. Business runs pretty much the way it does in the real world: customers come to the door, wait to be seated, order food, eat, and then some of them write reviews.
I set the restaurant view to include the area just outside the front door and set the status view at the far right of the screen to monitor employee satisfaction. Then I click on the reviews periodically to see what's going well and what needs improvement.
The way to draw in more customers at the start of the game is to earn and use influence points, and the way to earn influence points is to get positive reviews. Each review is a composite of how much the customer likes your food, your service, your ambiance, and your price. At first the only customers you get will be cheapskates, so the trick to staying afloat will be making them happy enough to write good reviews--which draw in more cheapskates at first but eventually lead to better clientele.
Your food on day one will be crappy. Fortunately cheapskates don't mind bland food or greasy spoons as long as the service is good, the decor meets their low standards, and they can get a complete meal under $10. (This is one reason I don't advise buying a grill on day one: the only thing you start out knowing how to make on it is above a cheapskate's budget).
Meanwhile you need to keep your staff happy enough that your employees don't quit and your avatar doesn't have a meltdown. Although you can recover from missteps in either regard, avoiding turnover is a quicker path to prosperity. Pay attention to each end of day report on staff happiness: if people's happiness is declining then you either need to hire more personnel or else improve staff pay. When you do need to hire new people, spending a little on word of mouth or advertising may attract highly skilled hires.
Another time to hire more wait staff is if you're losing business when potential customers wait too long to be seated.
As you do business you and your staff will earn various types of points. Most of your player decisions involve distributing these points manually.
Mentioned earlier are influence points: as soon as you get these go up to city view and assign them to an adjacent neighborhood. Eventually you'll be paying close attention to each neighborhood's demographics but during the first days in business you'll just want to bring in warm bodies asap in order to sell meals and pay the bills. Influence points (and all other types of points) need to be confirmed before you close out a dialog.
All staff earn skill points as they work. Your own avatar's skill points will be visible at the top of the screen in all views, but your employees' skill points are visible only when you enter the staff dialog by clicking the large chef's hat at the lower left of your screen. I strongly recommend ignoring the recipe-specific options for your avatar until later in the game: find the dialog that lets you improve your cooking speed. Once you put enough skill points into that the game opens up a second tier on that page which lets you put new skill points into improving the overall quality of main courses, appetizers, and other broad menu categories. You really don't need to worry about the rest of your avatar's point options for the time being.
Your servers likewise default to a set of bottom tier skills, which eventually opens up second tier skills. As you hire more cooks and servers distribute their points periodically. Ingredients are kind of a beast of their own so I'll explain them in a separate section.
Then there are ingredient points. The game isn't especially user friendly about telling you how these work so here's my explanation with recommendations. You'll start out the game with a few ingredients already activated--those have a whitish background on the ingredients dialog. Each ingredient and each dish on the menu has three quality tiers. You'll unlock the next quality tier on a dish by improving the quality tier on each of its ingredients.
I recommend starting out by improving the quality on the ingredients that are already open and by prioritizing pasta dishes and salads. This is mainly because pastas and salads are so inexpensive that you can upgrade to second tier quality and attract better customers without infuriating the cheapskates too early in the game. (Players hate cheapskates but frankly when you're new in business you have to serve them for a while).
Once you unlock the second tier value for every ingredient in a dish, the second tier version will appear in your menu options with a green star by the icon. In order to serve it you'll have to move it into your active menu manually, then set a retail price, and then preferably move the bottom tier version out of the menu. Two different quality tier versions of the same dish will have the same name.
Unfortunately the game lets you preview ingredients on dishes you've unlocked only while they aren't on the active menu. It's a matter of intuition what might get unlocked by opening up new ingredients. The devs have put a lot of work into customizable menu dishes, which IMHO isn't as big a priority as figuring out how to unlock eggplant parmigiana when the restaurant attracts vegetarians.
In addition there are tier menu items which use all third tier ingredients and have a blue star by the icon--but those aren't priority early in the game. The ingredient tier system isn't dependent on chef skill points - the latter seems to improve overall category quality and customer satisfaction through a different aspect of game mechanics.
The tl;dr here is that if you put your early menu points into upgrading to second tier dishes, then you'll be able to raise prices and attract non-cheapskate customers relatively quickly.
As your reputation and influence grow, you'll need more tables and staff. Waiters don't need equipment other than tables. As you add chefs remember that two chefs can use one counter and expand other kitchen equipment in reasonable proportions. The game unlocks better equipment as your reputation improves so read the fine print: an upgraded refrigerator could pay for itself by reducing ingredient costs.
I advise keeping the ambiance to modern decorations until your cash flow is good enough to afford weekly cleaning fees. Cleanliness impresses all customers, so the blue collar diners who would rather see rustic decor are generally satisfied when the place is clean enough. The highbrow diners who prefer elegant decor aren't going to be satisfied without an entirely highbrow restaurant, which you can open as your second establishment once you make a solid profit on this first one.