20 restaurant ideas to make you stand out in a saturated market

These days there are a lot of great restaurants out there. Being a successful restaurateur requires a lot of work and creativity, and it takes more than just unlimited breadsticks to help your restaurant stand out from the crowded landscape. 

Like most people invested in their business, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about how you can make your restaurant top of mind. Theme nights? New menu items? Posting on social media every day hoping Ryan Gosling shows up? With a little creativity, suddenly the unimpossible becomes a little more possible, as you tap into those powerful ideas that ultimately move the needle.

To get you started on your creative journey, we’re sharing 20 restaurant ideas that can help you stand out in a saturated market. Read on for food, menu, events, and even team management ideas to help your restaurant make an impact. (Though we can’t promise Ryan will drop by.)

Fresh new restaurant food ideas.

There’s a clear connection between innovative food ideas and your restaurant’s promotion. It makes sense that customers would get excited about new food ideas at local restaurants, and as we all saw with the cronut, people love a taste of something new. But is going beyond the food you usually serve the right idea? And most importantly: will it bring in new and repeat customers?

With these three unique food ideas and concepts, you can help make your restaurant stand out, turning those questions into results.

Focus on trending ingredients. 

From green goddess salads and hot sauce to yuzu fruit and turmeric, different ingredients are always trending across social media and the restaurant industry. Incorporating these trends into your menu can be a great way to build interest in your restaurant. 

It also allows you to get in on a social media trend early and make an impact. For example, butter boards are having a moment on Instagram and TikTok. Capitalize on the trend by offering a butter board that fits your restaurant’s menu, and share about it on social media to get the word out and create excitement surrounding your new offer. 

Explore unique fusions.

Fusion cuisine is when you blend culinary traditions together to create unique dishes with harmonious flavors. You’ve probably tasted fusion food in the past, even if you weren’t fully aware—Korean BBQ tacos, Thai chicken pizza, and ramen noodle burgers are just a few examples of some popular fusion foods taking the world by storm.  

Customers get excited by the newest fusions and seek out restaurants pushing the envelope and introducing new flavor profiles. Think about how you could incorporate a fusion dish on your menu—consider taking an existing menu item and updating it with a fusion twist. Above all else, make sure it tastes great!

Dazzle customers with a signature dish.

If you don’t already have a signature dish, there’s no better time than now to discover it. A signature dish allows you to attract new customers by giving them a glimpse into chef specialties. Done well, a signature dish can serve as a representation of your restaurant. 

When a dish is well-made and well-loved, it attracts new customers, creates a brand identity people recognize, and helps to set you apart from your competitors by becoming, ‘that restaurant that does that thing… you know, the one everyone’s talking about!’.

Restaurant menu ideas to excite guests.

Even though it may seem basic, you can’t underestimate the importance of your menu. With 84% of US adults reading a restaurant’s menu before they visit in person, your menu may be the first touchpoint you have with potential customers. 

Besides just having your menu available online (you do have a restaurant website, right?), you’ve got to wow them from the moment they scroll through your menu online. So what can you do to make your menu special, taking a customer from an online lurker to an in-person guest? These four ideas can help keep your menu fresh and exciting so you can keep your tables booked.

Build a farm-to-table menu.

More and more people are familiar with a farm-to-table menu—and many seek out these kinds of menus for good reason. 

A farm-to-table menu uses ingredients sourced locally rather than through a store, market, or larger distributor. Because the food is sourced locally, it’s fresh and packed with flavor, thanks to being picked at peak ripeness. Typically, these menus also rotate to feature in-season items, meaning customers can always expect something new. Farm-to-table menus support local farmers, are environmentally sustainable, and allow you to use seasonal produce when it’s at its best. 

Create seasonal menus.

Speaking of seasonal, creating menus that take advantage of what is fresh during a specific season is another great way to build excitement around your menu. 

Seasonal menus also help you lower your food costs because you rely less on imported foods and more on local ingredients. Your menu can capitalize on trends, since it’s always being updated and changed. 

Also, seasonal menus change with the seasons, meaning you’ll have a brand new menu for customers to enjoy every few months. This is a great way to create repeat customers who want to keep returning to try your latest seasonal creation. 

Create a rotating menu.

Let your chef get creative and keep customers coming back with a rotating menu. You can choose the frequency of when your rotating menu will change, but you can have a different menu for each day of the week, once a month, or every week. Customers are driven by the scarcity of having to visit before a menu changes, so they’ll be eager to come by.

Much like a seasonal menu, a rotating menu excites customers about new menu items regularly. It also allows your chefs to experiment and try new things. Sure, not every dish will be an out-of-the-park hit, but every once in a while, they’ll come up with something so good that you’ll be tempted to keep it permanently. 

Offer a prix fixe menu.

A prix fixe menu is a multi-course meal available for a fixed price (you can thank us later for the French lesson). The chef can decide whether to offer customers a choice for each course, like a meat or vegetarian option, or completely determine the menu without room for choice. As the owner, you can control costs by reducing food waste while generating buzz about your restaurant and upselling with alcohol and dessert pairings. 

Some prix fixe menus offer a little bit of everything from your menu. The smaller portions and increased courses mean customers get more than they typically order, and they typically don’t mind paying for it. Also, a prix fixe menu will make it easier for your customers to make a decision. No more staring blankly at a never-ending menu—a prix fixe makes choosing what you want for dinner simple. 

Get guests in the door with restaurant event ideas.

A great way to bring in new restaurant guests is to give them a specific reason to come by. Special events are the perfect opportunity to reach new potential customers. With the right event, you could open your doors to new customers drawn in for the event but leave as loyal, returning customers.

Here are seven restaurant event ideas to help engage your local community and bring more customers into your business.

Host a family-style night.

When dinner is served “family-style,” servers place dishes in the center of the table, and everyone serves themselves from the large dishes. All you need to pull this off in your restaurant is a few large tables and the ability to shift your menu to larger portions. It’s a great way to bring your community together and allow people to meet new people. 

Offer cooking classes.

Another great way to attract customers to your restaurant is through cooking classes. After all, when was the last time you could go behind the scenes at a local restaurant? Cooking classes allow a group of people to see your kitchen and actually work in it. Though this might not be something every guest is into, it could work great for date nights or team-building events, opening up your restaurant to brand new audiences who might not have come by otherwise.

Plus, cooking classes are likely held during non-meal times, or on slow nights. That means you could potentially boost your income during off-peak hours so your regulars won’t be disappointed about not getting a seat. They’re a great way to engage new potential customers and convert them into loyal, repeat customers. 

Partner with a local winery or brewery.

There’s nothing better than working with other local businesses. And what pairs better with a restaurant than a winery or brewery? 

Look for local wineries and breweries in your area and reach out to see if they’d be interested in hosting an event in your space. You could feature their drinks exclusively during the event to get people in the door to try a new drink. Additionally, you’ll be able to tap into their audience, who may have never been to your restaurant before. 

Alternatively, you could host a rotating guest tap at your bar that features a different local brewery or cidery. When promoted, this is another great way to attract new customers who may be interested in a specific local brewery, especially because your partners will be promoting it alongside you. 

Plan specials around local events.

Does your town hold a festival or event? While it doesn’t make sense to try to compete with the Fall Fair or Summer Street Festival, offering specials around those times makes sense.

For example, if your city holds a musical festival every summer, create an offer specifically for that festival to help draw more people into your restaurant during the busy season. Or, if your city is known for a killer strawberry festival, work with your chefs to create specialty desserts and strawberry-infused meals that’ll both draw in out-of-towners and get locals excited again.

Run events in conjunction with televised events.

Who wouldn’t love to head down to their local restaurant to watch the premiere of their favorite show, a big sports game, or a televised concert? You know you’ll be surrounded by people who love the same things you do, and the atmosphere will become electric.

You can ask on social media what kinds of events your customers would want to see televised at your restaurant to get a sense of what would work for your business. Then, create special menu items to add excitement and get people in the door. 

The sky’s the limit with this one, but you could host Bachelor/Bachelorette viewing parties, Sunday Night Football, PGA Tour Days, and more. 

Bring in guest chefs.

We promise, this isn’t a slight to your in-house cooking team. But it is a way to spice things up in the kitchen, explore new talent for potential new hires, and give your own kitchen chefs much-earned time off for vacations.

Why not try bringing in guest chefs to create a pop-up restaurant experience? They can introduce a new, limited-edition menu to help attract more customers and promote the event by tapping into their own audience. 

Participate in local food festivals.

If your city or town hosts a local food festival, find out how your restaurant can participate. Some festivals, like Toronto’s Summerlicious, exist where restaurants create a signature prix fixe menu. Other events, like Chicago’s Taste of Chicago, have restaurants set up pop-up restaurants at alternate locations to serve customers. 

Both types of festivals are great ways to get your name out into the local community and build awareness of your restaurant.

Reinvent your business with restaurant marketing ideas.

We’ve covered lots great ideas for getting more eyes on your restaurant. One thing they all have in common? Marketing. Because sure, running an event or promotion is great, but you need a marketing plan to make sure the right people know about it.

These marketing ideas are a great way to stand out in a crowded market and make an impact in your local area.

Create a loyalty program for repeat customers.

Who doesn’t love a discount? Creating a loyalty program for your restaurant can help bring customers back to your restaurant time and time again. 

Whether you offer a discount or a freebie after a certain number of visits, a loyalty program helps build a relationship between you and your customers. Your customers start to feel appreciated by you and your team, which keeps them coming back. It not only improves customer retention, you’ll also start to see more customer referrals.

Set up a food truck to spread the word.

Hit the road and make your mark across your local area with a food truck or pop-up shop. Restaurants are a geographically fixed location—they don’t move. But what if you could take your food to your customers at festivals, events, and more? With a food truck, you can extend the reach of your business and attract a whole new customer base to your business. And with a pop-up shop, you might even be able to scout ideas for a second (or third, or fourth…) location.

Every state and city has its own set of regulations governing food trucks, so be sure to look into your specific guidelines beforehand.

Prioritize customer service.

When people go to a restaurant, they expect good, if not great customer service. While that’s not always what people get, as a restaurant owner, your goal should always be to provide every guest with a wonderful experience. 

Make sure you’re providing your restaurant team with ongoing training so that every interaction they have with a customer leaves both the team member and the customer feeling good.

Restaurant team management ideas

You might wonder how restaurant team management can help your business stand out from the crowd. As mentioned above, customer service is key to creating a positive restaurant experience. Because excellent team management leads to an excellent team that provides excellent customer service. 

A well-managed restaurant can help make your restaurant a great place to work and a great place to visit. Here are three ideas to help you improve team management at your restaurant.

Treat your team with respect.

It goes without saying that you should treat your team members with the same respect you’d expect them to give yourself or one of your customers. Treating your team members respectfully creates an environment where team members can bring issues to you and are more willing to work through problems to help you find actionable solutions.

Prioritize employee retention.

With a turnover rate of around 75%, restaurants experience more than 1.5x the turnover of all private sector workers. However, turnover is costly, and it can affect the experience customers receive when they visit your restaurant. 

Focusing on improving employee retention is an essential part of any growth strategy. Improved retention results in better food and service, customer loyalty, a positive restaurant reputation, and a positive workplace culture—there’s no downside!  

Create an incentive program.

An employee incentive program motivates employees to work towards specific goals to earn a reward. There are a lot of different incentive programs out there, but the best ones help re-engage employees in the workplace. Whether offering bonuses, extra paid time off, fun gifts, or travel incentives, an incentive program can help you get the best out of your team.  

Make the most of your restaurant

These 20 restaurant ideas are just the tip of the iceberg—new ideas and concepts for restaurants are popping up daily. So, what speaks to you? What ideas get you excited about your restaurant? With a bit of hard work, you can make your restaurant stand out from the pack.

Want to really take your restaurant to the next level? Homebase is the answer. With tools as diverse as shift scheduling, payroll, and even HR and onboarding, Homebase makes it easier than ever to manage your hourly teams so that you can spend less time on the day-to-day, and more time on thinking big.

Restaurant ideas FAQs

How do I choose a restaurant concept?

Choosing a restaurant concept is a very personal choice. Your concept will help you build and manage your restaurant. You can use these three steps to help you choose a restaurant concept:

  1. Decide what kind of service style your restaurant will use. Will you be quick-serve, fast casual, casual, or a fine dining establishment?
  2. Determine your target customers. Understand the demographics of your area and determine who you will market your restaurant to. Are you a family-dining restaurant, or are you more for a college crowd?
  3. Think about your theme. Will your restaurant have a theme, or will you take a more subtle approach? Decide if your theme will touch everything from decor to the menu or if you plan to let the influence be felt rather than seen. 

Once you understand your approach to these three elements, you can articulate your restaurant concept.

What makes a restaurant unique?

There are a lot of things that can make a restaurant unique. It could be that they serve food that can’t be found elsewhere in the local area. It could have a theme or atmosphere that isn’t easily found locally. Or it could have special events or services that make it stand out from the crowd. When trying to find ways to make your restaurant unique, spend time on competitor research to see what other local restaurants are doing. Then, look for things that might be missing from that list and use those missing elements to create a truly unique restaurant experience.

Which type of restaurant is most profitable?

While all restaurants have the potential to be profitable, some types of restaurants are considered the most profitable. The top six most profitable restaurants are:

  1. Bars generate an average annual revenue of $300,000.
  2. Diners tend to have have low costs and high returns because they’re smaller in scale and often don’t require a trained chef. 
  3. Food trucks are also high earners, most earning between $100,000 and $200,000 annually.
  4. Delivery-only restaurants became popular during the pandemic and have remained top earners in the industry.
  5. Pizzerias can keep costs down by having fewer menu items. They’re also a family favorite, which helps to keep them consistently busy.
  6. Pasta restaurants use inexpensive ingredients and, depending on the food service model can charge as much as $30 for a meal.

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