When an author sets out to pen a new novel, they must first think of a plot. Much like an author, when an entrepreneur decides to open a new restaurant, they must first think of a restaurant concept. The restaurant concept is the overall feel of your business. It’s what your restaurant will be like in terms of service, menu and atmosphere. This is an important element in planning your business as your concept frames the way the public perceives your entire establishment.
Your concept choice will act as a stepping stone to future decisions and investments, such as location, equipment purchases, number of employees and the kind of marketing strategy you will need. As you think about opening a new restaurant, take time to examine the following processes to help define your concept. This information will help bolster the foundation for your new business.
Decide on Your Menu
At the most basic level, a restaurant is usually recognized for its food. Guests want to know what to expect from your menu, including how your food is prepared, the types of ingredients used and the cooking methods involved. In this first step of outlining your restaurant concept, you’ll need to decide on your style of cuisine, such as globally-inspired menu items or fast-casual comfort foods.
A strong example of this is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. Now a well-known chain, P.F. Chang’s locations offer appetizing Asian-fusion cuisine as well as trendy drinks and cocktails. The menu items also offer variations of traditional Chinese fare, making each entrée seem like something new and special. The atmosphere is casual, but modern. The overall restaurant concept for P.F. Chang’s helps to create a high perceived value for the customer.
Determine Your Restaurant Concept’s Target Market
When you have a basic idea of your concept, figure out what types of customers you want to target. It is important to figure out if there is a substantial market for your concept in the area, as well as to set appropriate price points on your menu items. For example, if you want to open a restaurant with an upscale atmosphere, fancy appetizers and a lounge-like environment, you may want to market to young professionals with high disposable income. This will help direct your efforts in choosing a location.
Decide on an Operational Strategy
Once you have your basic concept down, it’s important to nail down an operational strategy before going any further. Your restaurant will probably fall into basic service categories like the following:
In some cases there may be no need to determine an actual concept for your new restaurant. For instance, you may be a franchisee of an already successful pizza chain, and all the details of the concept may be previously worked out. Or, you may want to open a simple pizza place on the corner—just pizza, with no special or unique concept at all. Creating a well-thought-out, special concept is recommended for a new independent restaurant in order to form a stronger identity and character—and of course, to set you apart from the competition.
- Fine dining. Fine dining restaurants provide a high perceived value for their guests, defined by beautiful décor, pleasant atmosphere, renowned chefs, exceptional service and special, pricy dishes.
- Casual dining. Casual dining establishments offer full table service that is more upscale than fast-casual restaurants, but also more affordable than fine dining restaurants. They appeal to a wide customer base and are usually family-friendly.
- Fast-casual. Also known as quick-casual and limited-service, fast-casual restaurants are typically perceived to offer better food quality and improved service over quick-service places. Their menus tend to be less extensive but also less expensive than casual dining restaurants.
- Quick-service. Quick-service restaurants make a business of convenience and speed of service. These restaurants typically have simple décor, inexpensive food items and fast counter-service. Most fast-food places fall into this category.
These types of decisions affect the layout of your restaurant, the employees you hire, the food you serve, and more. Other decisions that are significant to your overall restaurant concept are the liquor license requirements, offering take-out or delivery options and providing catering services.
Create an Atmosphere
Creating the right atmosphere in your restaurant is important. In fact, it may be one of the most crucial factors for achieving your restaurant concept. Think about what you want your customers to experience when they walk through your doors.
Consider the following human senses when creating your restaurant’s atmosphere:
Taste: Perhaps the most obvious, the sense of taste is an important aspect for diners everywhere. No one will eat at your restaurant if the food tastes terrible. Be sure you have a talented chef or cook on staff to create the dishes that keep your guests coming back again and again. Also, be sure your dishes are consistently delicious. This is what creates loyal customers, and helps define your brand.
Sight: What will your customers see? A restaurant concept’s visual effect encompasses more than just the stuff hanging on the walls. Think about how the seating is arranged. Could a party be seated next to the bathroom or busy service areas? If so, either re-think the floor plan or help mitigate the unpleasant distractions from the dining experience.
Lighting: The lighting in your restaurant is important. It influences how much people see your establishment, literally. Lighting helps to achieve a certain mood or tone; it can also cover up interior flaws, if needed.
Colors: Colors in the restaurant are meant to evoke certain feelings, and have even been known to encourage guests’ appetites. Colors can do a lot to affect the overall atmosphere.
Cooking process: Another important aspect to think about regarding sight is the kitchen – will customers see into your kitchen? In an exhibition kitchen, even a few flames flying up from the grill may establish a unique and engaging atmosphere.
Sound: The noises in a restaurant affect the atmosphere, so be aware of what customers will hear in your restaurant.
- Music: You may want to play a certain type of music to influence your concept. At the Hard Rock Cafe, for example, well-known top 40 bands rock the speakers in every location, assisting in the hip, edgy, yet familiar feel that Hard Rock is known for.
- Kitchen sounds: In many restaurants, sounds of cooking and food preparation float into the dining area. Sounds of pots and pans clattering, food sizzling and even plates breaking can add energy and anticipation to a dining experience.
- Dining room sounds: Some restaurant dining rooms are designed very deliberately for acoustic reasons. Restaurants may shoot for the bustling, noisy chatter reminiscent of a busy downtown hot-spot by means of conscious acoustic design. However, be aware of how your restaurant will be perceived if it is noisy.
Smell: Some restaurants have a very specific intent when it comes to creating an aromatic atmosphere.
- Aromatic scents: Aromatic scents fill the air and affect guests as soon as they enter the building. Aromas like freshly-squeezed citrus, sweet flowers or fresh-baked muffins can help define an atmosphere.
- Specific food smells: Sometimes, carrying a platter of especially tempting foods across the dining room can cause diners to drool in anticipation. Incorporating the aroma of sizzling platter into your concept, such as a restaurant specializing in smoking fajitas, could give your customers a lasting impression and a specific reason to dine at your restaurant over another.
Outlining Your Restaurant Concept
When thinking about devising your own restaurant concept, be sure to spend adequate time outlining the concept on paper, considering all the major qualities discussed above. Take the time to consider what things about your restaurant will be important, unique and drive the most business. Consider how the type of restaurant, the atmosphere and the cuisine will reflect the concept you want to deliver. Outlining your concept idea is important for your business plan as well, so you can present an effective plan to your investors.
Below is an example of a basic outline for a new restaurant concept:
The Environmentally-Friendly Sushi Restaurant
Sushi and the environment.
An appealing selection of high-quality sushi, as well as poultry and vegetarian dishes.
Young professionals in the surrounding business district and students from the nearby university.
This establishment is set apart by its friendliness to the environment in every possible way, in fact, the building itself is LEED certified. The restaurant walls are almost entirely glass, allowing natural light to illuminate the interior. Tables and chairs are constructed from sustainable materials. Disposable utensils are made from biodegradable or renewable materials. Kitchen appliances are certified for efficiency, vegetables are organically grown, and fish are purchased from purveyors who use sustainable practices.
The Japanese tradition of sushi is maintained by masterful chefs as well as by the modern, natural expression of Japanese decorations and furnishings. In this case the concept is furthered by the use of eco-friendly practices for all of these aspects. This type of restaurant concept will appeal to a younger, educated crowd looking for a contemporary social environment with moderately priced, yet artistically plated menu items. Lunchtime and happy hour specials will be in place to draw these types of patrons.
There is no formula for a great concept, and even great concepts fail when other negative factors are present. However, having a clearly defined purpose for your restaurant will only make it stronger. Consider all the details of sight, sound, smell and taste when determining the atmosphere, appearance and cuisine. Make your restaurant easy to identify and enjoy by creating an inviting atmosphere that offers something special for your target audience.
Photo by Alex Jones via unsplash.com