When walking through any city or scrolling through the internet for the latest and greatest new restaurants, there seem to be as many great concepts as there are restaurants. Adding to this are the micro concepts that have evolved from ghost kitchens focusing on very niche markets. As a consumer, the seemingly endless concepts provide a great deal of variety and excitement. For a new restaurant or food and beverage operation it can be overwhelming to decide which concept is best for their operation.

The savvy restaurant operator will know exactly what their next concept will be. These are the operators that have great insights into the market, and each new concept appears to be as successful as the last.

Although many restaurants have downsized menus in recent years, there still seems to be a tendency for some to try to be everything to everyone. It is almost like a kid in a candy store. You go into one place and see a great concept, and you want to be that, then you stop at the next place, and you love that concept and want to be that, and so on, and so on.

It seems to be a logical approach. Why wouldn’t you want to replicate concepts that are successful? The more people you attract, the more revenue you can generate. Unfortunately, each new restaurant concept that comes along that is successful is like a shiny new toy and distraction for the unsure new restaurant operator.

Knowing the trends and what your competition is doing is very important to a restaurant’s success, but it is also important that every restaurant has clear boundaries and focus. Without it, there is nothing stopping operators from continually adding menu items and changing their concept to keep up. This lack of focus confuses the customers and will generally lead to failure.

So, what’s a new restaurant to do?

When developing a new restaurant concept, you must be 100% certain who your customer is and what the identity of your restaurant is. Without that, you cannot successfully market or manage your restaurant. We’ve all seen restaurants with large menus serving every type of cuisine and making it almost impossible to select one item because everything is OK. On the other side, I’ve seen great restaurants with 10 items on their menu, all of which I would love to order and are fantastic.

One might say that a restaurant with such a small menu may not attract a broad audience or generate enough business to be profitable. On the contrary, a restaurant saddled with extensive menus and prep stations can turn into a logistical nightmare that struggles with efficiency and consistently delivering high-quality food. In addition, restaurants that have large menus need to have consistently high volumes to minimize waste due to low sales.

Restaurants that are trying to be everything to everyone are seldom as profitable as smaller well-defined concepts. They have excessive overhead, too much equipment, and generally need to carry a lot of employees. Don’t get me wrong, large restaurants with big menus can be very lucrative; however, they are best suited for high-traffic locations that can drive in the needed volume. These types of restaurants usually don’t feel the burden of carrying a lot of employees and can afford the equipment and the infrastructure needed to run the restaurant. It is important to know that a restaurant’s success isn’t based on the one or two days a week that they’re busy. It’s based on how busy they are on an average basis. A restaurant is better off having a short waiting list all the time and the ability to fill the restaurant on a more regular basis through each day of the week than it is to fill up once on a Saturday night and less than 50% capacity the rest of the week. In the case of restaurants and food and beverage, bigger is not always better.

Don’t Be Everything to Everyone

As difficult as it may be, restaurants should avoid trying to be everything to everyone, and they need to define their offering and concept. This will help them eliminate the noise of the new restaurant down the street that seems to be a hit. This is not to say that you can not be creative in determining what you will focus on, and it is possible to blend two very good styles to create a new concept. For example, I have seen a Mexican-style restaurant that focuses on tapas-style menu items with an Asian influence cuisine be very successful. They were in the right market, and, by using a few different cuisine styles, they were able to maintain their focus and appeal to a broader range of clients.

In the beginning, restaurants need to define their identity and focus on doing what they do best. Over time they can try different specials and promotions to test items that may work on their menu. This is a great way to learn more about your customers, keeping the menu fresh and people interested.

Don’t Let the Excitement Get in the Way!

When we have a positive experience in a restaurant or see something new, it is hard to resist the temptation to immediately imitate and implement the idea in our restaurant. Keep in mind that although it may have been the most amazing experience that it may not fit in your restaurant. It is worthwhile to take a step back and use the inspiration to evolve your menu instead of taking it in a whole new direction.

There are millions of people in the world, and you do not need to appeal to all of them. Find your focus, be creative within the boundaries (test the boundaries once in a while), keep your menu fresh, and consistently serve a great product.

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