A solid concept will help ground your restaurant, set expectations for your diners, and inform your decor and design decisions. Every restaurant has a concept — some are just more well defined, executed, and memorable. Use these tips to help you create or better define a restaurant concept.
A restaurant concept is the common thread that defines your restaurant. It is the unification of several important aspects of your restaurant all pulling in the same direction to create the best dining experience possible for your niche. This includes the service style, decor, your guests, your location, and your competition. While many restaurant concepts are based on personal interests, heritage, or local trends, further defining your concept to ensure that all aspects work together is critical. Read on to see some tips to help guide you on your exciting concept phase!
Not all locations, even block by block, cater to the same groups of people. You need to develop a concept that works with your location and the thought process of the audience demographic that you are drawing in — from millenials and young professionals to families, or foodies. How much money does your target audience like to spend? Where do they spend most of their time? What will you need to do to attract your audience to your location? Is it a great social media presence and instagram worthy food, close to nightlife, or situating yourself as the neighborhood go-to? Be sure you can define your restaurant’s target customer before moving on to any of the other tips because your customers will be what make or break your concept. But you also want to be happy working in your restaurant and be comfortable and fulfilled by the food and experience that you are offering. Ensuring that your location and audience match up with your concept is one of the first hurdles.
Study your restaurant competition and trends in your city. The boom of the loud, pub-style chains of the 1990’s caused the market to be oversaturated with not only that style of food, but also that style of presentation and has nearly died out. You want to do your diligence to make sure that you have a competitive advantage in terms of not only the food you serve, but the experience you present. And to do this effectively, you have to make sure that your chosen area wants that experience and can support your vision.
Here in Sacramento, we have seen the restaurant industry explode in the last ten years. We now have Michelin-Star quality food and chefs, pioneers of the “farm to fork” movement, and some great new dives as well. But is your market starting to get saturated with build-your-own-pizza places or or gourmet coffee? Might be best to choose a concept that will help you stand out from the rest. Think of a new fresh perspective that you can bring to the marketplace. Another suggestion would be to visit several restaurants that are doing really well — even if they aren’t your cup of tea or related to your concept — and try to find out why they are so successful in their niche.
Restaurant service style is really all about the menu and how your customers order. Is it fine dining, order at the counter or fast casual, is it a food truck? The style of service directly related to your restaurant concept in the sense that it drastically affects your guest’s overall experience. This also extends to your food and definitely your menu design and layout. Some restaurant concepts like food trucks or fast casual emphasize speed and affordability, and often times customization as well. These types of menus may be large in scale menu boards or handheld order at the counter menus, but they usually have a smaller number of items than other service types. Casual restaurants are one step up and usually include a sit down full service style with larger handheld menus. The highest level of service is fine dining, which typically utilizes a smaller more refined number of menu items with an emphasis on high end drinks, decor, and expensive prices. From our experience in Sacramento, the fastest growing segment of service style is the fast casual and what we like to call the higher end casual restaurants like Red Rabbit, Canon, Centro, Hook & Ladder, and the like.
Lighting, furniture choices, color palette, font choices and menu design, photography style, uniforms, how your website works, music, and table settings are just some of the ‘decor’ that determine, whether you want one or not, the theme of your restaurant. Themes can sometimes be a gimmicky, kitschy word but chances are your customers think of your restaurant within some loose theme, so make sure you are in control of what you want it to be. And we aren’t talking western saloon themes — more subtle themes like “bar food & live music”, “fresh and healthy”, “romantic” are all subtle vibes that guests pick up on. Even though your food should be your main attraction and focus, it is important to hone in on your stylistic themes early on in the planning stages of your restaurant. And as always, consider your audience and ensure that all of these four tips for creating a restaurant concept align together to work towards a well defined concept.
Once you have a defined concept, it is time to reach out to some design firms to see who can help bring your vision to life and craft a brand you can be proud of. Check out the next article to learn more about the restaurant branding processes and tips to build a lasting brand.