Is 2020 the year you dip your toes into the restaurant industry? Where do you begin? One of the first things you’ll need to do is come up with a concept. This will be your overall theme or idea that defines the restaurant. Keep in mind that your theme should tie together with your menu, ambiance, prices, and service style. Many restaurants are founded on a chef’s experiences or interests but there isn’t one right way to do this thing called opening a restaurant. Here are a few different restaurant concepts to consider to help get you started.

Fast Casual

Fast-casual is a big trend right now. It’s a step up from fast food but not quite considered casual dining. It has disposable dishes and flatware, but the food is presented as a tad more upscale. Panera Bread and Chipotle are both considered fast-casual restaurants.

Casual Dining

Casual restaurants are full-service and have a laid-back, fun, comfortable, atmosphere with affordable prices. Most restaurants you encounter have a casual dining theme. Popular examples include Applebees and Olive Garden.

Fine Dining

A fine dining restaurant has a formal atmosphere with precise attention to detail. They are a full-service dining experience with higher prices to complement the high-quality food and service. Most fine dining restaurants are not a chain, but for the sake of attaching an example with the definition, Capital Grille and Morton’s Steakhouse would start to fall into this category.


Opening a franchise can be costly but it has its benefits. For starters, you’d have instant name recognition and great training and support. Financing is usually easier to obtain due to the franchise’s history of success. But a potential downfall is the many rules and regulations you’d have to follow and some franchises are hard to be approved for ownership.


A cafe is a restaurant that doesn’t offer table service. Guests order at a counter and then help themselves to a table or take it togo. This is a place to get good coffee and many cafés offer a small sample of snacks or easy lunch items.


A buffet is a self-serve restaurant where customers go up to a sidebar with a variety of dishes. It is usually casual in ambiance and prices are set per head. The Golden Coral and Cici’s are two different forms of a buffet-style restaurant.

Food Truck

A food truck is a restaurant on wheels. It is attractive in that it can travel to customers, has low overhead costs, and is trendy. However, marketing is heavily needed due to the fact of not always having a consistent location of business. You’ll need to let your customers know where you’ll be.

How to know which concept is right for you:

Again, there’s not a cut and dry answer to knowing what works for you, but we’ve come up with a few things to get your creative juices flowing.

  1. What inspires you? Did any of those concepts get you a little excited? What type of food do you find yourself gravitating towards? This is a good place to start.
  2. What is going to be your unique spin? You’ve got a better chance of standing out if you’ve got something unique to offer. Is it a crazy pizza topping combo that’s never been heard of or a deconstructed version of a favorite dish? Find your “thing” and run with it. It’s easier said than done, but the sooner you start brainstorming, the better off you’ll be.
  3. Research your clientele. Not every location is right for every concept. It can be tough to determine which ones will actually resonate with your area but if you do some basic research it will help tremendously. For example, if you’re in an area with a lot of foot traffic, starting a food truck would have a better chance of surviving than if you started one in a rural area.
  4. Create a menu. This might seem daunting but once you’ve got a concept in mind, knowing what dishes to add to your menu will start to come easier. For example, if you’re thinking about opening a café, sandwiches and pastries would be the speed you’re looking for. And honestly, if food is your passion, start there, and then figure out what “theme” works best with the dishes you want to serve. Your menu is going to be your money maker. You want to spend some time on it to make sure it’s perfect for you.
  5. Choose a service style. Once you’ve got an idea of what type of food you’ll be offering, you should be able to pick what style fits. If you’re finding yourself gravitating towards pricey seafood, maybe fine dining is the answer. In love with coffee? Perhaps a self serve cafe is more your speed.

When in doubt, always refer back to your passion. Coming up with a great restaurant concept won’t be easy, but if you keep pushing to get to what you desire at your core, it’ll come together. If you’ve read over this blog and you’re still feeling completely lost, take a step back and break down what places you like to eat at and why. Just remember, no matter what you choose to run with, consistency is key. Each aspect of your restaurant must have a common thread. If you don’t know who you are, neither will your customers, and that will ultimately deter them from making the subconscious decision to align themselves with you. Do your research, stay consistent, and adapt when necessary.