People go to different restaurants for different reasons. Let’s say you live in a busy downtown area with dozens of different eatery choices. You probably have your weekday breakfast spot. There’s a weekend brunch spot. There’s a special occasion (birthdays and such) brunch spot that’s a little pricier. There’s a coffee shop for mornings when you’re on the go. Now, maybe there are only one or two restaurants you go to very often, but the point is: every restaurant serves a specific niche.
How to Define a Restaurant Concept
If you’re a restaurant owner or marketer, you need to understand how to define a restaurant’s niche. Foodservice is a highly competitive business. Studies say that a whopping 60 percent of new restaurants fail within their first year; almost 80 percent don’t make it to their fifth year. A few factors influence that failure.
The main factors that make or break a restaurant are location, funding, the actual food, staffing, and reviews. To find success, you need to have an understanding of all those different areas. You also need to have a birds-eye view of your entire concept — a strategic and creative vision. If you align all the moving parts of your business from the ground up, it’ll be a little easier to make it past that fifth year.
Ideally, you defined your restaurant concept long before opening your doors and building everything towards that vision from the ground up. Even if you didn’t, you can still successfully pivot towards a new concept as long as you have the funds. Agility is the name of the game in this business. Whether you’re starting from scratch or pivoting, there are a few crucial steps.
Where is your business located in relation to your potential customers? Is it downtown? Is it in an up-and-coming industrial area? Is it near a highway offramp? What are other types of businesses located nearby? What are other restaurants located nearby?
You absolutely must understand what’s going on in the area around your restaurant, why people go there, when people go there, and what people might want to spend money on when they’re there.
If you’re opening up shop in a busy restaurant district, you shouldn’t serve the same cuisine that other existing restaurants in the area already serve. On the other hand, if you have an amazing chef and you believe in your vision, then sure, you can try to compete directly with an existing spot. Just understand that you’re fighting an uphill battle. Maybe you’re opening up in an area with many nightlife spots but not many full-service restaurants. Great! There’s an opportunity to become the go-to dinner spot for bar-goers before they hit the clubs.
Factoring location into your restaurant concept isn’t difficult. To recap:
- Survey the businesses that already exist in the area.
- Figure out what (if any) restaurants have tried and failed in that area.
- Figure out when people go to that area.
- Start brainstorming what’s missing.
Food and Drink
When it comes to figuring out what food to serve at your restaurant, there are two routes. First is the food-based passion project, when there’s a specific cuisine you care deeply about and feel driven to serve. The second is the business strategy-focused decision.
It’s great to bring passion, but you must complement it with strategy. For example, if there’s already a great barbecue spot near your restaurant, don’t open another barbecue spot. You’re hurting yourself from the get-go.
Once again, like optimizing for location, figure out what other restaurants are nearby and fill in the gaps. Are there a lot of dive bars but nowhere that serves fancy cocktails and refined small plates? There’s an opportunity for you there. Think deeper, though — have other restaurateurs tried and failed with that model before? Maybe that’s not what locals want.
It’ll be different depending on where you are, so it’s up to you to do the research. Just figure out what’s missing, what locals actually want, and then go from there.
Service and Ambiance
The last aspect of defining your restaurant’s concept and niche revolves around service and ambiance. Counter service or sit-down? White linen or paper napkins? Soda machine or glass bottles? Brightly lit or dark and dim?
Again, figuring out how to organize the service and ambiance of your restaurant is a matter of filling in the gaps. There’s a pattern here:
- Defining and marketing your restaurant’s niche is all about researching what already exists in your market.
- Filling in the gaps.
- Understanding why those gaps exist.
- Strategically picking the best opportunity.
Marketing for Your Restaurant’s Niche
So you’ve picked a concept, and you’re opening your doors for the first time, or you’re pivoting from an unsuccessful concept. It’s time to get the word out — advertising is crucial! Use a contest to get people aware of and sharing the news. Update your website or create a new one. Then, start advertising in the real world.
Billboard advertising is a fantastic way to announce yourself to the world. If it’s in your budget, pick a location, design an ad (or hire a freelancer) and watch customers flow to your business. It’s tough to ignore a billboard; people will gain awareness of what you’re offering.
If a billboard isn’t in your budget, go with grocery store advertising. Shopping cart advertising rates specifically are very affordable. Cartvertising and Receipt Tape Advertising is a guaranteed way to reach customers where they are — everyone goes to the grocery store. Make sure you put a deal or a promotion to entice potential customers since that’s much more likely to drive new business than an ad simply featuring your location and hours.
If you’ve done your due diligence and designed a clever, niche-forward concept, your business should start seeing more customers walk through the door once you start running ads. Remember, it’s all about combining passion and strategy.