Restaurant Ideas To Consider
- Farm to Table Dining
- Make Your Employees a Priority
- Create An Eco-Friendly Establishment
- Make Your Food Interactive
- Put History to Work for You
- Use a Guest Chef
- Try a Pop-Up Concept
- Offer Tastings
- Eliminate Tipping
- Go Futuristic with Robots
- Partner with Another Local Restaurant
- Add Fun to the Mix
- Bring Inclusivity Into Your Space
- Make It Pet-Friendly
- Go for an All-In-One Concept
- Introduce Local Brews
- Make It Mysterious
- Bring Back Dinner and a Movie
- Start a Beauty Bar
- Go Old School
- Make Dining Entertaining
- Pump Up Local Flavor
- Try a Food Truck
- Give Guests Control
- Cater to Kids
- Build Your Establishment In A Tree
- Build Your Establishment Underground
- Offer Cooking Classes
- Go Plant-Based
- Vote On Your Menu
- Make Your Restaurant Invite-Only
- Offer Self-Serve Beer
- Lose The Lights
- Offer Dining On The Water
- Add A Medicinal Spin
- Allow Guests to Unplug
- Give Back to the Community
- Make The Kitchen Center Stage
- Throw Away the Menu
- Offer Trade-In Deals
- Offer CoWorking Spaces
- Make Money Off of Food Waste
- Give Guests the Opportunity to Swing
- Do Away With Talking
- Lean Into The History Of Your Building
- Remove all Manners
- Allow Guests to Set Their Own Prices
There is no single thing that will make your restaurant a hit. Instead, you typically need a combination of factors to have a thriving establishment – such as a great location, a delicious menu, good marketing, and a willingness to put in the work to make it all happen.
With so many restaurants in any given area, it can be hard to know how to differentiate yours from the crowd. One way to do so is to come up with a little something extra to attract customers – and keep them coming back time and time again.
Below, we have compiled a list of 47 unique ideas that will inspire you to step up your game. Whether you’re in the planning stages or have been running your restaurant for years, these concepts can help you take your business to the next level. Think of them as a great jumping off point to get your own creative juices flowing.
1) Farm to Table Dining
In 2021, the desire for locally grown, sustainable, and/or organic food continues to grow. While a farm-to-table concept may not be new, it IS important. If you want to give your restaurant an edge, consider working with local farms and dairies as you build your menu.
Using locally grown and raised fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products is a great marketing tool. These products also tend to taste better than produce that has been shipped across the country, frozen, or otherwise processed. By taking a local, seasonal approach to your menu, you can attract customers who value these things – as well as anyone who simply wants a really delicious meal.
2) Make Your Employees a Priority
In 2021, many restaurants struggled to keep employees due to the pandemic, the availability of enhanced unemployment benefits, and other factors. This has made it difficult for many businesses to serve customers efficiently, or even to remain open. At the same time, the public has become more attuned to the struggles of lower wage restaurant workers.
One way to boost your staffing levels and draw favorable publicity is to make sure that your employees are treated and paid well. For example, an ice cream shop in Pittsburgh, Klavon’s, couldn’t attract employees when paying minimum wage. After raising their wages to $15 an hour, the shop had over 1,000 applicants – and received national attention for their decision. Sales also increased, as customers came to check out the shop and show their appreciation for this decision.
3) Create An Eco-Friendly Establishment
More Americans than ever before – and particularly, younger people – are concerned about the environment. One way to capitalize on this fact – and do your part – is to make your restaurant as eco-friendly as possible. There are a number of ways to incorporate “green” features in your restaurant, from purchasing reusable straws to composting food scraps to offering more meatless options.
Restaurants around the world are using eco-conscious strategies that are often budget-friendly as well. Ideas include:
- Using fettuccine instead of plastic or wooden coffee stirrers;
- Setting up a box for customers to return unused condiments;
- Using recycled materials for building and furnishings;
- Only giving out straws upon request; and
- Installing dual-function toilet handles to reduce water consumption.
Whatever you choose, make sure that you find a way to work it into your marketing so that customers know about your commitment!
4) Make Your Food Interactive
As a restaurant owner, you may be a bit conflicted about people using their phones while dining at your restaurant. On the one hand, when people take pics of your food and post it online, it can be a great source of free advertising. On the other hand, having customers glued to their phones can be annoying and even take away from the dining experience.
Some restaurants have decided to embrace phones instead of fighting them. For example, at Taranta in Boston, chefs draw edible QR codes on certain dishes. Customers can scan the codes, and then go to a website to learn more about the dish and its ingredients. Pretty cool!
5) Put History to Work for You
Technology dramatically influences almost every aspect of our lives, from the way that we drive to how we shop to how we interact with other people. Many people want an escape from so much modernity – and your bar or restaurant menu is a great place to offer a reprieve. Certain foods and drinks are classics for a reason – and can help boost your business. Traditional meals offer diners a nostalgic trip back to childhood or some other fond memory.
6) Use a Guest Chef
In the not-too-distant past, television shows were able to draw in bigger audiences by using guest stars. Even if people had tired of a certain show, they might tune in to see Brad Pitt play Jennifer Aniston’s love interest on Friends. The same concept can be applied to your restaurant.
Bringing in a guest chef for a period of time or a special event can be a boon to your bottom line. You can advertise the featured chef, give your own chef some much-needed time off, and draw in new customers who are excited to taste a little something different. One restaurant that has successfully pulled off this concept is the Chef’s Club in New York City, which features signature dishes from top chefs.
7) Try a Pop-Up Concept
Pop-ups are a relatively new thing – but they are incredibly popular. A pop-up restaurant is a great way to gauge interest and create demand without investing too heavily in a particular concept.
For restaurants, pop-ups can be a little more challenging than a pop-up shop (which can be hosted almost anywhere with basic supplies). If you’re interested in doing a pop-up, talk to local restaurant owners to see if you can use their space to test out your menu – and to figure out if there is interest in the type of food that you want to serve.
8) Offer Tastings
More than ever before, Americans have access to a wide variety of foods and beverages. At the same time, the sheer amount of products available can be overwhelming to many consumers. Offering tastings can be a great way to bring in new business and get your customers invested in your product.
There are a number of ways that you can do tastings, such as offering flights of wine or locally brewed beer. You can also offer special food tastings – like oyster tastings at Megu in New York City. By combining food or drink with education from your staff, you will be offering an unforgettable experience to your customers.
9) Eliminate Tipping
Unlike most of the world, tipping is a common practice in the United States. While tipping is traditional here, it does have pitfalls – such as leaving your staff’s wages subject to the whims of temperamental customers. It has also drawn a lot of criticism from people who believe that restaurant employees aren’t being paid a fair wage.
Some restaurants, like Dirt Candy in New York City, have decided to switch to a European model, where staff are paid a higher wage, menu prices are increased, and customers are not permitted to tip. Because the practice is still considered innovative in the restaurant industry, making the decision to eliminate tipping leads to a lot of positive press coverage and interest from potential customers.
10) Go Futuristic with Robots
Americans have embraced technology – and various “hacks” that can make our lives easier through tech. Some restaurants are taking this love of technology to the kitchen, using robots to cook food (after a small staff prepares the ingredients). While this concept won’t work with all types of restaurants, it can draw a lot of attention (and even cut staffing costs) if you decide to try it.
Fast casual restaurant Spyce in Boston uses an all robot kitchen to deliver customized menu items for customers. Users can order via an app or at a kiosk in the restaurant, with a range of dietary preferences and allergen restriction options available. The Infinite Kitchen then prepares the salad or warm bowl based on the customer’s specific needs.
11) Partner with Another Local Restaurant
It’s easy to think of other restaurants as competition – and in many respects, they are. Yet at the same time, there are a lot of potential benefits to collaborating with your colleagues. A partnership with a local restaurant can increase business for everyone involved – and help to build community.
The concept can be as simple as offering certain food or drinks on each other’s menu, or a more involved joint venture. Whatever you decide, remember that by working together, you can build both of your businesses.
12) Add Fun to the Mix
When you go to a restaurant, you expect to be able to order food and drinks. But what if your customers could get a little something extra when they visit your establishment? By adding something fun – like pin bowling, pool tables, or small jukeboxes at the table – you can bring more people through your doors.
While many bowling alleys serve (not-so-great) food, few restaurants offer a way for customers to have fun while they eat. If you have the space and budget for it, adding an element like a small bowling area could substantially increase your profits. Need some inspiration? Check out Punch Bowl Social.
13) Bring Inclusivity Into Your Space
Although we have made significant strides in this country, people with disabilities still face discrimination. One way to push back against negative stereotypes is by hiring people with disabilities to work at your restaurant – either exclusively, or as part of a diverse crew. Doing so not only gives people with disabilities meaningful employment – it can also draw customers to your business.
Take No Limits Café in Red Bank, New Jersey. This restaurant trains and employs people with intellectual disabilities – which is not only a great thing to do, but something that is incredibly popular with the community.
14) Make It Pet-Friendly
With so many food safety rules and regulations, bringing animals into your restaurant might not appeal to most owners. At the same time, Americans are very attached to their four-legged friends – and may be more likely to patronize a pet-friendly restaurant. There are even websites dedicated to pet-friendly establishments in cities and towns across the country.
Most often, this can be accomplished by offering outdoor seating with places for dogs to get food and water, or to tie up a leash. There are also a growing number of establishments that have animals right on the premises – like the Caffeinated Cat Café in Pennsylvania. While the idea of having a cup of coffee in a room with a bunch of (adoptable) cats may not be for everyone, it is a concept that has proven to be incredibly popular with pet lovers.
15) Go for an All-In-One Concept
Many restaurants specialize in a particular type or style of food – like a coffee shop that is open early in the morning and closes by the afternoon, or a brew pub that opens just for dinner. While this business model works for many restaurants, you may be able to boost your profits and bring in additional customers by offering more.
For example, if you have a café that serves breakfast and lunch, consider staying open for evening hours. You could bring in live music and offer lighter fare to attract customers.
16) Introduce Local Brews
Craft brewing is incredibly popular in the United States. If you aren’t a brewmaster yourself, you can still take advantage of this trend by having local beers and ciders on tap. You might even take it a step further and ask a local brewery to create an exclusive beer just for your restaurant.
Consider Oath Craft Pizza in Massachusetts. This pizzeria worked with Night Shift Brewing to create beverage pairings to go along with its tasting menu – supporting a fellow local business owner and increasing sales at the same time!
17) Make It Mysterious
There is something special about having something secretive in your bar or restaurant. While conventional wisdom holds that you should advertise your business boldly, with clear signage, there are other alternatives. A speakeasy model or even a hidden restaurant can build demand and generate word-of-mouth buzz.
One great example of this concept is Please Don’t Tell, a cocktail bar in NYC. To enter the bar, you have to go through a phone booth inside of a hot dog joint, Crif Dogs. The air of mystery surrounding this bar has made it incredibly popular.
18) Bring Back Dinner and a Movie
Going out for dinner and a movie is a classic date night for a reason. In most cases, those two activities happen at separate locations. But you can also offer both together for a fun twist on an old favorite.
At Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage, Alaska, customers can order their food and then take a seat inside of a theater. Wait staff will deliver their pizza, beer, and other goodies directly to them – so they can nibble while they watch the latest show.
19) Start a Beauty Bar
Self-care has become increasingly important in these stressful times. One way to jump onto this trend is to offer food and drinks alongside beauty treatments. This concept may allow you to book big parties or special girls’ nights out – with customers getting manicures and pedicures while sipping a martini, or taking a break from spa treatments to nosh on scrumptious food.
20) Go Old School
As we get older, many of us become nostalgic for simpler times. If you’re thinking about opening a restaurant, consider a throw-back theme as a way to stand out from the crowd.
One great example of this concept is Saved by the Max in West Hollywood. The restaurant is set up to look like the diner from Saved by the Bell, and is named after the fictional proprietor of that restaurant (Max). The kitsch factor may be off the charts – but it is sure to attract a crowd!
21) Make Dining Entertaining
One of the best ways to get people into your restaurant is by making it fun. You can do this in any number of ways, from hiring musicians to play in the evenings, putting on a dinner theater show, or even having your wait staff break into song and dance in the middle of service. For example, at Casablanca in Costa Mesa, California, guests can watch live belly dancing as they enjoy tasty Moroccan food – always a hit!
22) Pump Up Local Flavor
Every region has a food that it is famous for, whether it be hatch chile peppers in New Mexico or hot chicken in Nashville. In addition to sourcing locally-grown ingredients, consider adding menu items that are truly regional in flavor.
This doesn’t mean that you have to focus on well-known favorites that are popular with tourists. You can also bring back nostalgic recipes that harken back to an earlier time – and will attract loyal locals.
23) Try a Food Truck
If you are considering dipping your toes into the restaurant world, a great way to try it out is by starting with a food truck. These mobile kitchens are more popular than ever, and are in high demand for festivals, craft breweries that don’t have their own kitchen, and even at weddings and special events. The up-front cost for a food truck is often far less than a brick and mortar place – and may be the stepping stone that you need to operate your own restaurant in the future.
24) Give Guests Control
Most restaurants offer a set menu, with a few rotating specials. If you want to give your guests a unique experience, consider giving them some element of control by letting them choose exactly what they want from a set list of components. Doing this in a thoughtful way can be a fun way to let your customers get exactly what they want – while reducing waste and even staffing costs.
At Burgatory, a Pennsylvania-based burger chain, the tables are stocked with notepads and golf pencils. Customers use the pencils to mark off their selections: their choice of meat, bun, cheese, and other toppings. In this way, staff doesn’t have to remember complicated custom orders – and guests get to pick exactly what they want.
25) Cater To Kids
If you have kids, you know that eating out isn’t always a good time. Restaurants that cater to kids – in both big and small ways – are often a hit for just this reason. You can do this in a number of ways, such as offering raw pizza dough for kids to play with while they wait for their food (at Pizzeria Uno), giving kids a little fidget or other toy that goes beyond crayons and a menu to color, or even making a specific toy the entire theme of the restaurant (like the American Girl Restaurant).
26) Build Your Establishment In A Tree
Many of us have probably dreamed of living in a treehouse at some point and time. While most of us may not realize that dream, dining in a treehouse can be the next best thing. From the Treehouse Bar in Florida to the Tree House Cafe in Costa Rica, restaurant owners have been providing guests with unique treetop dining experiences. You don’t need to be surrounded by giant redwood trees to build a suitable tree restaurant. Treehouse restaurants can be built on or around a variety of different trees.
27) Build Your Establishment Underground
Similar to taking guests into the trees, you could also take them underground. Underground dining can provide an additional layer of privacy and exclusivity to the restaurant experience. Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant was built inside an actual cave while Merchants’ Gate is located in a New York subway station. Underground dining gives you the ability to play with your lighting while also removing guests from the hustle and bustle of the world above.
28) Offer Cooking Classes
Offering cooking classes gives customers the ability to interact with your brand in a different way. You could have your chefs teach guests how to make some of the most popular menu items or new seasonal items. People love an opportunity to learn something new, especially when food is involved. Your classes may also bring in more potential restaurant customers who find your restaurant through the classes offered.
29) Go Plant-Based
The vegetarian and vegan diets have seen explosive growth over the last few years. Even some meat eaters have taken an interest in plant-based foods with the rise of popular plant-based products such as Impossible burger patties, Just eggs, and Beyond meat. Providing a menu that is 100% plant-based is something that would still be considered unique in many metros. Plant-based menus have appeal, because they accommodate many different diet restrictions and are often perceived to be healthier, even if you’re serving plant-based junk food.
30) Vote On Your Menu
You’ve got an established menu you’ve been using and it’s working, but you want to switch things up a bit. Which menu items should go and which should stay? Furthermore, what new items should you try? Putting out public polls via email and social media is a great way to allow customers to interact with the brand while also giving them more of a say in what they can order. If menu items are constantly up for a vote, the rotating menu will also keep customers coming back to try new items.
31) Make Your Restaurant Invite-Only
It’s not as common in the US, but invite-only restaurants are popular in other places around the globe. Japan actually has a large number of invite-only restaurants. Mibu in Tokyo would be one such restaurant. There is no website, no opening times, no menu, and the phone is often left ringing. Mibu is reserved for members and you can only become a member if you’re invited by another member. Members can dine at Mibu once a month and can invite up to seven guests to dine with them. An invite-only system increases demand by limiting the supply of available reservations. It also makes guests feel special and generates buzz for your restaurant.
32) Offer Self-Serve Beer
It’s common for fast casual restaurants to offer self-serve soda, but it’s rare for a restaurant to offer self-serve beer. Tapster does just that. When you visit a Tapster location, you’ll be provided with a drink card that you use to pour drinks. The card is placed on the tap machine where it tracks how many ounces of beer you pour and which tap you pour from. When you’re done drinking for the night, you can return your card and pay for the beer you drank. Tapster gives guests the unique opportunity to try different craft beers without committing to a predetermined beer flight or a full pint.
33) Lose The Lights
The idea behind eating in the dark is that the loss of sight will heighten other senses to help you enjoy your meal more. There is some truth to this theory. When one sense is diminished, people will concentrate more on senses they don’t normally think about. The concept has been executed a number of different ways by different restaurants. Some restaurants have provided staff with night goggles while others have provided customers with sleeping masks and left the lights on. Dark dining provides a unique and memorable experience that will get people talking.
34) Offer Dining On The Water
There are many restaurants located on waterfronts with breathtaking water views. However, there aren’t many restaurants that allow guests to literally dine on the water. The Grand Banks is a floating restaurant on a boat while the BBQ Party Boat gives guests the opportunity to barbecue food in their own private donut boats. Water has alluring and calming properties. Providing guests with the opportunity to dine on water is a surefire way to create positive memorable experiences that will keep them coming back.
35) Add A Medicinal Spin
Improving health and wellness has been a priority for many individuals after the global pandemic of 2020. An emerging menu trend is to incorporate ingredients with medicinal benefits into meals. Ginger turmeric, ginseng are popular medicinal ingredients. CBD oil has also been growing in popularity and can be used in recipes.
36) Allow Guests to Unplug
It’s hard to focus on food and conversation when phone screens are blowing up with notifications on the table or in our pockets. Hearth provides each table with phone boxes. Customers can lock their phones away while dining and retrieve them after the meal for a distraction-free dining experience.
37) Give Back to the Community
There’s a saying, “The more you give, the more you receive,” and it often rings true. Giving back to your local community creates good press, allows you to forge new local relationships, and builds positive brand sentiment. There are many ways your restaurant could give back to the community. You could donate to causes you care about, sponsor local events, or provide services at discounted rates. When you invest time in your community, the community will repay you with full tables.
38) Make The Kitchen Center Stage
Cooking shows have been growing in popularity across streaming platforms. We love to watch people cook and your guests would undoubtedly love to have the opportunity to watch your chefs at work. Open kitchens are a growing trend in restaurant design. Open kitchens offer guests entertainment while also providing more transparency into how food is prepared.
39) Throw Away the Menu
Menus allow us some choice to pick what we want to eat, but what if we don’t actually know what we want to eat? Some restaurants like Restaurant Jezebel are ditching menus in favor of custom meals designed based on guest preferences. The staff will ask diners questions to determine their likes and dislikes and serve unique dishes based on the answers provided. Diners may end up really enjoying a meal they wouldn’t have otherwise selected on their own.
40) Offer Trade-In Deals
Looking to steal business from your competitors? You can drive business and some commotion by offering a loyalty trade-in program. You could offer customers discounts when they turn in their loyalty or rewards cards from other restaurants.
41) Offer CoWorking Spaces
If you think about it, restaurants actually make for good coworking spaces. You have tables, wifi, good lighting, and a social atmosphere. Coworking customers make for great customers. You make money without having to bus tables and clean plates. A company called KettleSpace has been helping restaurants turn into coworking spaces with a listing on the app’s coworking location directory. You can designate certain tables for coworking during the restaurant’s operational hours or rent tables out during the hours that the restaurant isn’t operating.
42) Make Money Off of Food Waste
A large portion of the food we produce goes to waste and restaurants are big contributors of this waste. US restaurants generate an average of 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste annually. Restaurants can actually make some money off of wasted food instead of sending the food off to landfills. Companies like Food For All are allowing customers to buy leftover restaurant meals at discounted prices. Working with companies like this or implementing your own leftover system could help you generate more money each month and some good PR.
43) Give Guests the Opportunity to Swing
Swings are fun for adults and kids alike. Many restaurants have started incorporating swing seating into their floor plan. Some offer swing seats only by the windows while others hang swing seats at every table. Swings are great for guests who get a little restless sitting in one spot for too long.
44) Do Away With Talking
Dining and conversation are often intertwined, but one restaurant believes that conversation distracts from the sensory experience of eating. Ichiran seats guests at individual “flavor concentration booths” where they’re able to order and eat without saying a single word. Orders are placed with an order form and guests can request refills by placing their bowls on a sensor that alerts the wait staff. On some nights, it can be nice to eat in silence and this concept offers a unique experience for diners.
45) Lean Into The History Of Your Building
If you’ve acquired a building with a rich history, it’s worth leaning into that history to drive your brand. Linger was a mortuary that has now been converted into what they call an “eatuary”. They reference the building’s past with the restaurant name, which implies that ghosts may still be lingering in the building.
46) Remove all Manners
Traditional customer service etiquette would dictate treating the customer with respect, but what if you flipped your customer service model and threw all manners out the window? That’s exactly what a few restaurants around the country have done. Dick’s Last Resort and The Weiners Circle would be two notable establishments offering sides of insults with meals.
These restaurants have found that customers actually enjoy being verbally roasted and will continue to come back and dine for more verbal abuse. Dick’s Last Resort is known for writing insulting names on paper take-out bags and sticking them atop diner’s heads. This dining format is not only fun for customers, but can also be fun for employees who get the opportunity to be creative on the job. If an employee is having a bad day, they’d also be able to take it out on the customer without the customer even knowing that it wasn’t a part of the act. Sometimes it’s nice not having to pretend to be happy when you aren’t.
47) Allow Guests to Set Their Own Prices
Businesses set prices to ensure they earn a profit with every sale. Securing a healthy profit from operations is even more important in the restaurant industry where margins can be thin. Is it possible to allow guests to pay what they want to pay and still make a healthy profit? There are several restaurants around the globe that have made this model work.
Same Cafe and ComeUnity Cafe both offer the pay-what-you-want model. If you can’t pay anything, the ComeUnity Cafe even offers guests the opportunity to exchange volunteer work for meals. Offering this model is not only a great way to generate local buzz, but also a way to give back and get more involved in the community.
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