The concept of a restaurant defines its very identity. From theme to ambiance and cuisine, a restaurant’s concept shapes the diner’s experience and sets the stage for unforgettable hospitality. For new restaurateurs, carving out this unique identity can be challenging.
We sat down with Sam Randazzo, general manager at Carnivale, to understand the intricacies of developing and maintaining a successful restaurant identity. Read on for tips on how to create a unique restaurant concept.
Don’t Follow Trends. Set Them.
It can be tempting to chase trends when you’re conceptualizing your restaurant. But Randazzo says that the best restaurant concepts come from a place of authenticity.
“If you like cooking Italian food,” Randazzo says, “don’t open a Chinese restaurant. Stick with what you love to make. You’ll love the food more, and guests will feed off how you present that passion.”
When conceptualizing Carnivale, the founders envisioned an immersive Latin experience, offering cuisines from 27 Latin and South American countries in a bright, eclectic environment. That passion for Latin flavors paid off and, as other restaurants followed suit, Carnivale’s vision of Latin dining in the city became a trendsetter.
“You’re a lot better off creating a trend than following one,” Randazzo says.
Know Your Location
While you don’t have to have an exact address nailed down, understanding the needs and tastes of your target neighborhood can be a big help when developing your restaurant concept. Surveying the landscape ensures you’re offering the community something it can’t find elsewhere.
“You wouldn’t want to open a steakhouse in the middle of five really good steakhouses,” Randazzo says. He advises actively researching neighborhoods by walking and dining around.
Understand Your Customers
When creating your restaurant’s business plan, you should have identified ideal neighborhoods and done research on demographics. According to Randazzo, you should answer a few critical questions about your ideal diner.
“Look at how much income is in the neighborhood,” he says. “Do people rent, or do they own? What other activities do those diners like?”
Refining your concept around the guests you’re most likely to serve is a meaningful way to plan for success. For instance, a restaurant that is located near a college campus will have a different clientele than a business in an affluent suburb. Knowing who you’re catering to will have a powerful impact on how you refine your overarching concept.
Focus on Hospitality
Randazzo explains that three factors go into a memorable dining experience: great food, welcoming service, and the right ambiance.
“The service should wow you, but it’s also about the music, lighting, colors, and a comfortable chair. If you get three out of three, you have a memorable restaurant that people are going to be wild about.”
After deciding on an inspiring, authentic menu and visualizing your ideal diner, focus on the type of service and decor that will highlight the menu and make that diner feel welcome. For some restaurant concepts, that might mean trendy music and an informal, cozy setting. For others, it might mean a more formal experience with personalized, extra-attentive service.
Leave Room to Grow
In a thriving restaurant, change is a good thing. Leave room for growth in a restaurant concept by considering how your idea will evolve organically. Seasonal ingredients, changing food costs, and the popularity of certain dishes should all impact how your restaurant grows to meet changing tastes.
“It’s a little tweak here and there,” Randazzo says. “If you can change and evolve while staying true to your original concept, it was the right concept to begin with.”
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