The Basics of Choosing a Restaurant Theme

How to make your restaurant theme stand out from the competition

A restaurant concept can be influenced by location. Dimitris Vetsikas via Pixabay

One of the best parts of opening your own restaurant is the opportunity to let your creativity flow. You can design a restaurant with your unique stamp. That uniqueness can attract customers. However, creating a restaurant theme isn’t as cut and dry as choosing a location and writing up a menu. A restaurant theme is a blend of food, atmosphere, and service. So how do you decide which restaurant theme is right for you?

How do you decide what kind of theme will stand out from the local competition?

Be Aware of Your Own Bias

Often when a person decides they want to open a restaurant, they have a pretty good idea of the concept – a steakhouse, a sandwich shop, a coffee house, etc. That’s great because it gives you a place to start. Beware of your personal bias in regards to your restaurant theme. You might firmly believe that your neighborhood is in need of a place to get a good steak and handcrafted beer. But do others agree with you? Even if you don’t care for your local restaurants (which are also your soon-to-be competition) many people do. Look at several restaurants from the point of view of other customers. Maybe you can’t stand the loud music played at the local tavern, but there are many people who enjoy it while they eat dinner. Or perhaps you think there aren’t enough family-friendly restaurants in the area.

That is your opinion, not a hard fact.

To help you avoid bias, you can put together a focus group – something large corporations do routinely to help them develop products and design advertising campaigns. A focus group of 10-15 people (be sure to include people outside of your circle of friends and families) will answer a series of pointed questions.

Read more about focus groups.

Who’s Your Audience?

White collar? Blue Collar? Families? Men? Women? Who do you hope to attract to your restaurant? What appeals to one group of customers may not necessarily appeal to other groups. For example, what might entice families with small children won’t necessarily work for single, white collar office workers looking for a beer and dinner after work. Identifying your restaurant audience will help to further shape your concept. It will determine things like hours of operation, seating capacity, design and décor of the dining room, and menu items and prices. For example, if your audience is families with younger children, you don’t need to be open until midnight or have a full-service sports bar.

Find out More About Your Customers

Demographics for your town or city can be found in a variety of places. The US Census offers a profile of your area’s median age, income, household size. Local chambers of commerce and small business bureaus are also good places to find out more about the demographics of an area. The more detailed information you can find out, the better for your restaurant concept. You should also go beyond your local audience, if appropriate.

Is there a tourist trade in your area? Perhaps a ski mountain, beach or other attractions that bring in tourists? If so, are you going to include them in your demographics? All this information will not only help you flesh out your concept, it will strengthen your restaurant business plan. Find out more about population demographics.

Study the Competition

See who frequents the other restaurants in the area on any given day or night. Do the customers change from lunch to dinner, from a weeknight to the weekend? Once you have decided on a target audience and price range, look at other restaurants with similar price ranges.

How is your concept different? What can you do better?

Study Food Trends

Food, like fashion, goes through trends and fads. Some menu items are classics and will never go out of style- think burgers and pizza. Other foods fall into trends, such as artisan panini sandwiches, while others are fads, like bottled water. Food magazines such as Bon Appetite and Gourmet and cooking channels like Food Network are a great resource for finding out what’s hot in food right now. Not every trend will fit your restaurant theme, but knowing what is currently popular will help you shape your own restaurant theme.