Opening a new establishment is always a gamble, with about 30 percent of restaurants slated to fail within their first year. Creating a cookie-cutter copy of something that’s already been done can drive up those failure rates. You want to establish a unique element with your restaurant, but how?
Here are some areas you can focus on to differentiate your restaurant from the competition:
- Interior décor
- Food presentation
This guide to crafting a unique restaurant will touch on all the points above. It’s our goal to get your creative juices flowing and recognize that while uniqueness is important, it’s not the end-all, be-all of your establishment.
Let’s jump in!
7 Elements for Making Your Restaurant More Unique
The first area where you have a chance to craft a unique restaurant experience is your name.
Shakespeare himself said, “what’s in a name?” The answer is quite a lot, so it’s understandable that restaurant owners agonize over what to call their establishment. They might even struggle more than when naming their firstborn.
A good restaurant name should roll right off the tongue. It should sound smooth and effortless, and perhaps it’s even fun to say.
It shouldn’t be so long that people don’t want to bother learning the whole thing, and it shouldn’t be difficult to pronounce, even if it’s in another language.
This is ultimately a decision that only you can make, but we have some pointers that ought to help.
- Think of your theme or story: Why did you decide to open your restaurant? What do you hope to achieve with it? Is there an overarching theme? Answering these questions can provide clues into what to christen your restaurant.
- Try a pun: Basic Kneads Pizza, Cheesy Does It, Turnip the Beet, Dairy Godmother. What do these restaurant names have in common? They’re all named after puns. If you can come up with one that works, this is a surefire way to differentiate your restaurant from everyone else’s.
- Be upfront about what you offer: From Burger Lab to the Cheesecake Factory, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and the French Gourmet, you don’t have to second-guess what you’re eating at any of these establishments. It’s clear from the get-go.
- Simple is okay: Some restaurant owners bite their nails over the thought that their restaurant name is too simple, but there’s almost no such thing. It’s better to go simple than overcomplicated.
The next area where you can craft a unique restaurant experience is your exterior décor.
Hopefully, you bought the building that houses your restaurant, as this will afford you many more creative liberties than renting.
An appealing storefront is a must, and while you can play around with the following elements, you should incorporate as many of them as possible.
- Signage: People want to know they’re at the right place when they pull up to your restaurant. Large signage proclaims loud and proud that this is your restaurant.
- Colors: The colors you ensconce yourself in say a lot about your establishment before a customer even steps foot upon the threshold. For example, if you use monochrome colors or a muted palette, yours is a more upscale establishment. Warmer, brighter colors are family-friendly.
- Walkway: Will you incorporate various pavement colors or plant flowers on either side of the walkway? You can have a lot of fun with this element, but make sure it’s not at the expense of the less mobile.
- Greenery: Fresh plants and flowers say a lot about your restaurant. You have staff who can take the time to keep these plants alive, so customers can expect to be well taken care of once they’re inside.
- Décor: Perhaps you add crates, wine barrels, or another décor choice that exemplifies the theme of your restaurant.
- Canopies and/or awnings: An awning or canopy is a major statement-maker. However, these additions don’t fit all exterior designs, so you can forego them if necessary.
- Entrance doors: These are the doors your customers pass through to start their enchanting experience at your restaurant, so they matter. You can opt for partial or full glass doors. The latter looks good but requires daily cleaning to hide all those smudgy fingerprints.
3. Interior Décor
Next, it’s time to plan the interior of your restaurant. We’ll throw some ideas and trends at you here, but feel free to pick and choose as you wish.
- Open floor plan: This is one of those trends that began during the COVD-19 pandemic and hasn’t disappeared, but we don’t hear anyone complaining. Of course, some restaurants can accommodate an open floor plan better than others.
- New flooring: Changing the floor can make a huge difference to the whole look of the place if you’re trying to remodel the interior of your restaurant on a budget. Go for funky or bold prints if they suit your establishment.
- Dramatic ceilings: Restaurant ceilings are certainly having a moment, from wooden beams to cathedral ceilings and those that hover seemingly hundreds of feet up. These additions can be impactful, as can simpler, utilitarian ceilings.
- Bright colors: Command the eye to certain parts of your establishment by strategically embracing the use of color.
- Seating: Why choose traditional chairs when you can select benches, barrels, or bar seats, to name a few? Experiment with the seating, but make sure it’s comfortable.
- Retro: Retro restaurants might call to mind the burger joints of yore, but establishments with more types of cuisine have begun embracing the retro trend to beauteous effect.
- Minimalism: As we said before, simpler is sometimes better! A stripped-back look can be quite impactful when done intentionally.
- Mirrors: A few mirrors can help if you wish your restaurant could be two times larger. They also create a sense of more depth and make a nice décor choice.
- Wall art: Drive home your community roots by hanging local artists’ works on the walls of your restaurant. You could even offer the art for sale.
- Wall accents: An accent wall will grab customers’ attention as soon as they walk into the dining hall. You can paint it a different color or cover it with wine corks or decorative plates.
- Greenery: You can make quite the statement with plants, from flower walls to hanging vines that dangle from the ceiling.
Now let’s talk about your restaurant menu. No, we don’t mean what’s on the menu. We trust you have that covered. We’re referring to the menu design itself.
We love the menu that the South Korean café Daechun Park Café uses. You can take a look at it here. The beveled edges featured on the menu aren’t random; the café itself has a similar interior style, so it’s all very intentional and cohesive.
Here are some tips for creating your own five-star menu.
- Use eye magnets: An eye magnet is a design element on the menu that guides the reader’s eye toward that section. It can include borders, color changes, illustrations, or photos. Eye magnets help subtly spotlight certain menu items.
- Keep it easy to read: Don’t go overboard with the typography. Your customers will feel limited in what they can order if they can’t read what’s on the menu.
- Tell your story: A menu communicates food options. While it’s not a storybook, you can use it like it is one. The first page gives you a chance to briefly describe your restaurant and what it’s about. If you use that section to establish a theme, replicate that theme throughout the menu.
- Less is more: A two-page menu is fine if it allows you to present everything without over-cluttering.
5. Food Presentation
The saying that people eat with their eyes first is why culinary schools offer food presentation classes. Restaurants have grown increasingly creative with how they plate and serve food, in that some of it isn’t even served on plates anymore!
From food served on wood boards to shovels (yes, shovels) and glassware, this trend is running rather rampant. Some people love the creativity of it all, others wish it could be toned down.
Think of what kinds of unique, social-media-worthy presentations your restaurant could use to make your best dishes shine. Look at what your competition has done and try to one-up them.
As the costs of everything rise and people become more reluctant to spend money, giving them a full entertainment experience when dining at a restaurant becomes paramount.
Perhaps your establishment pairs with the local movie theater (or musical theater) to offer a discount on dinner and a show. You can host live bands, open mic nights, and comedy hours on Thursdays or weekends.
The last element of uniqueness to incorporate into your restaurant is lighting.
Dim, warm lights evoke an upscale vibe, while bright lights provide a kid-friendly ambiance. However, beyond that, you’re welcome to illuminate your restaurant how you like.
Here are some lighting ideas you might incorporate into your interior décor.
- Utility lighting: This kind of classroom/office lighting isn’t for every establishment. If the rest of your establishment presents a utilitarian vibe, this lighting fits right in.
- Recessed lighting: Recessed lighting creates a cozy ambiance, making it a perfect addition for posh sit-down establishments.
- LEDs: The brightness of LEDs means you’re likely to see them in family-friendly joints, but not exclusively. LED lighting comes in all levels of warmth and brightness, and it’s eco-friendly and long-lasting, so lots of restaurants like to use it.
- Track lighting: Beamed or ceiling track lights offer a clean atmosphere to a restaurant or café.
- Sconces: A wall sconce instantly elevates the quality of your restaurant, giving it a more rustic, classic feeling.
- Chandeliers: An eye-grabbing chandelier in the center of your dining room complements the other high-end décor and serves as an enchanting focal point.
- Pendant lights: A safe, classic style, pendant lights are right at home at all sorts of restaurants, from sports bars to family-friendly places.
Unique restaurant design can be many things for different establishments. While you should take the ideas we presented today and consider them for your restaurant, you know your establishment best at the end of the day.
Remember that your uniqueness cannot mask low-quality food or poor customer service. Rather, it’s the icing on the cake that makes people remember your restaurant and talk about it to friends and family.