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 concept. This is the most common term that describes what your establishment will be like in terms of service style, cuisine and atmosphere, to name a few. Whether you are taking over an existing building or starting from scratch, you need to think about what your restaurant concept will be once contained within four walls. Your concept frames the way the public perceives your entire establishment, giving patrons an idea of what to expect when dining there.
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 major processes to help define your concept and bolster a foundation for your start-up restaurant.
Decide on Cuisine
At its most basic level, a restaurant is usually recognized for the food served there. Guests will 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. Decide whether you will serve a certain cuisine, such as ethnic food, fast food or comfort food, for example. For a unique concept, restaurant owners often take a well-known concept and put their own spin on it.
A strong example of this is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. P.F. Chang’s has redefined the idea of going out for Chinese food. Now a well-known chain, P.F. Chang’s locations offer appetizing Asian-fusion cuisine and trendy drinks and cocktails. The menu items also set this restaurant apart from others. P.F. Chang’s restaurants offer variations of traditional Chinese fare, making each entrée seem like something new and special. The menu items and atmosphere help to create a high perceived value for the customer, differentiating P.F. Chang’s from what people often picture when they think of a typical Chinese restaurant. When thinking about a concept, consider how the cuisine you offer will drive your business.
Determine Your Target Market
When you have a basic idea of your concept, figure out what types of customers you want to target. Your basic idea for your restaurant should guide that decision. 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.
» Learn More About Target Marketing
Decide on an Operational Strategy
The prospective owner must have an idea for the restaurant before moving forward. Plans for a new restaurant usually include an established service type. Your restaurant will probably fall into basic service categories like the following:
Do You Really Need a Concept?
In some cases there may be no need to determine an actual concept for your start-up restaurant. For instance, you may be a franchisee of an already successful pizza chain, and all the details of the concept may be worked out already. 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 draw more customers.
- 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 so on. Other decisions that are significant to your overall concept are the liquor license and take-out, delivery and catering services.
» Learn More About the Different Types of Restaurants
Create an Atmosphere
The atmosphere may be one of the most important methods for achieving your restaurant concept. Think about what you want your customers to experience when they walk through your doors. Consider the human senses:
Thoughts to Bear in Mind
Take-out and Delivery
Determine whether you envision your restaurant to offer take-out and delivery services. Sometimes this is a major feature of your concept, such as with a pizza delivery restaurant. Other times these services exist simply for added convenience to the customer in addition to the main service type.
» Learn More About Running a Successful Take-Out and Delivery Service
Consider your local demographics and decide if incorporating catering into your concept would benefit the overall restaurant. This can be a lucrative addition to lunch or dinner services, even though it may not actually be part of your restaurant’s overall purpose.
- 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 will see? A concept’s visual effect encompasses more than just the stuff hanging on the walls.
- Lighting. You may want to play a certain type of music to influence your concept. At Rumbi Island Grill, for example, lighthearted Hawaiian music plays in every location and gives an energetic, exotic feel to the atmosphere.
- 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. The lighting in your restaurant is important. It influences how much people see inside your establishment. Lights help to achieve a certain mood or tone as well.
- Sound: The noises in a restaurant affect the atmosphere, so be aware of what customers will hear in your restaurant.
- Music. The lighting in your restaurant is important. It influences how much people see inside your establishment. Lights help to achieve a certain mood or tone as well.
- 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 atmosphere with smells.
- 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. 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. Sometimes, carrying a platter of especially temping foods across the dining room can cause diners to drool in anticipation. Incorporating the aroma of an enticing platter into your concept, such as a restaurant specializing in traditional sizzling, smoking fajitas, could give your customers a lasting impression and a specific reason to dine at your restaurant over another.
When forming your restaurant concept ideas, be sure to consider how the atmosphere makes your restaurant a unique and appealing place to visit. When it comes to atmosphere, consider the details that will make your restaurant a success.
» Learn More About Dining Room Decor and Atmosphere
Outlining Your 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.
Here is an example of a basic outline for a new restaurant concept is below:
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 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.
Another option for funding your start-up restaurant is receiving financing from investors. Restauranteurs often present their business plan before acquaintances within the industry and other willing parties. Gaining investors requires finding the right contacts and soundly proving your ability to make your new restaurant a success. Some tips for finding investors include the following:
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 and character of your restaurant will only make it stronger. Make your restaurant concept unique and appealing to your target market. Consider all the details of sight, sound, smell and taste when deciding about atmosphere, appearance and cuisine. Creating your concept will give your restaurant dimension and definition, clarifying subsequent steps in the process of finding a location, determining a menu, buying equipment, decorating and more. Make your restaurant easy to identify and easy to enjoy by creating an inviting atmosphere and offering something special for those who come to dine.