Modernizing Your Vintage Diner

Ah, the 1950s style diner: where servers sometimes glide around on roller skates, milkshakes flow freely, and the music carries us back to a simpler time. These types of diners serve up more than just burgers and fries; they also wheel and deal nostalgia.

Yet in the age of new “farm-to-table,” organic, and other modern and trendy restaurants, diner owners may wonder if they still have a place in the restaurant industry. The short answer is yes, of course they do. Not only is there a demand for these types of restaurants, but they can also still be a lucrative business. You just have to be willing to make some changes to your diner to keep up with the industry.

The restaurant industry raked in nearly $800B in sales last year. Many of the restaurants that exist today are privately owned and/or have fewer than 50 employees. Diners also fall into this category, which means that they still hold value in the restaurant industry.

However, if your vintage-style diner (or regular diner, for that matter) has been falling short when it comes to sales, there are many things you can do to breathe new life into it.

Even for diners that were never specifically geared toward the 1950s, updates can drive more business. Here are a few ways diners can stay competitive in the restaurant industry while staying true to their roots.

Make Some Updates to Your Menu

While there’s nothing wrong with serving up some previously frozen fries and hamburgers, many restaurant patrons now want to know their food is on the fresher side. Try a simple switch, such as serving fresh cut fries rather than frozen. And since people also like to have healthy options, consider adding revitalized side salads if your current option is little more than a bowl of iceberg lettuce.

You can also update your menu itself with a simple redesign. Make it simpler and easier to read. A well-designed menu can go a long way toward making customers feel comfortable and keep them coming back. Though most people claim not to notice what a menu looks like, we all certainly know a poorly-designed menu when we see one.

Get New Amenities

One of the best parts of any diner experience is the ability to pop some quarters into a table-top jukebox and make the whole restaurant listen to a Beach Boys song. However, since people rarely carry quarters anymore, and some don’t carry any cash at all, it might be fun to install something a little more high-tech, such as a bluetooth enabled jukebox. Or you could throw it all the way back to the 50s and invest in some antique jukeboxes. Just make sure you have a change machine so patrons can actually use them!

Freshen Up Decor

Nothing says “dated” like dusty wall decor, scratched up tables, and torn booth seats. These types of things can be major turn-offs to patrons, and it’s not because they’re snobby. It’s because these things make a restaurant look less clean, and most of us would prefer to eat in a clean restaurant.

Also, if your diner hasn’t had a paint job in a while, that would be helpful too. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders to make an old diner look new. And if you’re looking for a new decor scheme, consider partnering with local artists. You get to hang beautiful and interesting art for little to no cost, and artists get exposure and possible sales.

Another way to update decor is to install some new lighting. Adding some light where there was none before can bring an entirely new look and feel to your diner, without rocking the boat too much.

Update Uniforms

One detail that brings cohesion to any theme restaurant or diner is matching uniforms. If your servers have been wearing the same uniforms for years, or no uniforms at all (just their own street clothes), it might be time to make a change. Even something as simple as matching polo shirts can show your customers you mean business.

Know When to Sell

As with any business, knowing when to sell and move on is important. Closing up shop or selling to a new owner when times are tough isn’t failure; it’s good business sense. Selling your business can actually save you from potential long-term financial problems.

If you do decide to sell, it’s important to determine the value of your business first. You’ve worked hard to achieve your dream of owning a restaurant; now it’s time to get the best value for all your hard work.

At the end of the day, only you can decide whether to hang on to your vintage diner, or try to sell it. Either way, you may still have the opportunity to recoup some–or all–of your investment.