Why Your Restaurant's Concept Is Critical

making your restaurant stand out from competitors

Posted by Michael Elkins the 14 May 2018

A restaurant's concept is often defined as its culinary style - fast food, fast casual, casual, fine dining, gastropub, fusion, neighborhood and sports-lovers dining. Other popular concepts include family dining, bistros, coffee shops, buffets, midscale dining and mobile food trucks. However, just a brief Google search will show that there are dozens of pizza places, burger joints and culinary franchises in any developed area of the world. Competition is fierce.

That's why it's important to define your restaurant's concept more fully. It's similar to using the right long-tail keywords in organic searches. Customers are likely to define their food preferences in their searches such as using the key phrase "organic vegetarian pizza" instead of generic "pizza." You can define and promote your concept as an ideal choice for diners looking for key certain standards of food, service and atmosphere.

Using Your Concept or Theme to Distinguish Your Food Business

It's important to define your concept before you begin other restaurant development efforts. If you change your concept, you'll have to begin the planning process again and make some significant changes in the menu, decor, service standards and advertising strategy. When incorporating the details of your restaurant planning, you should choose elements that complement your concept and theme. Areas that you should plan to coordinate with your concept include:

  • Naming dishes to reflect the restaurant's concept
  • Choosing dining room decor and accents for your concept and targeted guests
  • Sourcing food for your concept such as choosing farm-to-table suppliers, low-cost processed foods, organic ingredients or high-end meats and produce
  • Using electronic signs, art, dining room accents and physical signs to mirror your concept
  • Training your staff to deliver the appropriate level of service such as teaching servers about wines for fine dining service
  • Naming the restaurant to suggest your concept

The single most important issue is designing your menu to appeal to like-minded customers. Other important management considerations to promote your concept include:

  • Satisfy customer expectations such as implementing a dress code for fine dining establishments.
  • Develop the menu as your core document so that you can refer to it when making other decisions.
  • Deliver a consistent experience on each visit.
  • Plan special events that harmonize with the concept.

Some restaurants deliver separate dining experiences in different parts of the restaurant, and bars often feature a different concept than the dining room. However, you should unite these differences with a common conceptual thread such as low prices, farm-to-table, no artificial ingredients, gourmet preparations, etc.

dining experience fitting the concept of the restaurant

Choosing a Concept

Your restaurant concept is basically how your restaurant works. This includes prices, menu, interior design, seating style, service and atmosphere. Successful concepts include the following ideas:

  • Casual dining and food cooked to order in a relaxed atmosphere with standard service
  • Fast casual that combines fast food with casual dining to generate faster service with a smaller menu and lower prices
  • Fine casual restaurants that combine haute cuisine and lower prices with fewer amenities than traditional fine dining establishments
  • Diner-type restaurants that typically serve fast food with elements of self-service in unique spaces often designed as a bus, train car or trolley
  • Street food at food trucks, trailers, booths and wagons
  • Fast food that includes pizza restaurants, sausage shops, kebab places, burger restaurants, buffets, food to take out, prepackaged foods, breakfast places and other fast food options

Collaborative restaurant concepts are also gaining popularity. Popular retailers like Tiffany & Co now feature an in-house restaurant - Tiffany's has The Blue Box Cafe - where customers really can have breakfast at Tiffany's or snack while waiting on a spouse or friend to shop. These marketing ideas don't require single ownership; two entrepreneurs could easily partner in a shared space featuring an eatery and a different kind of retail operation.

In fine dining restaurants, front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staffers often work together to create a high-end customer dining experience. The name of the dish, the sourcing suppliers, presentation, food quality, tableside lighting and furniture deliver an interconnected dining experience.

Putting a Unique Mark on a Concept

Mashups are increasingly popular, and the trend got a big boost from nouveau cuisine in the 1980s. This dining trend focused on a mashup of classic French techniques, creativity and available local ingredients. Today's mashups mix it up with cooking techniques, ingredients, atmosphere and service. For example, you might serve burgers, hot dogs and fries with candlelight and tablecloths for couples or gourmet foods in a picnic basket. All types of fusions are possible where there's a market, cooking talent and determination to succeed. You can create a matchless restaurant experience using creativity and cross-culinary skills.

Unique Restaurant Throughout the World

Highly creative concepts can turn small restaurants and creative ideas into international culinary destinations. You can achieve a remarkable level of success - even if it's just local - by trying to be unique enough to attract a core group of customers. Aaronallen.com recently posted a list of European restaurants with unique concepts:

  • Dark Restaurant

    Nocti Vagus in Berlin serves diners in darkness, and blind or visually impaired servers staff the restaurant. The concept is that losing one sense heightens other senses such as taste. Food tastes more remarkable, and the aromas and sounds of sizzling platters enhance the dining experience beyond the ordinary when you sit in the dark.

  • Thrill Seekers

    In Lloret de Mar, Spain, The Disaster Café simulates the effects of a 7.8-degree earthquake during service times. Although that wouldn't appeal to many everyday diners, a unique subset of thrill seekers value the experience.

  • Volcano Grill

    Lanzarote, a Spanish island, uses its volcano for more than tourism. El Diablo restaurant actually cooks meals over an active volcano hole.

  • Futuristic Dining

    Baggers restaurant in Germany steals a step on the competition. The restaurant blends self-service and full-service by arranging for customers to place their orders on touch screens. The food arrives on roller coaster tracks. The future is now for entrepreneurs with forward-looking restaurant concepts.

Researching a Unique Concept

Your idea could go badly wrong unless you research the concept. That includes matching the cuisine with local demographics, choosing a workable location and studying the costs. Other considerations during your research should include:

  • The concept should cover more than cuisine including decor, lighting, ambience and service.
  • The message must be unique enough to appeal and simple enough for each customer to understand and remember.
  • You should define the budget and identify any cash flow or capitalization problems.
  • Find the easiest way to present your concept.
  • Determine the demographic makeup of local residents within a one-, two- and three-mile radius.
  • Breakfast and lunch customers generally eat within a one or two miles radius while evening diners might travel further for a unique food concept or outstanding food.

A unique and appealing concept will make your restaurant stand out and give prospective diners an easy way to find your business with unique keyword combinations. Your concept should be a primary tool for branding your restaurant with your ideal customer.