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All the Restaurant Themes We Can Think Of and How to Choose One

Monika Kamińska

Monika Kamińska - marketing and communication enthusiast, psychologist by education. For almost 20 years he has been working in areas related to marketing activities, customer path and decision making. Experience has taught her that the most important thing is efficiency. She boldly sets goals and implements them by choosing online and offline tools. Her passion is the analysis of customer behavior and content marketing.

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If you own a restaurant and are looking for ideas for themes, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will be listing all the restaurant themes we can think of. Restaurants based on a theme can enjoy particular success in a community, because they will symbolize not just a place where you can get good food but also a place where you can relax and have a good time with friends and family. Restaurants with cool theme ideas can even become iconic spots for dates, family outings and receptions in the town or city they serve.

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There are many different types of restaurant themes and just as many ideas for a thematic menu. Restaurant theme ideas run the gamut of restaurant types and classes, from fine dining to diners and fast-food joints. Read on to learn about some examples of restaurant themes and how to implement them on your own.

Notable Examples of Restaurant Themes from Around the World

When looking for ideas of restaurant themes, it’s not a bad idea to look for successful examples. Themed restaurants started to appear as early as the late 1800’s. This was due to increasing competition and the need for restaurants to differentiate themselves somehow. For example, the first tiki bar was opened in Los Angeles in the 1930s by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt. If you don’t know what a tiki bar is, it is basically a sea-themed bar with elements of South Pacific and Polynesian culture. One can find old fishing nets, driftwood, old boat hulls and other marine-themed paraphernalia at a tiki bar, alongside bamboo and Polynesian face masks. The tiki bar idea was so popular, that it spread across the world over the span of the next 40 years. Today, we can find tiki bars in most major cities, no matter which country we’re in. This is a great example of the power a themed restaurant can have. As you can see, great ideas for restaurant themes can start trends reaching far beyond the creator’s wildest dreams.

Another example of a thematic restaurant is the Rainforest Café, with more than 20 locations worldwide. The Rainforest Café creates a tropical, jungle-like environment for its guests, and Rainforest Café locations feature palm trees, aquariums filled with tropical fish, and the songs of exotic birds emanating from speakers installed in discreet places. The Rainforest Café menu also follows this theme, even if only by putting the word “tropical”, “exotic” or “rainforest” in front of menu items like chicken fingers, pizza and lava cake. Some menu items also make reference to a geographical name, like Amazon corn chowder. Other examples include Aloha Salmon and Shrimp, Anaconda Pasta, and the Rainforest Burger. So you don’t have to reach too far to think of names for your menu items that will fit the theme you have chosen for your restaurant.

Another classic example of a theme restaurant is the Palmenhaus, or Palm House, brasserie in Vienna. Situated in an actual botanical greenhouse designed in the late 18th century to house tropical plants, the Palmenhaus has an excellent vibe and is definitely worth visiting next time you’re in Vienna. In addition to its theme, it also has magnificent food and one of the best cups of coffee you can find in Vienna, which is saying a lot for a city that is world-renowned for its iconic cafes.

The range of restaurant theme ideas also includes a Taiwanese toilet-themed restaurant (complete with toilet bowl-shaped dishes and chairs). There are also Mexican-themed restaurants like Casa Bonita and many, many others, in every city across the globe. But if you want to join the worldwide community of theme restaurants, you need to take several things into account, so read on.

The Business Side of Choosing a Restaurant Theme Concept

While you might have your heart set on your dream restaurant theme, you should know that there are many business aspects to consider when opening any restaurant, let alone a themed one. You wouldn’t be the first person to pour all your money and time into a passion project, only to find that there is no demand for it in the local community. To avoid this, you have to do a lot of research about who your audience is, what they like, and what attracts them and keeps them coming back for more. We’ll lay out the basics here.

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First of all, research your competition. Which restaurant in your area attracts the biggest crowd and why? Which strategies employed by your competitors have proven successful and why? How can you differentiate yourself from your competition? What do you need to do to be the next hot thing in your town and stay that way?

Having an idea for a theme for your restaurant is a good way to set yourself apart from other restaurants, but you should also be aware that themes set constraints for restaurants which are sometimes not conducive to good business. To much dedication to your theme can hurt the business side of your restaurant, so be careful not to limit your options too much with your theme of choice.

You should also know your audience. Study the demographics in your area and find out who you will be serving. Who will your restaurant be designed for? Mostly singles or families? Blue-collar or white-collar people? Mostly men or women? These questions are critical to the success of your theme restaurant. You should also know which price range you fall into, so you can consider the competition in that regard as well.

Another thing to research is food trends. They can change practically overnight when the next food fad comes out of California or some other dining hotspot. Remember the avocado craze? No? My point exactly. Perhaps you can recall a time when putting cream cheese in sushi was considered sacrilege. Well no longer. You need to keep up with these trends, because your customers will be looking for your take on the next food-related happening. Unfortunately, the next trend could be anything, addressing whatever gross fruit or vegetable surplus arises in the future (remember last year, when we put mangoes in everything?). Or maybe it will simply involve cutting vegetables into intricate, new shapes. Who knows? You should at least know what today’s trends are though, if you’ve researched the topic well enough.

Finally, you need to develop your design. It is best to choose a location that fits your theme, instead of compromising on your theme to fit your location. Your space and everything in it should support your main concept. How will your concept be conveyed to a guest as soon as they walk in through the front door? It is much easier to estimate your budget when you have full knowledge of your design requirements, space and location.

Besides the physical aspects, you can also consider some virtual ones. Restaurants with themes have the wherewithal to make themselves known and heard on social media. Cool restaurant theme ideas make a splash online and often gain a huge following (not necessarily customers, but people who will get the word out, nonetheless). Make sure your messaging on social media matches your vibe. So if your theme is in the orbit of fine dining, your messaging and content ideas should match the fine dining vibe.

Generic Ideas for Restaurant Themes That Are Surprisingly Timeless

The themes mentioned in this section are certainly not unique or novel, but they are classics that have defined what we can loosely call “restaurant genres”. Perhaps it would be more precise to call them restaurant concepts, but they also function as the most basic themes.

The first such concept is “fast casual”. A step up from fast food, fast casual restaurants are slightly more expensive but offer gourmet products, like fancy breads and organic ingredients. Fast casual chains often feature open kitchens, and it seems customers enjoy seeing their food prepared in front of them. Such restaurants use disposable dishes and flatware, which emphasizes the “fast” part of fast casual.

Family style dining, or casual style dining, is a very popular restaurant concept. Family style restaurants offer moderately priced entrees from various, classic cuisines. This concept is so prevalent and well-worn that it can be imbued with different themes, like barbecue, Americana and Mexican. One example of an Americana family-style restaurant chain is Ruby Tuesday’s. Other restaurant chains of this type include Applebee’s and Olive Garden (Italian-themed).

Fine dining is another well-known restaurant concept, and it is one of the most difficult and expensive types of restaurants to operate. As the name implies, fine dining offers guests the best food, atmosphere and service. The entrée prices at such eateries definitely also reflect that. Every fine dining restaurant is unique, with a carefully curated menu and a strong emphasis on food quality. Sometimes, the restaurant is themed around its own menu. For example, a fine dining restaurant specializing in seafood may have aquariums filled with live fish and shellfish, which are then used in the kitchen to prepare meals. If fine dining is an area in which you have expertise, you can certainly find many theme ideas in this vein to play around with.

The next restaurant concept is well-known and has stood the test of time. The Café and/or Bistro, and for the purposes of this article, the closely related patisserie, is a popular restaurant concept offering a limited range of beverage and appetizer or snack menu items, typically centered around coffee. Restaurants of this type are fertile ground for theme ideas. Themed cafes and bistros are everywhere in big cities.

Perhaps the most ignominious type of restaurant is the fast-food joint (maybe undeservedly so). Fast food restaurants specialize in speed of service, convenience, and typically operate in chains – as the effect of scale allows them to offer cheap prices. Themes work very well in this case too, and themed fast food restaurant ideas can be seen all around us.

Food trucks are a relatively new restaurant concept. This method of operation has many financial benefits, including low cost and low overhead. While food trucks may have a theme in their branding, menu and even design, it is difficult to put this “degree of theming” on par with the elaborate themes applied in conventional restaurants. Not that there aren’t a lot of ways to get creative with food truck themes.

The restaurant buffet is another restaurant concept that many are familiar with. A buffet is when a restaurant lays out all of the dishes it has planned for customers to choose from, and customers serve themselves. Buffets are also a preferred option for many catering settings. Buffets can be used to promote a restaurant, including themed restaurants, but buffet businesses tend to do a lot of catering work, so a degree of flexibility is required.

Finally, we have the pop-up restaurant. Pop up restaurants are an interesting industry, where restaurants “pop up” in unlikely places like rooftops or abandoned warehouses. Such restaurants require minimal investment of time and money compared to conventional restaurants. After all, it is up to the organizer to define the time frame and location of operation, and part of the magic is that pop up restaurants have a finite duration.

If you have read everything up to this point carefully, you will have found many examples of ideas for restaurant themes peppered throughout. They don’t have to be particularly unique or extravagant, simply saying you run an Italian restaurant, for example, could already be considered a kind of theme (of course, themes can be more or less specific). We’ve saved the list of restaurant themes for last, so keep reading to learn about some cool restaurant theme ideas.

Different Types of Restaurant Themes

Here, we list some ideas for restaurant themes that we found worthy of note. Some may be a bit wacky, but this list is for inspiration, so read on to see what crazy restaurants people have already thought of.

The first idea is to combine dining and some form of entertainment. For example, having a stand-up comedy club in the restaurant, so diners can come to have dinner and see a comedy show several times a week. Music is another option. It’s always nice to listen to a good mariachi band when you’re eating Mexican food, right? The chosen theme will also lend itself to generating some interior design ideas for your restaurant. A stand-up comedy-themed restaurant would most likely have signed photos of famous comedians adorning its walls, for example.

We need to get this out of the way and write one full paragraph about the restaurant theme ideas originating solely from Japan, ranging from abstract to borderline insane in the magnitude of their audacity. Let’s start with the Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan. The owner of this tavern owns two pet macaque monkeys. You can see where this is going, right? Yes, the monkeys are employed as waiters at Kayabukiya Tavern. Japan, and more precisely, the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, is also home to “The Lockup”, a restaurant chain that simulates what it would be like to eat in a prison. A prison conceived in the mind of a deranged anime character. It must be an unforgettable experience. Next up, we have Little TGV, a maid café crossed with a railroad theme. The food is shaped into trains and train-related objects, such a rice balls in the shape of the Shinkansen bullet train. You could probably find more examples of weird restaurant theme ideas originating from Japan, but you’d need a separate article to describe them all.

Another notable example that’s rather “out there” is the world’s first undersea restaurant at the Hilton Maldives Resort. It’s the only place in the world where you can eat in a glass tank surrounded by water and look up at the fish swimming in the sea. According to the resort, the restaurant “will sit five meters below the waves of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by a vibrant coral reef and encased in clear acrylic offering diners 270-degrees of panoramic underwater views”.

We’ve gone underwater, so now let’s go a bit higher above ground. In 2008, the Yellow Pages (phone book) of New Zealand commissioned the designing of a treehouse restaurant by Pacific Environment Architects. It was all to promote the phone book, but the restaurant was built. It sits 10m up a 40m tall redwood tree and is 10m wide and 12m high, seating up to 18 people. It’s called the Yellow Treehouse, so look it up next time you’re in New Zealand.

Ever heard of suspended dining? Well, you have now. A Dutch company called Dinner in the Sky offers a luxury suspended dining experience at 164 feet above ground level for parties of up to 22 people. The service involves a crane and a table-chair contraption that resembles something you might find at an amusement park. The company describes its service as “Extraordinary, perplexing, breath taking, and amazing.” I absolutely agree with the second word in that enumeration of adjectives.

Sometimes, the theme of a restaurant can simply be: design, in and of itself. If you want your psychedelic interior design to make your guests question what you have put in the food, hire Tobias Rehberger. He won the Golden Lion at the 53rd International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale for his trippy cafeteria design. I would only recommend it to the boldest restaurateurs.

There are so many ideas out there for restaurant themes, that it would be impossible to fit them all in one article, of course. Hopefully, you’ve gleaned some inspiration from this article and are now better prepared to create a theme for your own restaurant.

Monika Kamińska

Monika Kamińska - marketing and communication enthusiast, psychologist by education. For almost 20 years he has been working in areas related to marketing activities, customer path and decision making. Experience has taught her that the most important thing is efficiency. She boldly sets goals and implements them by choosing online and offline tools. Her passion is the analysis of customer behavior and content marketing.

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