The restaurant industry is, among other challenging things, very competitive, low-margin, labor-intensive, and highly cyclical. To boot, at the time of publishing this blog entry, labor is scarce and more expensive than ever. The economy has just emerged from a global pandemic just to face more uncertain times ahead.
But it’s okay, you like a challenge, right?
If you’re now in or are thinking about getting into the restaurant industry, you’re most likely personally well-acquainted with these and other challenges. The natural question to be asked is “what can I do to overcome these challenges and get ahead?” There’s no magic bullet here we’re afraid, but we do have some restaurant ideas that we think might help you. We invite you to consider our ideas and see how they may be applicable to your situation.
First off, we feel that we’d be irresponsible if we didn’t point out the importance of mundane but necessary technical details like controlling costs, reducing waste, and increasing efficiency.
It doesn’t matter how unique or hip a restaurant is, if it’s losing money through spoilage, misallocated capital and labor, or other forms of waste, it’s going to lose competitiveness. We’ve hit on some of these themes in the past and will do so again in the future so we won’t belabor the point except to say it’s of vital importance to make sure your restaurant is as efficient as possible! We have tools to help you with this so it’s easier and less time-consuming.
With that being said, onto our restaurant ideas!
Brick-and-mortar restaurants aren’t going anywhere, but food trucks have really taken off over the last few years. If you’re thinking about getting into the restaurant business you might consider doing so with a food truck.
Even people who are already in the business might consider this option as a means of expansion or as a retooled application of their already existing idea. If you currently have a successful restaurant but don’t want to go to the expense of buying, building, or leasing a new building, a food truck might offer you a new and mobile means of growing.
Or perhaps you’re looking to downsize from your brick-and-mortar operation into something smaller and more manageable. A food truck could be the answer.
Why is a food truck a good restaurant idea? Well, in addition to generally lower start-up and operational costs, food trucks give the added benefit of the proprietor being able to take their food to the diners as opposed to trying to attract them to their restaurant. A food truck can be taken to a job site, office building, concert, sporting event, festival, or any other event, planned or spontaneous, that happens to pop up and attract a large amount of foot traffic.
Food trucks are not for everybody and they aren’t suitable for all kinds of dining experiences (the delightful expression “roach coach” exists for a reason). But whether you’re in the restaurant business already or you’re looking to get into it or expand your presence in the fast-food and fast-casual sectors of the restaurant industry, a food truck could be the way to go.
A food cart is a similar idea to a food truck but it’s even smaller and usually has a more basic menu consisting of dishes that are pre-prepared and can be paid for and handed over to diners in a matter of seconds. Think of the hot dog carts that are a ubiquitous element of the urban landscape in places like New York City. They’re small, they’re portable, and they’re really quick and easy for a passing pedestrian to purchase from.
These aren’t limited to hot stands of course. Food carts can sell tacos, sandwiches, pizza, pastries, coffee, and other drinks. Basically, any kind of finger food that can either be prepared quickly or prepared elsewhere and kept on hand will work well for a food cart.
Food carts are a good restaurant idea for the same reasons that food trucks are, but at an even smaller scale. A food cart can go places that even a food truck can’t. Transit stations, parks, and even inside of buildings.
The only real downside to this is that revenue and profits from food trucks and carts may be smaller than those of brick-and-mortar restaurants. People may like hot dogs but you can’t really sell them for that much money. Food carts and trucks aren’t exactly fancy steakhouses.
Tibetan sushi. Mexican curry. Peruvian pizza. Have you ever tried or even heard of dishes like this? If not, that’s not too surprising since some of these combinations seem counterintuitive and may not even exist.
And that’s the point; the practice of blending the culinary traditions of vastly different places is one that has accelerated in the last few years.
This is called fusion. The results of it can be a very unique, niche market but a potentially lucrative one if your fusion restaurant catches on. Finding the right combinations can be a challenge and some foods probably just don’t go well together but if you have the time and resources to experiment, you might try your hand at discovering the next big food fusion sensation. If you find just the right fusion of ingredients, tastes, textures, and smells, you might have the most unique restaurant in town.
Virtually every restaurant has some kind of visual aesthetic that ties all of the architectural and other design elements of the building together, but themed restaurants take the idea a step further. If you’re sifting through restaurant ideas and looking for something you can probably start to implement right away, you might consider giving your restaurant a theme.
If you serve seafood, you might think about a pirate theme. If you run a pizzeria, can you in some way recreate the experience of dining in Tuscany? Do you run a bakery that sells a variety of pastries? How about an alpine theme that evokes images of the Alps? The potential combination of restaurants and restaurant themes is virtually limitless.
These are fairly obvious associations that we don’t claim to be all that creative, but they’re ideas that we hope can get you thinking. What’s unique about your restaurant? Can you make a logical or amusing link to the food you serve and the dining experience you provide and create some kind of overarching theme? If so, you might consider a themed restaurant!
Of our restaurant ideas, this one probably has the lowest cost of experimentation and implementation, at least at the beginning. Wearing themed costumes and adorning the walls with posters and other images that are consistent with your theme won’t cost that much and you can experiment with multiple visuals to figure out what works best.
If you’ve ever been to a sports bar, you’ve already become acquainted with a very successful implementation of this idea. After all, what is a sports bar? It’s just a bar with lots of televisions displaying sporting events from around the country or even the globe. There’s probably also some sports memorabilia on the wall.
While televised sports may not be “live” in the strictest sense of the term, they do illustrate the point: supplementing the dining experience with some kind of in-house entertainment can attract more customers. This can take so many forms that we won’t bother trying to list them all, but here are some ideas.
Most people like live music and live music can add a sense of energy to any establishment. The type of music will depend on what kind of restaurant and clientele and what kind of customer experience you’re trying to achieve. If your establishment is a fast-casual or casual restaurant or a bar that appeals to young adults, perhaps an energetic local band that plays upbeat riffs on contemporary pop will create the atmosphere you want.
Do you run a coffee shop or a bakery? Maybe a laid-back, acoustic lounge singer setting a moody but tranquil and comfortable ambiance is in order.
Want something more classy and subdued for wealthy diners with expensive tastes and tickets to match? How about an impeccably dressed concert pianist playing soft classical music on a grand piano?
Whatever the type of music, live music can entertain diners while perhaps drawing people in for the show.
Comedians and Dinner Theater
These aren’t new restaurant ideas, but they aren’t as widespread as they used to be and maybe a bit of a renaissance is in order.
How about hiring a comedian to do their routine for diners? What about having a very small-scale theatrical performance? Maybe you can go another way and open up a microphone to your diners to recite poetry or short stories of their own composition?
Whatever you choose, live acts can add an additional element to the dining experience that can make your restaurant stand out.
This isn’t for everybody of course. Live entertainment would add another layer of management and associated costs to the restaurant. You’d also want to be careful to screen all acts to be consistent with your restaurant, its clientele, and its tastes. If done right, live entertainment could make your restaurant more than a place to eat—it could potentially make it a cultural hotspot.
Why would somebody pay to cook their own food? Isn’t avoiding cooking the point of dining out? Yes and no. Not everybody is going to be interested in cooking classes or preparing their own meals.
But for those who enjoy this kind of thing for personal development or for date nights or just an evening out with friends? Providing this kind of highly anticipated activity can be lucrative as people interested in it may be willing to pay a premium for the experience.
If your restaurant has the facilities and the staff, you might consider offering cooking classes. This can be an additional stream of revenue and it can help get the word out about your restaurant.
Create a New Franchise
In a past entry, we talked a bit about opening a franchise. While that isn’t a bad idea, what we’re suggesting here is something quite different. An idea that is quite bold, quite risky, but also holds great potential for success.
Remember that road trip you took in college with your buddies? Remember that hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop diner in that out-of-the-way small town several miles off of the interstate that made the best hamburger you’ve ever eaten? Its taste, texture, and its various garnishments paired with some unbelievably crispy french fries seasoned with… something (you’re not sure what it was, but it was amazing!) and homemade root beer or a shake made for a dining experience that you just can’t find anywhere else.
Well, what if you were the one to bring it everywhere else?
One of our best (in our humble opinion) and more unique, albeit very challenging, restaurant ideas is to create your own new restaurant franchise.
If you already have your own unique restaurant that is successful you might consider making a franchise out of it.
Or maybe you need to make a trip back to that small town and ask the proprietors of that diner if they’d be interested in franchising. What unique restaurant you start with doesn’t really matter; you just need something that works, hasn’t been done, or improves on successful elements of other restaurants.
You’d probably need some help with this one. You’ll need a great idea of course and that isn’t always an easy thing.
After that, you’ll need capital to get started. You’ll also need consultations and collaborations with lawyers, accountants, commercial realtors, and other financial professionals to incorporate the company. The expensive but critical advice of marketing consultants is to figure out exactly when, where, and how to expand, etc. If you’re turning somebody else’s restaurant into a franchise you’ll have to negotiate with them and hammer out a mutually agreeable deal.
This is by far the most challenging of our restaurant ideas, but it’s probably also the most potentially lucrative.
Does getting a new restaurant idea up and running seem impossible?
It isn’t. Remember that virtually every successful franchise started off as a single restaurant or a small handful of privately owned establishments clustered in one geographic area. Even McDonald’s, the multinational industry behemoth and one of the most successful franchises in history, started off as a small hamburger joint owned and operated by some brothers in southern California.
We aren’t saying that you’ll be the next McDonald’s but we are saying that if you combine a good idea with good business, the possibilities are virtually limitless.
Final Thoughts on Restaurant Ideas
This is by no means an exhaustive list of restaurant ideas, but we do hope that reading it has given you some things to think about. In a competitive industry like this, one big idea can make the difference between success and failure but so can several little elements compounded on each other.
When you’re thinking about restaurant ideas that you can apply to your operation, you’re going to need good data to work with. That’s where we come in. We have the tools to help you collect, analyze and make sense of the data that your restaurant is generating so you can make the best decisions regarding which way to go.
Best of luck!