Every successful restaurant starts with a solid concept. Get it right, and you're on the path to enthusiastic reviews, referrals, and devoted customers. Miss the mark, whether through a menu that clashes with the atmosphere or overpriced dishes that don't match the clientele, and potential regulars will either be perplexed or, at worst, won't come back.
Achieving this is no cakewalk, and even seasoned restaurateurs don't always get it right the first time. Yet, with some help and motivation, you can fuel your creativity. Here are fourteen winning restaurant concepts for your inspiration and direction when opening your restaurant.
What is a restaurant concept?
A restaurant concept lays down the foundation for a restaurant's identity, design, menu, culture, and overall experience. It encompasses various elements that define the restaurant's unique character and differentiate it from others in the industry.
A well-defined restaurant concept helps attract a specific target audience and creates a memorable dining experience. Some common components of a restaurant concept include:
- Menu: The type of food served and the menu offerings play a significant role in defining the 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.
- Atmosphere: The restaurant's interior design, decor, lighting, and music should align with the concept. A seafood spot may have nautical decor, whereas a health-focused concept may use clean, modern decor to evoke cleanliness and simplicity.
- Target audience:A concept often caters to a specific demographic or customer group, such as families, couples, young professionals, or food enthusiasts (aka “foodies”).
- Service style:The level of service, whether it's fast-casual, formal, buffet-style, or something else, should complement the concept.
- Location:The restaurant's location can be a part of the concept, especially if it ties into the atmosphere, like a beachfront seafood restaurant or fine dining with skyline views.
- Brand and marketing: The concept influences the restaurant's name, branding, logo, and marketing strategy. It helps create a consistent message that resonates with customers.
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
- Unique Selling Proposition (USP): A strong concept often includes a unique selling point that sets the restaurant apart from competitors. This could be a signature dish, a special dining experience, or a particular theme.
Overall, a restaurant concept plays a crucial role in attracting customers, building a loyal clientele, and ensuring the restaurant's long-term success.
14 Restaurant Concepts & Ideas
From casual restaurants and coffee shops to fast food chains and new trending restaurant concepts like the ghost kitchen, there's a restaurant concept for every owner and every diner.
1. Virtual Restaurants
is an Indianapolis-based virtual delivery kitchen. Diners can choose from an array of cuisines, and the kitchen only starts preparing orders once the delivery drivers are en-route. Not only do they hire in-house chefs to cook the meals, but they contract delivery drivers. That way, they don’t need to pay third-party providers for their services.
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
2. The Café and Coffee Concept
Kaldi's Coffee was founded nearly 30 years ago in St. Louis and has been providing great coffee from all over the world to the masses ever since. And in those years, they've grown considerably, adding 12 locations across St. Louis and even into Atlanta, Georgia.
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
3. Fast Food Chains
Taco John’s was founded in 1968 by Air Force officer John Turner in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It began as a trailer called Taco House serving Mexican-inspired food and later rebranded as Taco John’s during franchising. There are almost 400 Taco John’s locations across the U.S., and the brand is most recently known for dropping their trademark on “Taco Tuesday” after an ad campaign by competitor Taco Bell.
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 to 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
4. Fast-Casual Restaurants
Inspired by the late-night Windsor kebab stand and his favorite family recipes, Brandon Bahoura created Pita Way in 2010 to bring healthy, fast Mediterranean food to the masses in Michigan. They quickly became known for their high-quality food, great service, and comfortable atmosphere. 11 years later, they still bring their signature quesopitas (a pita-quesadilla hybrid) and Mediterranean bowls to hungry guests—just at a much larger scale.
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
Billed as the “Disneyland of Mexican Restaurants”, Casa Bonita blends food and entertainment. The massive interior is decorated with palm trees and caves, and entertainment includes cliff divers, costumed skits, and mariachi bands. It’s a Denver staple that’s nostalgic for a lot of people - especially South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who bought the restaurant for $3.1 million in 2021.
Family-style restaurants follow the full-service model with seating and dedicated servers. Entertainment for kids can be as large as an arcade or as small as coloring sheets and crayons. 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
6. Food Trucks & Pop-up Restaurants
When Sabin Lomac moved to California, he was struck by the lack of fresh lobster he grew up eating during his childhood in Maine. Along with his cousin, Jim Tselikis, he started Cousins Maine Lobster food truck to bring classic New England lobster rolls to Los Angeles. After an appearance on Shark Tank where Barbara Corcoran made a $55,000 investment, their business has now expanded to over 40 food trucks and 7 restaurants across the country.
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 used for any concept, from ice cream to noodles.
- Low overhead costs
- Very popular among diners
- You can go to your clientele, instead of them coming to you
- Small spaces to work in
- Lack of a consistent location
- Often competing with many others directly next to you
7. Refined Cocktail Lounge
The Monarch Bar is an upscale cocktail bar and lounge in Kansas City. With an emphasis on classy design, customers can sip on crafted beverages at the bar, parlor, or outdoor terrace. There’s also a membership available to attend classes and tastings and purchase special bottles at cost.
What sets these bars apart from other watering holes is the emphasis on sophistication and the craft of mixology. The lounge’s ambiance mixes elegance with contemporary design, and staff have expertise on premium liquor and wine. Patrons are looking for identity and community, so special events with a sense of exclusivity work well here.
- High markup of alcoholic beverages—up to 400%
- Less food inventory
- Attracts a crowd with larger buying power
Recommended Reading: Opening and Owning a Bar: Everything You Need to Know
8. Farm-to-Table Restaurants
Stone Barns is a farm in upstate New York that has a dining experience called Blue Hill. Their two locations on the farm and in the city have no set menus. Guests that make a reservation at the farm also receive a tour of the property, and tips are not accepted.
The farm-to-table concept sources seasonal ingredients from local farms as a way to promote freshness and sustainability. Most modern restaurants order their supplies from distributors, but farm-to-table businesses support local farmers and often name them on the menu.
- Ingredients are usually fresher and higher-quality
- Supporting sustainability and the local economy are large concerns for diners
- A seasonal menu creates anticipation and excitement for new offerings
- Sourcing from local farmers can come at a higher cost
- Some ingredients are limited in the off-season, especially in colder climates
- It takes more work to deal with multiple suppliers
9. Health-Conscious Eatery
"We started Vitality Bowls because our daughter was born with severe food allergies and we quickly realized that we couldn't just eat at any restaurant and restaurants weren't following any allergy safety," says Tara Gilad, Co-Founder of Vitality Bowls.
Billed as a superfood cafe, Vitality Bowls’ mission is to serve up healthy, allergy-safe food to America in the form of acai bowls, smoothies, and more. Their commitment to using fresh fruits and vegetables without additives or preservatives is a key factor to their growth from San Ramon, CA to 100 locations across the country.
For diners who want convenience without sacrificing nutrition, a health-forward locale featuring fresh produce checks all the boxes. These eateries often cater to different dietary needs, offering gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan options.
- Appeal to guests with specific dietary needs
- Popular with the office lunch crowd
- Fresh produce is more perishable than canned or frozen foods. Avocado only takes a few hours to brown, so you may be tossing out a lot of inventory.
- High-quality and organic food is more expensive
10. Gourmet Burgers & Pizzas
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria started serving coal-fired brick oven pizza over 100 years ago in New York City. They expanded out of the Dumbo neighbourhood and now their hand-tossed dough is made fresh daily in over 40 locations across the US.
This isn’t your typical 30-minutes-or-it’s-free fast food. We’re talking fiery ovens and in-house ground chuck. These concepts are perfect if you’re looking to open a restaurant in between casual and fine dining.
- Food cost is reasonable for burgers and pizzas
- Classic American fare appeals to a wide range of people and it’s family-friendly
- A smaller menu cuts down on complexity
- Menu costs are higher than fast-food burger or pizza joints which may deter cost-sensitive guests
- Burgers and pizza are seen as ‘guilty pleasure’ foods (but you can offer ‘healthier’ options to appeal to more people)
11. Tasteful Fine Dining
Renowned chef Thomas Keller is at the helm of Per Se, a New York property with three Michelin stars. Diners enjoy the nine-course modern French tasting menu with views overlooking Central Park. Its sister restaurant is the revered three-Michelin French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley.
When you picture white tablecloths and extensive wine lists, this is the concept you’re thinking of. Whether it’s a Wagyu steakhouse or ten-course set menu, these restaurants are all about exquisite flavors, plating, atmosphere, and service.
- Higher menu prices can mean higher profit margins
- Accolades like Michelin stars are often awarded to restaurants in this category
- Better tips usually means better front of house talent
- Because fine dining restaurants are seen as a luxury, business may slow when the economy is down
- Takeout and delivery are less common, which hurts the restaurant if the dining room needs to close
- Build costs are higher because more budget is put to interior design and decor
12. Dessert Destinations
Better Than Sex is a dessert-only restaurant that began in Key West, FL and expanded to 6 locations. Newlywed Dani Johnson first had the idea when she whipped up an Oreo Cookie Cake for her husband Len. Themed around Valentine’s Day, the red walls and speakeasy-like atmosphere are great for couples on intimate dates.
Give people something to satisfy their sweet tooth. These restaurants could be anything from a gelato shop to a full-service desert cafe.
- Table turnover rates are faster, especially with a counter service model
- You need fewer ingredients
- Desserts are great for selling as packages and gifts
- Demand for products like ice cream vary throughout the year, especially in colder climates
- You need to hire skilled bakers and pastry chefs if you make baked goods from scratch
- Lower check sizes since desserts tend to be cheaper than full meals
13. Buffets and Salad Bars
Similar to hibachi restaurants, BD’s Mongolian Grill cooks your meal right in front of you on a large cooktop. The difference is that at BD’s, you build your own bowl at self-serve stations and bring it to the cooks at the grill.
With groceries hitting record prices, diners are turning to self-serve restaurants like buffets to cut down on costs. It makes budgeting easier because guests know exactly how much their plate will cost up front. Buffets are also a feast for the eyes and, if there’s a chocolate fountain, a fun activity for kids.
- Appeal to price-sensitive guests like families
- Lower labor costs related to front of house staff
- More variety of dishes for diners to choose from
- May create more food waste
- Food quality declines the longer it sits on a hot plate
- Higher construction and rent costs to accommodate for the serving areas
14. Sustainable Seafood
The Crab Pot is a no-fuss eatery located on a pier in downtown Seattle. Diners don bibs and crack open shells of steamed seafood dumped onto tables. It’s so popular with tourists that it has a lost & found section on the website.
This is another version of farm-to-table, except the farm is the big blue sea. Great for coastal locations, the main draw of these restaurants is that they serve freshly-caught seafood.
- Seafood is seen as a healthier, more nutritious protein alternative to land animals like beef and pork
- If you build good relationships with local fishermen, you can secure discounted supply costs and support the local economy
- Seafood spoils quickly (the catalyst for that scene from 2022’s Triangle of Sadness)
- Certain species are seasonal due to migration patterns, weather conditions, and government regulations
- Competition can be fierce in touristy areas
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 understanding of diners' preferences. Take it a step further and conduct a feasibility study to see whether your concept has legs.
All in all, make 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 by it.
Turn Your Restaurant Concept and Idea Into Reality
You may understand the importance of having a solid concept, but struggle to choose the right one. These 14 restaurant ideas, 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 team management system helps. With a restaurant team management app like 7shifts, you'll simplify your scheduling, tips, and payroll, and save time no matter your restaurant concept. So, why not give 7shifts a try today?
Simple to set up, easy to use. Give your restaurant the team management tools they need to be successful. Start your free trial today.
Start free trial
No credit card required