With over 1 million restaurants in the United States alone, you might think that everything has been done and there is not room for another [insert type] of restaurant. Here’s the good news,  it is simply not true!

You can create a standout, amazing and uniquely yours restaurant concept
With some creativity, curiosity, research and passion, it is possible to develop a brand new, winning concept for your restaurant.  Follow these steps, whether you are in the pre-launch planning stages, or if you have got a restaurant that you would like to rebrand. A strong concept is key to successful marketing and branding of a restaurant.

1. Have a vision. Successful branding projects include a visioning stage. This includes lots of brainstorming, open-ended questions and thinking without restrictions. Unrelated and some times crazy ideas may emerge, that’s the fun part, it’s your job to combine and remix them. Connect the dots and find patterns and seeds for some novel ideas.

2. Steal. Even Steve Jobs admitted stealing ideas. Just put your spin on it, repackage it, you won’t go to jail. An excellent book on mastering the art of borrowing ideas is called “Steal like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. It is a short book that will inspire your thinking. Read it.

Be patient. Big ideas are not always fast ideas. Remember that the inspiration for your new restaurant will come from everywhere. Kleon recommends that you keep a pen and paper with you at all times. You can bring your camera, too. Start paying attention to things that pique your interest and ignite a passion. It doesn’t matter who, what or where they are; remember the idea about unrelated things? Take notes in your notebook, take pictures and put them all into you “Swipe file.”

Be creative in how you curate your swipe file. I summarized my collection on one page in sketchnote style for fun. Over a period of months, I collected pages of doodles, scraps of fabric, ideas, ticket stubs and random objects that struck my fancy.   I haven’t connected any dots yet, but I’m sure there are some interesting concepts in there.


3. Observe, Collect and Remix. Kleon describes “Good Theft vs. Bad Theft” and two main points are to steal from many and remix (don’t copy and look like a bad ripoff). In addition to remixing from your swipe file, think about all the places and restaurants you have been to or would like to go to. Think about experiences you have had as a customer (anywhere). What did you like? What is it about that place? What was it about the experience? For example:

1. The location and laid back vibe of our favorite beach bar
2. The waitress at our neighborhood sushi bar who has our drinks and appetizers up when she sees us walk through the door
3. The colors and variety of fresh food at the Farmers market
4. The modern furniture at the interior design show
5. The Italian Renaissance paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
6. The customer service agent who went out of her way to get me on a flight home – what great service!
7. Argentina
8. Farm-to-table concept. All meat and vegetables from farms nearby.
9. The heavy silverware at the restaurant – not like some of the flimsy stuff at other places
10. The kitschy (but cute!) placemats at the fish restaurant
11. The welcoming hostess who greeted us and said, “goodbye” and “thank you” as we left
12. Homespun furnishings that could be purchased at the Italian trattoria
13. The story behind the restaurant that was spun into the whole experience
14. Small, cozy dining sections instead of one big, empty room
15. The old historic building that was converted into the restaurant (and story behind the building)
16. The menu based on old family recipes
17. The very friendly and knowledgeable staff – answered all of my questions happily
18. Flexibility of the chef/kitchen staff – allowing me to customize my meal
19. Thank you note sent to us after dining with them for the first time
20. The overall experience and camaraderie at the Tampa Bay Lightning game

4. Learn and dive deep. Now, think about people in the restaurant business that you admire. The possibilities are endless: Danny Meyer, Julia Child, Alice Waters, the Barefoot Contessa, Gordon Ramsay or the chef at your neighborhood place. Learn more about these people and the people that they admire. You will be amazed by how much you learn and how it will help you succeed. Kleon calls this “climbing your own family tree.”

All of these influences came from different places and will bring different ideas. If you remix them, you may just find yourself with a unique restaurant concept. Remember to be creative in your visioning process. Think about a restaurant at which you’d like to dine and why. Then, go out and create that restaurant – with a few “stolen” ideas.

You may also find this article on brand naming useful.

Jocelyn Ring is a business strategist, entrepreneur and visual facilitator at The Ring Effect.