There are so many restaurants out there that it may seem that everything has been said and done –– been there, done that, got the t-shirt, right? After all, there are over a million restaurants across the United States alone, and tens of millions more around the world. Some of the strangest and most innovative restaurant ideas include:
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- The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado, a restaurant located inside an old tanker plane;
- Mystery Cafe in Indiana, where dinners are accompanied by a murder mystery-themed show in which diners can also choose to participate;
- Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant in Kansas, where your food is delivered by train that courses overhead;
- Undercliff Bar & Grill in Missouri, which is built right into a cliff in the Ozarks;
- Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, where staff is dressed as nurses and doctors, 8,000-calorie burgers are named after bypasses, and customers weighing over 350 pounds eat for free.
This all begs the question of how to stand out from the competition. What could you possibly do that is crazier than promising your customers a heart attack after eating your meal? Lord knows you probably can’t afford to buy a plane, either! But don’t sweat it. The good news is, you don’t have to be crazier. In fact, comparing your establishment to one crazy restaurant concept that exists in a perhaps much bigger city a thousand miles away is not the way to go.
Instead, compare yourself with local restaurants offering similar dishes to the ones you’d like to offer in the future. What are they lacking that you could provide, or what do they do rather mediocrely that you could improve on? What opportunities could they be missing to stand out?
At the end of the day, it’s not about being the craziest, but about offering customers something they could not get anywhere else. Innovative ideas for restaurants beat crazy for the sake of crazy anyday!
With that said, let’s take a look at some unique restaurant ideas that might just be the right fit for your restaurant:
Work with local farms, breweries and wineries…and make sure everyone knows it!
People have become more than a little tired of international corporations and enormous restaurant chains that all sell the exact same, one-size-fits-all products. For this reason, one of the simplest restaurant ideas is doing some solid research on the farms, gardens, breweries and wineries in your area –– or maybe you already have some favorites of your own? –– and then figuring out how their produce will fit into the dishes you offer on your menu.
The next step is getting in touch with the chosen farms and breweries and telling them about your idea. They are likely to be just as enthusiastic about all this, as it’s fantastic semi-free advertising for them. Then, all that’s left to do is agree on the price, and you can get started adding mentions of all of the local businesses you cooperate with to your menu!
If one of the farms or wineries has some lovely professional photographs of their premises, you might even consider blowing them up and using them as decor, provided they suit the interior design of your restaurant. Either way, working with locals ensures your customers will be enjoying better quality, more flavorful dishes with the added benefit of knowing they are supporting local businesses.
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Partner with other restaurants
Partnering with other restaurants is a great way to increase awareness about all parties involved, so win, win! The key to making this kind of initiative work is solid, organized co-marketing. Days and even weeks before the partner event starts, make sure both of your restaurants are posting about it on social media so both restaurants’ audiences know what’s coming. In fact, it’s best to have a strategic meeting or two before you even get started to plan things accordingly so you can stay in sync with your promotion activities.
Will you be chef-swapping? Creating a series of new dishes based on the specialties of both restaurants? Hosting an evening filled with the exotic flavors both restaurants specialize in? Preparing a series of catchy posts you later release on social media at specific times, as well as taking some colorful, mouthwatering pictures are just a few of the things you could do to bolster the promotion of your partnership. There is no reason to think of other restaurants as competition if you can think of them as allies!
Become an animal-friendly space
Dogs and cats are bone fide members of the family these days, and their owners –– or dog and cat moms, as they often refer to themselves –– are no longer okay with the idea of leaving them alone for hours on end. Doesn’t it therefore stand to reason that pet-lovers would be likely to spend more time at your restaurant or cafe if they can bring their furry children along? Make people feel good, and they will be happy to stay longer!
Granted, not every restaurant is going to be the right setting for pets –– fine dining establishments could be disastrous, for example. Most restaurants, however, would have no problem accommodating pets, provided they are well-behaved. So set out a few extra cushions and a couple of bowls of water, and keep a few snacks or toys around to keep them entertained. Then, sit back and enjoy all of the positivity and downright adorable silliness pets bring to the world.
Organize tastings of your (potential) dishes
Everyone likes to try something new, and that’s why organizing tastings of your dishes is a great way to keep people interested in your restaurant. Not to mention tastings could also be incredibly helpful in helping you gauge what kind of dishes your customers would enjoy when you decide to switch things up on your menu in the future. If you are feeling especially creative, you might want to try doing a drink/wine pairing tasting as well.
So prepare a few new dishes in bulk and make sure everyone in the area knows about the upcoming event –– local customers are, after all, the lifeblood of any restaurant.
Tour festivals with a food truck
As nice as your brick-and-mortar restaurant may be, it’s stuck in the same place for good. Which is a really a pity for all of your customers and potential customers missing out on your dishes at local festivals and other events…
Not every restaurant’s dishes are suitable for a food truck, but if yours are, consider purchasing one. Owning a food truck you use to tour outdoor events in your area has a few undeniable benefits. Firstly, as mentioned before, this will allow your return customers and fans to enjoy your food at various locations. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, having a food truck is a great way to gain exposure to new, potential customers who might well follow your food truck right back to your restaurant later on. And thirdly, simply maintaining a presence at local events will help build awareness about your brand that could slowly evolve into more sales and higher profits. Sometimes it’s the long game that matters, even when you are cooking up fast food!
Host local musicians for live music
People love to enjoy their meals and drinks to live music –– there’s just something so much more classy and sophisticated about that than listening to pre-recorded tunes.
A lot of restaurateurs hear “live music” and balk at the idea of paying a small fortune to have a semi-famous band come in to perform, but that’s the wrong way to look at things. There are definitely plenty of local bands in your general area that would be happy to perform for a small fee, if only for the exposure it gives them. Yes, a win-win again! Good promotion is almost always about win-win scenarios.
As ever, make sure everyone who could potentially be interested in this event is well aware of your live music evenings! Consider putting a sign up in your window, and of course using social media to get the word out far and wide and watch people pour in. And of course, make sure the band shares the good news with their fans, too. Lots of stars got their start playing at small local pubs and bars… We’re not promising yours will become the next Bluebird Cafe, but you never know!
Give back to your local community
Everyone loves a business involved in the local community, and restaurants have some especially great opportunities to get noticed, all while helping other people out.
Are you passionate about sports? Consider sponsoring the local baseball, basketball, football or track team –– even high school teams will do! Because you know what people like to do after exercising? That’s right, eat! Having your logo on banners or jerseys, or even just being vaguely visible somewhere in the background will help you stand out as a company that cares about where it comes from.
You can also host socials or other events aimed at raising money for a particular cause, or take part in charity food drives. If you can afford it, you could also pledge a percentage of your sales to a homeless shelter or donate any food surpluses you have to food banks. Another popular trend is so-called “suspended coffees/teas” or “suspended meals”, which is basically offering paying customers the opportunity to buy a hot beverage or meal for a homeless person who comes in hungry later on. The world might seem a dark place sometimes, but there are virtually endless ways to do good and make it a better place.
Here’s hoping you found some of these cool ideas for making your restaurant unique useful. Not all of them are going to be the right fit for every restaurant, diner, bar or cafe, but hopefully you find something that will inspire you to make your restaurant an interesting, if not innovative place customers will be happy to visit again and again.