The right concept is crucial when opening your restaurant, a new location, or refreshing your brand.
Get your concept right and you'll be on your way to rave reviews, recommendations, and loyal clientele. Get it wrong—with a menu that doesn't fit the ambiance or pricey dishes not suited for the clientele—and would-be regulars will at best feel confused and at worst never return.
It's easier said than done, and even the most experienced restaurateurs don;t always get it right. But with a little guidance and inspiration, you can ignite your creativity. Here are seven successful restaurant concepts to inspire and guide you.
What is a restaurant concept?
A restaurant concept is the theme that defines who you are as a restaurant. Restaurant concepts define the overall theme or idea behind a restaurant, including cuisine, service style, music, and menu design. Restaurant concept inspiration comes from a variety of places, like heritage, family background, a far-off place, or personal experience. They can also be inspired by time periods, public interests, art, and culture. And it can, of course, be a mix of many of those things—and that's what makes every restaurant unique. Read on to learn more about what goes into a restaurant concept.
What Makes a Successful Restaurant Concept
The name of your restaurant should evoke the theme, and give diners an idea of what to expect. Keep it simple, memorable, and true to the concept you choose. Look to signature dishes, tradition, or location when choosing a restaurant name. Here are a few examples of restaurants with names that ooze concept:
- Parm: Casual Italian, known for their Chicken Parm Sandwiches
- Fresh: Modern vegan and vegetarian food with an emphasis on whole and natural ingredients
- Umami Burger: Casual burger spot with an empaths on flavor
The way your menu is presented should also reflect your concept. A fine-dining restaurant with an emphasis on ingredients may present the menu simply, with descriptions of where the ingredients are from. Conversely, a casual neighborhood sandwich shop may name their sandwiches after local heroes or landmarks.
The design of your restaurant should also reflect the concept. A seafood spot may have nautical decor, whereas a health-focuses concept may use clean, modern decor to evoke cleanliness and simplicity.
Restaurant Concepts & Ideas
From casual restaurants and coffee shops to fast food chains and new trending restaurant concepts like the virtual restaurant, there's a restaurant concept for every owner and every diner.
1. Virtual Restaurants
Virtual restaurants, also known as ghost kitchens, cloud kitchens, or dark kitchens, are a relatively new concept that's growing alongside the delivery app market. These restaurants take orders through online apps and use 'ghost kitchens' or virtual kitchens that offer virtual menus to take-out customers.
- Very low labor and inventory costs and steady incremental sales growth
- Cheap digital menu marketing that captures a share of online dining demand
- Agility to easily experiment with different concepts to find and grow the most successful
- Less control over incoming demand and customer service when relying on third-party apps
- Need to manage the impact on staff morale of working online orders without receiving tips
- The high volatility and profitability of this early-days concept may be too risky for some
Example: Cluster Truck
2. The Café and Coffee Concept
Ranging from large chains such as Starbucks to smaller neighborhood shops, the café concept is immensely popular. Restaurants embodying this concept, sometimes follow a self-service model—although service is common in some establishments. Coffee shops have a casual and relaxed atmosphere, with patrons typically ordering food like coffee, pastries, and sandwiches.
- Cafe scheduling is often easier—although if you have a roastery, you'll need staff who are willing to start at 4 am
- Labor costs are lower because you need fewer staff
- You'll have lower overheads unless you're a large chain
- Opening a coffee shops lets you experiment with unique flavor profiles that appeal to millennials, who are a key driver of coffee sales
- A limited variety of dishes means menus are smaller
- Coffee and dessert is the main focus. You'll need to find ways to get more customers through the doors for lunch
Example: Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co.
3. Fast Food Chains
Fast food chains or quick service restaurants prepare mass-produced take-out food and usually follow a franchise model. These restaurants generally have limited menus, no seating, and fewer (if any) servers compared full-service restaurants.
- Labor costs are lower because there are no servers
- Food costs are modest due to limited menus and cheaper ingredients
- Lower food costs contribute to higher margins
- This is a proven concept with a massive demand for take-out food in the U.S.
- You have limited control because these concepts often follow a franchise model—not ideal if you want to create a unique concept
- 24/7 employee scheduling can be challenging.
- The initial franchising costs are higher than opening an independent restaurant
Example: Shake Shack
4. Fast-Casual Restaurants
Fast-casual restaurants are a new trendy concept that combines fast food and casual dining. The concept has many characteristics of fast food restaurants—food made to order and disposable packaging— with a few notable differences: Upscale food and a more inviting sit-down atmosphere.
- This concept is ideal if your target audience craves healthier food options and a casual sit-down atmosphere
- Many customers are willing to pay more for healthy foods, leading to more profits
- You have higher overhead costs because you need more seating and servers
- More staff makes employee scheduling trickier
- Food costs are higher than quick service restaurants because the quality of ingredients are better
- Opening a fast-casual restaurant is more expensive
5. Family-Style Concept
Family-style restaurants follow the full-service model with seating and dedicated servers. Menus are extensive, with a wide variety of dishes across breakfast, lunch, and dinner. "Casual," "friendly," and "relaxed,"—these are words you'd associate with this concept.
- Family restaurants are a proven concept
- The concept is perfect for families and casual diners
- You can attract patrons with reasonable prices and a large variety
- Labor costs are higher because of the full-service model
- Staff scheduling is more challenging, making it harder to navigate staff availability
- Your food costs are higher as food portions are bigger
Example: Andolini's Pizza
6. Food Trucks & Pop-up Restaurants
Food trucks have risen in popularity in the past decade, and for good reason: they're fun! Often grouped together in outdoor spaces, food trucks offer exciting food and can be uses for any concept, from ice cream to noodles.
- Low overhead costs
- Very popular among diners
- You can go to your clientele, rather of them coming to you
- Small spaces to work in
- Lack of a consistent location
- Often competing with many others directly next to you
Example: Cousin's Maine Lobster
7. Pub or Bar
Pubs and bars are always a solid concept for food service: they're sought out by customers in good times and bad. And there is a lot of variation that can fall under this umbrella: pubs with food, cocktail bars, wine bars, speakeasies, dive bars, and more.
- High markup of alcoholic beverages—up to 400%
- Less food inventory
- It's a proven concept with a lot of success
Recommended Reading: Opening and Owning a Bar: Everything You Need to Know
Examples: The Monarch Bar
How Do I Choose a Restaurant Concept?
Consider your experience and what excites you
Look to what you know—be it from professional experience or life experience. Think of what kind of restaurant you would like to see, and what kind of food or atmosphere you gravitate towards. Chances are, there are hungry diners that gravitate towards those things too, and that level of authenticity is hard to replicate.
Think about location and customer base
Consider both the location, and by extension, the existing customer base when developing your concept. Do a survey of what restaurants are doing well in your area to get a good understand of diner's preferences. Take it a step further and conduct a feasibility study to see whether your concept has legs.
All in all, making sure that your concept is aligned across all aspects of your restaurant that we mentioned above. The last thing you want is a disjointed concept where the decor and menu and service style just don't mesh. Guests will notice, and your business will be affected for it.
You may understand the importance of having a solid concept, but struggle to choose the right one. These seven concepts, from the proven fast food chains to the trendy virtual restaurants, will help spark your creativity.
And remember: Regardless of your concept, you'll always have to manage labor and inventory which can be challenging.
That's why having the right scheduling app helps. With a restaurant scheduling app like 7shifts, you'll simplify your full-service restaurant scheduling and save time no matter your restaurant concept. So, why not give 7shifts a try today?
7shifts is a team management software designed for restaurants. We help managers and operators spend less time and effort scheduling their staff, reduce their monthly labor costs and improve team communication. The result is simplified team management, one shift at a time.
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D. J. Costantino
Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!