If you want to have a successful restaurant, great food is not an option — it is a necessity. After all, people go to restaurants to eat. If they are not satisfied with the quality of their meal, they will stay away and likely tell their friends and families to do the same.
Still, great food is not enough. Any restaurant can have great food. Unless your kitchen is managed by an award-winning, cookbook writing, celebrity chef, you will need to move beyond great food to elevate your restaurant above the competition.
Your restaurant concept is the key to becoming and staying popular with diners. A unique concept sets you apart by giving you something that no other restaurant is offering. Great food with a great concept is a winning combination that will bring diners back again and again.
Here are some areas that should be explored when crafting a great concept.
Building Your Menu Around a Concept
A restaurant’s cuisine is one of the primary elements that can differentiate it from the other options around town. In smaller markets, your cuisine might be enough to set you apart. Restaurants that serve Vietnamese food, for example, are not something you find in every community. Still, a cuisine — even when it’s the only one in town — may not be enough to make you popular among diners. Adding a concept to a cuisine, however, can give a restaurant what it needs to stand out, attract diners, and inspire them to come back for more.
For example, if you decide on Japanese cuisine, you will probably feature items like sushi, miso soup, and teriyaki dishes. Your concept, however, will determine how you present those dishes. Will it be serious or fun? Will it feel formal or casual? Will it have a traditional Japanese vibe or a more modern, manga-inspired vibe? Will you serve saki or bubble tea or both? These factors can determine everything about your restaurant from the menu design to the names of the selections, to the way they are arranged on the plates and delivered to the tables. Creating a menu concept that is unique and memorable is one way to make a meal into an experience.
Fashioning Your Atmosphere Around a Concept
Every restaurant has an atmosphere. Sometimes, this is referred to as the “vibe” — the establishment’s overall look and feel. While the menu focuses on what people taste, the atmosphere focuses on what people see.
Fashioning your atmosphere around a concept is an easy way to stand out because few restaurants do it well. Most are satisfied with a modern look, a traditional feel, or a diner vibe. Few put in the time and energy to establish something that people will want to take a picture of and share on social media.
One way to leverage atmosphere for your benefit is to consider what is trending outside of the restaurant industry, and then find a way to integrate it into your atmosphere. For example, classic pinball suddenly became popular during the Covid-19 pandemic. Theming a restaurant around the chrome and neon of classic pinball culture — and including a game room where diners can play some pinball — provides for a standout vibe.
Designing Your Experience Around a Concept
Providing diners with a concept menu and atmosphere are huge steps toward standing out in your market. Adding a concept experience, however, takes it to the next level.
Speakeasies are a great example of restaurants that provide a concept experience. Drawing upon the vibe of Prohibition-era speakeasies, these restaurants are typically hidden away behind a secret entrance. Once diners find their way inside, they discover an atmosphere, menu, and even entertainment that echoes the styles of the 1920s.
Concepts like speakeasies allow diners to do much more than order a meal. They open the door to an adventure. For instance, a tiki-inspired theme allows customers to enjoy a brief getaway to the South Pacific, while a “Wild West” theme lets them travel back in time.
Attracting Diners with an Elevated Experience
In the post-Covid era, diners are more reluctant than ever to go out for a meal. The order-at-home culture that the pandemic mandated is trending permanent, meaning restaurants need to work harder than ever to draw customers in. Elevating your offerings by wrapping them in a concept is one sure way to attract the attention of local diners.