by Donald Burns, CDMP, CMEC, CHt
Restaurant concepts are only limited by imagination and budget. There are so many possibilities, how do you know what kind of restaurant to run? Here’s a guide to help you decide.
1. Make Sure Your Concept is Different Enough
If there’re a lot of traditional red-sauce Italian restaurants in your area, for example, then maybe you shouldn’t open another one, even if you think your mom’s recipe for lasagna is out of this world. Make sure that your concept will be distinguishable by the average consumer. The restaurant business is competitive enough without you having to go head-to-head with established eateries.Remember, one of the keys to a restaurant’s success is having a concept that stands out from the crowd.
2. Don’t Be Too Far Ahead of Your Time
While you need to be different, don’t be so different in your concept that customers won’t “get it.” If you’re too weird or too different, you’ll have to spend too much time educating your clientele. Opening a raw food eatery in Pocatello, Idaho, for instance, may not fly.Do your research and make sure friends easily understand your concept. Remember, the best concepts are variations on a theme — not a totally new theme.
3. Don’t Price Yourself Out of the Market
Be careful your concept will allow you to offer menu items at prices that the market will bear. You may have a great idea for a fine steak and seafood eatery, but if you’re planning to open in an area where poor students and struggling artists mainly live, you better make sure that customers who can afford your prices will be banging down your door.Remember that the concept needs to be right and the prices need to be within reach of local patrons.
4. Don’t Design A Menu that Will Make Food Costs Skyrocket
Grandiose menus with many exotic ingredients don’t pay off unless you’re a top restaurant charging over $100 a head. Smart menu design uses the same ingredients over and over again in clever ways, so that food buying can be done efficiently.A well-thought-out menu will have chicken breast in one dish, for example, chicken stock in another and gizzard stuffing as a side, so that the entire chicken can be used, saving money on buying just breasts.
5. Make Sure Your Concept Will Be Profitable
Some concepts look good on the drawing board, but in reality they can’t make money. Either they take too long in the kitchen, require too much labor, or cause patrons to linger and slow turns.Make sure that your concept will make money with up to 50% less business and 50% more costs. With spreadsheet programs, it’s easy to change your numbers. Don’t rely on the best case scenario. Stuff happens. Make sure your concept is flexible enough so that you can make adustments.
6. Good Concepts Are On-Trend
Strong concepts take a current trend like healthy fast-food, the rise in popularity of tea, or the growing love of Latina food and run with them. They leverage the popularity of a growing trend, not a fad. They deliver solid execution, fair prices, good service and offer menu items in an atmosphere that is current and popular.Remember that you’ll going against the current if you try to be too avant garde or too retro.
7. Your Concept Has to be Easily Identifiable
If people can’t pronounce or spell the name of your restaurant it’s not good. Don’t think it’s uber trendy. If the name is too foreign or the font you choose for your logo is so unusual that it’s hard to read, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.Spend some time to come up with a unique name that is easy to spell and preferably starts with one of the first letters in the alphabet. The name of our restaurant was “Beyond Measure.”
8. Take Inspiration from Other Sources
It’s ok to borrow from other eateries and museums that you’ve seen in your travels. Maybe a museum in Texas had a great exhibit that gave you an idea for the lighting in your restaurant. Maybe a restaurant in Chicago had a cocktail that was dynamite and inspired you to create a similar one in Florida. Recipes and unpatented ideas are in the public domain and are out there to inspire you.
9. Make Sure Your Concept Fits the Location
So you had this great idea for a burger joint, but you lucked out and got a seaside location. You now serve burgers and fries in a place that attracts lovebirds seeking a romantic seafood meal. Oops! Maybe you should re-think your concept. How ’bout dressing up the menu and dining area for dinner, offering fresh broiled fish and offering lobster burgers at lunch, removing the candles and flowers from the tables.
10. Make Sure You Love the Concept
Any successful restaurateur will tell you that they created their concept because it’s the type of restaurant they love to eat at. If you create a restaurant because you think it’ll be popular or because a silent partner convinced you to — beware.With all the time, energy, and money you’ll be putting into the place, make sure you love the idea and are passionate about the menu.