What if your restaurant was forgotten as soon as it opened?
Let's face it: there are plenty of different restaurants out there for customers to choose from. That means it's more important than ever for your own restaurant to stand out.
One of the best ways to stand out is by choosing a restaurant theme. However, many small business owners don't know how to choose such a theme or even why it would be a good move for their business.
Wondering how to choose a restaurant theme and why it will boost your bottom line? Keep reading to discover all the answers!
What Is a Restaurant Theme?
We've prepared a comprehensive guide to help you choose a theme for your restaurant. First, though, we must define exactly what a restaurant theme is.
For example, the theme does not refer to the type of food you sell (such as Mexican, American fusion, and so on). Instead, it mostly refers to how you sell the food.
Chipotle and Taco Bell both serve the same kinds of food. But Chipotle's theme is "fast-casual" and Taco Bell's theme is "fast food."
The difference between some themes is a bit more clear. No one confuses a fine dining restaurant with a food truck!
It's true that most of your brand's success will come down to the quality of your food. But choosing the right theme is the secret to ensuring that customers taste your food in the first place.
Now that you know more about what a restaurant theme is, here is our guide to choosing the best theme for your restaurant and customers.
1. Don't Live in the Past
Many entrepreneurs who open a restaurant have had their idea for many years. It's important, though, to not necessarily live in the past.
For example, let's say you grew up with a favorite "mom and pop" diner and want to bring one to your neighborhood in the here and now. This may or may not be a good idea!
Local demographics and national trends change over time. By living in the past, you may accidentally be catering to an audience that is no longer there. And you can always bring over the best elements from those happy memories (such as lighting that makes the place look like a cozy getaway).
This is why it is so important to research many different things before opening your restaurant. And your research starts with the competition.
2. Research the Competition
We'll be honest with you: there is probably an existing restaurant very similar to your dream restaurant. To succeed and stand out, you must learn everything you can about the competition.
Start with the basic questions. What's on their menu? What are their prices like?
Then you can move on to more complex questions. How successful are they? What is their primary audience?
Obviously, this information can be invaluable when you open your own restaurant. However, the last thing locals want is a "copy cat" restaurant.
That's why you need to do something to distinguish yourself from the competition. This can be as simple as changing the theme. As we said before, Chipotle built an empire off of asking, "what if we did fast-casual instead of fast food?"
3. Location, Location, and (You Guessed It) Location
Sometimes, your theme is determined by factors you cannot easily change. The most obvious one is your location.
You may dream of a large, multi-level fine dining restaurant. But if you only have a small corner storefront, you're better off creating a diner or a cozy buffet (don't forget candles for ambiance).
Some people have no real estate to speak of. This is why food trucks have become so popular (though legally murky): they allow you to start establishing your local brand with nothing more than a truck and some tasty food.
Long story short? Figure out exactly how much real estate you have access to before finalizing your theme.
4. Money Talks
Budget and real estate are intimately related. After all, with a large enough budget, you can afford that much more real estate.
The size of your budget also determines other things as well. This includes the staffing, decor, and marketing that you'll be able to afford right away.
You want to avoid biting off more than you can chew (so to speak). Don't try to open a 24/7 diner if you can only afford the staffing for a 12-hour fast food place.
That also applies to interior decorations. It's true that demographics like millennials value unique experiences over other factors. Instead of going overboard with expensive decorations, focus on mood-setting elements like candles and tea lights.
5. Demographic Research
When it comes to restaurant demographics, there are two key things to consider. The first thing is your intended audience and the second is your local population.
For example, we mentioned millennials earlier. Creating a fast-casual restaurant is a great way to lure in a millennial audience. However, do you know how many millennials are in your area?
Your research may indicate that most local residents are Generation X or older. In that case, the old-school family diner idea may actually be the better choice.
6. Build Around Your Food
Many restaurants are known for their iconic dishes. It's impossible to think of In-N-Out Burger without imagining the Double Double or McDonald's without thinking of The Big Mac.
Chances are high you've been imagining the kinds of cuisine you want to offer to customers. And if you have a really good idea, the food may dictate the exact theme of your restaurant.
Let's take White Castle for example. Their signature burgers are small and easy to both carry and eat in large quantities. That design helped determine their theme as a fast-food restaurant that can serve really hungry customers on the go.
If your signature cuisine is more elaborate, it may demand a fast-casual or even fine dining theme. Ultimately, it comes down to "plating and preparation." That's why candles and lighting are so important: it helps your food look as good as it tastes!
7. Mix It Up
Earlier, we talked about the importance of standing out from the competition. One of the best ways to do this is to find a new and exciting way to mix things up.
Chances are high that your local area has plenty of Mexican restaurants. But they may not have any "TexMex" restaurants, giving you a chance to cater to a different niche.
This is why you now see so many fusion restaurants. Every entrepreneur is racing to find the next food combination that can put them on the map.
Of course, this means that there is a lot of competition among fusion restaurants. If you plan to "mix it up" with your own restaurant, be sure to do something that your local customers don't already have in the area.
8. Finding the "Sweet Spot"
We discussed the importance of studying your competition. When it comes to standing out from them with your own theme, it's important to find "the sweet spot."
If you copy too much of what your competition does, you are unlikely to succeed because your restaurant seems like a lazy mirror image. If you copy too little of what makes them successful, though, you'll fail to bring in your intended audience.
As we noted, a clever theme can go a long way towards standing out. For instance, you can make your restaurant a "family style" one in which specialty items are prepared right at the table for customers. To really take it to the next level, use candles to give your food some "Instagram-ready" lighting.
In this example, customers are likely to come for familiar food and prices. And they will stay because you are offering a kind of experience that the competition cannot really match.
9. Explore National Trends
We have mostly focused on local research. However, it's also important to explore national food trends that may affect your business.
If you want to cut out direct competition, the best way is to open a restaurant unlike anything in the area. National research helps you discover what may be trending in other cities and states.
Don't forget that your national and local research are two sides of the same coin. Just because something is trending in a city with a completely different demographic doesn't mean it will be a hit in your own area.
Still, the point remains: you'll never be able to truly innovate with your theme if you don't look at the larger picture from time to time.
10. The Comfort Zone
We have one more bit of advice when it comes to choosing a theme. And the advice is nice and simple: know what you're comfortable with.
Your research may show that Chinese food is wildly popular in your area. But if you know nothing about Chinese food, then your "Chinese food truck" theme may be doomed from the start.
In the end, there is nothing wrong with knowing what you are good at and familiar with. It's entirely possible to tweak the old formula (like turning a dive diner into a romantic, candle-lit cafe) and do something new without having to master an entirely new kind of food!
The Last Bite
Now you know how to choose the best restaurant theme. However, do you know how to make the inside of your restaurant an unforgettable experience?
It all comes down to the right lighting and ambiance. To see how we can make your dream restaurant even dreamier, check out our rechargeable lights today!