How do you keep ahead of the curve in the competitive restaurant business? You innovate, upgrade, entertain, and spice up your business!
A lot goes into running a successful restaurant. The competition is fierce with new restaurants popping up every day. If you want to stay on top, it’s important to make sure that your restaurant stays innovative and fresh by constantly upgrading its functions. It can be hard work but if you don’t figure it out then eventually someone else will come along to steal your opportunities.
However, don’t get discouraged because it’s your lucky day. We have come up with a huge list of the best ideas to help you make your mark on customers’ minds and remove yourself from the noise. The challenge with any restaurant is that it’s easy to be like everyone else, so the key is to find a way to stand out from the competition.
50 Innovative Ideas For Your Restaurant Business
You are probably eager to see the ideas on how you can spice up your business and increase brand recognition so without further due let’s get started on this giant improvement guide!
1. Expand to the streets
The food truck business is booming and it’s going to raise each year. Having a food truck with your restaurant’s name on it would increase the recognition for your restaurant, therefore bringing in more customers. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend $300,000 on a fully equipped giant truck, it could be a cart or smaller vehicle as well. You should take a closer look at our Food Truck Starter Guide and see what it would include.
2. Decorate with an iconic person
This one I personally love. Everyone has probably seen some kind of restaurant where you can see Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe art on the walls etc. Many 50s styled diners have implemented this strategy to attract new customers. There are celebrities in every industry from sports to history who you can add as an element to your restaurant. Be sure to choose carefully one that would fit your style.
3. Add feelings to the menu
Adding some mood to your menu can make the restaurant really memorable and can get the word out there super quickly. A couple of good examples I have seen is ”my girlfriend said she’s not hungry French fries” or ”I can handle the heat XXL beverage”. There are dozens of others you can use and even more, your imagination is the only limit on this one.
4. Choose a theme
Having a theme will be a great idea which will bring more customers and even better, regular and loyal ones. However, do not choose one that will box people in too tightly which would limit your customer base too much. Choose one that many people have in common or a specific era that just won’t limit people from coming to your establishment.
5. Table charger menu’s
These will draw attention and be carved into the customer’s minds. Table Charger Menu is a convenient way to offer your customers some power for their phones and electronics. In many instances, table chargers will result in larger orders and even follow-up orders when the customers stay to charge after eating their first meal.
6. Arrange menu voting
This is a great idea that will get the customers excited because they get to affect the future menu or something that you will add to the exciting one. You could have a poll in your entrance and ask ”which of these 5 dishes you want to add to the menu” and you’d be surprised at how many people will participate.
7. Open kitchen
Making the chefs the stars of the evening will bring feelings of quality and class to the restaurant. To the staff, chefs are employees as the next ones but to some customers, they are these miraculous magicians that can make all the dishes the customers couldn’t ever make so this would be an exciting thing.
8. Add a little history
Adding a little history to your menus, website, or even writing to the wall telling the story of the building, area, or the origin of the ingredients will make your restaurant stand out from the others.
9. Make it all about the environment
Making it about the environment will be appreciated by more people than you could imagine. Announcing below the vegan choices you could say that how many liters of water or trees it will save or tell a story about how the restaurant itself seeks to make everything more environment friendly.
10. Include a charity
This is a good one. Giving away a small portion of the profits or a specific sum every month to a local charity that touches many people in the area will draw attention and appreciation. A local church, kid’s sports teams, or a nearby hospital would serve this purpose perfectly, however, there are countless others that you could donate to.
You could also have a collecting box or a couple of jars on the counter that say where the donations go.
11. Host giveaways
Hosting giveaways from time to time will draw attention and get the people talking about your restaurant. There are many ways you could approach giveaways such as announcing on your website and Instagram that anyone that dines here on a specific day will have a chance of winning a $50 gift card or naming a menu item in the honor of the lucky ones. Imagination is the limit on this one as well.
12. Save ugly vegetables
According to a study made by the U.S Department Of Agriculture, more than 30% of the whole food supply goes to waste because they are too ”ugly” to use. This opens a lot of opportunities for restaurants that could buy the ugly ingredients with a discount if you can get your hands on any. Many people would be more than thrilled to hear that the restaurant is saving ingredients that have the exact same nutritional values and vitamins as the most beautiful carrot in the world.
13. Make it personal
You can find a famous example of a personalized experience from Starbucks. Using a customer’s name really shows that the restaurant cares and wants to get to know you. If you know regulars and loyal customers you should show them appreciation by giving them a surprise discount or something. The ”lost money” from the discount will be brought to you more than multiplied when other people hear about it from the regular customer.
14. Take advantage of weird ingredients
There are many ways to approach weird ingredients or unusual food combinations. You could offer strawberries or peach as a pizza topping, use edible flowers as food decoration, or snails as appetizers. For us restaurant professionals those concepts aren’t as unusual as for the average Joe.
15. Use poetry
Using poetry and rhyming sentences in your menu will be remembered by the customers forever. Using clever and cute food descriptions that rhyme will make a unique mark on your restaurant. However, do not overdo it and add poetry to everything.
16. Disconnect customers
Taking away your customer’s smartphones would be intriguing to many and potentially bring in more customers. Forcing your customers to interact more will be a dining experience to remember. I wouldn’t recommend making that a rule on a restaurant because there are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable giving their phones away.
17. Collaboration with local farms
Partnering up with a local or nearby supplier would be appreciated by most people and adding the information to the menus would add a great feel to it. This probably isn’t possible with all the ingredients but try to find as much as you can from the local area because people are coming more conscious where their food is coming from.
18. Partner up with local brewers
Offering a selection of small brewery beers, long drinks, ciders, and other beverages would make the same effect than collaborations with local farms. I personally love to try different beverages from small breweries and usually it will result in a positive experience.
19. Leave tipping to history
Okay, don’t panic. This may sound weird but many restaurants have made this concept a reality such as Café China in New York. Imagine if you had to go to work and didn’t know how much you would get from it, that would eventually lead to bad service for the customers. When implementing this strategy you should increase the base prices by 10-15% and give a raise for all the waiters, resulting in a more fair and relaxed environment which is better for the customers as well. This no-tipping accepted strategy has proven itself many times.
20. Let the chefs serve
Having one special dish in the menu where the chefs would bring it themselves to the customers would be unique and treasured moment for many customers. As stated before, some customers view chefs as rock stars because they never get to see them but regularly enjoy their delicious meals, therefore this innovative idea would be more than great.
21. Menu’s for minorities
When veganism and culture varieties are raising from year to year, additional Menus for vegans, religious groups, gluten allergics, and other common minorities would really appreciate separate menus where they don’t need to seek the appropriate choices for them.
22. Serve in style
Serving in style and using uncommon methods will get a favorable reputation to any restaurant. For example, serving dishes on wooden boards, sushi on marble trays, or placing fries on a cute basket. Alton Towers Resort in the U.K serves their food with a rollercoaster so the sky is the limit on this one. Remember to keep yourself up to date with the safety standards when thinking about new serving methods, especially when using wood!
23. Drive-through only
Multiple restaurants have opened drive-through-only restaurants and Chipotle is has made a huge success with it. If you are ready to expand your business drive-through would be a great idea in the future.
24. Social media contests
Social media is a powerful tool that is expanding even more from year to year. Announcing social media contests on your website, restaurant, and social media platforms will get people to participate which will result in free advertising worth hundreds of dollars. For example, you could announce a specific week when customers could post pictures to Instagram from the meals using a specific #hashtag and the pretties picture would win a $50 gift card or some other prize. Make the prize enticing enough so people would actually participate.
25. Create a ”loyalty program”
Offering a loyalty program when customers can collect points from a certain amount spent would encourage more people to dine at your restaurant. For example, every $10 could be 100points where a 1000points could give a free item from the menu or something similar. Also, you can use other methods than points such as every 10th meal is free, secret menus for the members, or invite-only events. Anything that will make the customer feel special and ”exclusive”.
26. Make it all about outdoor seating
Planning premium outdoor seating can turn everything around for the restaurant. This requires a country or city with great weather throughout the year so it could work without unnecessary hassle. Adding a bar area, live music, and other unusual perks for the outdoor area will pour truckloads of customers into the restaurant. Imagine yourself walking on a sunny day and seeing two restaurants side to side, one with a great outdoor terrace and one with a door to inside, which one would you choose?
27. Present yourself as a mystery or hidden restaurant
Placing your restaurant behind a secret alley (a safe one) but kind of hidden and creating a mysterious vibe would get people super excited. For example Please Don’t Tell cocktail bar in New York has done a marvelous job with this concept.
28. Partner up with an influencer
Influencers have unbelievable influencing power to their followers, especially to millennials. If you know or have heard of local influencers you should contact them and offer them free meals, gift cards, or pay them directly so they would come to your restaurant and post pictures of the meals and experiences to their accounts. Be careful with this and make sure that the influencer is local enough because the exposure is worthless if the influencers following is far away.
29. Get Creative with Food Photos
When it’s true that quality and taste before appearance, the pictures are first impressions that people get from your restaurant and in addition that the pictures need to be high quality, there should be something unique there as well. Think about your restaurant’s theme and the customer base that dine there, in what way could you make the pictures even better and eye-catching?
30. Finger foods only
Offering only finger foods could attract a lot of people especially if you have a sports theme or something where the actual dining isn’t the only aspect of your restaurant. When a great sports game is coming and you go to a restaurant to see it, you won’t necessarily want a classy dish of pasta but chicken wings, nachos, quesadillas, fries, and other finger foods would be the greater choice. And a beverage to flush it down with of course.
31. Surprise customers
There are a variety of ways how you could surprise your customers, the one I have seen before which was quite fun is to tape a winner tag under one of the chairs and ask the customers to look under their chairs at some point in the evening. The one who pulls out the winning ticket gets to eat free or half the price. You could give a small gift card as well or something else to make your restaurant unique. Pro tip: Make sure that someone is actually sitting in the winning chair before making the announcement!
32. Add an exotic touch
Adding something innovative such as an exotic ingredient, story, or music will surely make your restaurant stand out. It doesn’t need to get super expensive for you and it doesn’t need to necessarily be something huge. For example, you could use black garlic or saffron as one of the spices which would really elevate your menu giving it an exotic feel. If you decide to use something exotic, add a little story of the origin or farmer that will really show that you have something that the customers can’t get every day.
33. Make the experience Insta-worthy
More people are using social media every day and when they come to dine in a restaurant, the majority will take a picture while at it. Whether it’s Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook you will be placed under hundreds of eyes probably daily so it’s important to have beautiful dishes and décor.
34. Take a picture with customers
Taking pictures with customers that are open to it is a great reputation to have in your restaurant. For example someone come to celebrate their birthday to your restaurant, you could ask that do the birthday hero want a picture taken to your website or social media platforms. This really shows that the restaurant cares and wishes to bond with the customers.
35. Create for kids
Many families with young kids especially in the age of 3-7 avoid going to restaurants because it’s so stressful, but it doesn’t need to be! Including a little play corner with crayons, board games or other distractions would attract families like never before. Imagine being a parent and avoiding going to restaurants even if you really wanted to, this would invite them to a stress-free experience.
36. Give samples
Giving samples especially from expensive wines or unusual dishes would be a great sign to the customers and even necessary because no one wants to buy a pig in a poke. Also, samples don’t need to be solely for ”inspections”. If you have a new item on the menu it’s a great idea to offer chef’s specials at the beginning of the dining.
37. Announce nutrition value
This is a big one, seriously. There are so many people that are dieting, hitting hard at the gym, or just want to know what and how much of everything they put into their bodies. Announcing nutritional values is surprisingly rare so this could be a great advantage to your restaurant. The best part about this is that you’ll need to calculate the macros only once and then it’s just done.
You could inform the values on your website or menu. However, if you see it unfitting to add nutritional values to your menu, you could have a table stand that says ”ask nutritional values from the waiter” or something similar.
38. Offer shareable meals
Offering shareable meals will lure people into relationships like a charm. I personally enjoy sharing a meal with loved ones and I imagine I’m not the only one. For example, you could offer tapas, large pizza with two topping sides, sushi collection, fondue, and shareable chocolate strawberries as dessert.
39. Introduce staff
Introducing the staff for everybody to see really shows that you are open and ready to be friends. It would be a great concept of hanging framed pictures with little descriptions of everyone that works there so the customers could read them when they get curious, and they will, at least I would! Before doing this, ask your staff first…
40. Offer a cooking class
Want to get really innovative, offer cooking classes! There are two ways to approach this. First, let’s talk about paid cooking classes. You could promote cooking classes on your website, inside your restaurant, and on social media platforms. The usual cost of cooking classes is between $25 – $50 per person so you could bring in quite a profit.
Another great idea is to offer cooking classes as a prize. For example, if you’re hosting a giveaway or a contest, most people would gladly take some free cooking lessons from a real chef!
41. Have a food challenge dish
This might be a little overdue in fine dining restaurants but in most establishments, a killer idea! Having a food challenge plate will attract the bravest foodies even internationally in some cases. One of the most famous challenges is The Kitchen Sink from San Francisco Creamery. That giant mountain of ice cream isn’t for the weak-hearted and if you finish it on time, you will get free ice cream for a year. Consider adding a challenge to your menu and who knows, your restaurant might become a legend.
42. Host a trivia night
Hosting Trivia nights are usually really famous events. Having trivia night once a week will be something that many people will look forward to and usually bring new friends along with it. Trivia nights aren’t the only ones you can host. You can do bingo, poker, or virtually anything, and remember, prizes are expected!
43. Celebrate milestones
Celebrating milestones such as restaurant birthdays, national and global events, employees’ big working years, or any milestones will get the word out there and attract customers because curiosity is now turned on.
44. Birthday specials
Having a birthday policy such as a free meal, dessert or a surprise will attract new people all the time and in the process, they will most certainly come back later! However, if you see a sudden spike on birthdays and everybody seems to have a birthday every day, you might need to add an ID inspection policy.
45. Offer free WI-FI
Offering free WI-FI will lure students and workers for coffee and eventually for lunch and beverages when the day goes forward. I personally love to go to restaurants and cafes to do some studying or writing from time to time and usually while I’m there, I see others as well so it certainly brings in customers.
46. Have a blog
Having a blog might seem a really remote and weird concept but hear me out! You don’t need to make it a full-time job but from time to time add recipes, events, and stories there and you’d be surprised how many take notice. Remember to share your blog on your website, restaurant, and social media platforms.
Also if you like the idea of blogging it doesn’t need to be money in mind, you can do it for pure pleasure and as a hobby.
47. Use beer towers
This idea has been taken into heavy use by most alehouses, nightclubs, and some restaurants and people do really love them. A Beer Tower will add a specialty element to the evening and they are really fun as well. As a bonus, your employees need to fill a lot fewer pints through the night so it will free up a little bit of time as well!
48. Add messages to deliveries
It’s a shame that this isn’t as regular as it should be. Adding a little note, even really short can brighten up the orderers day and I kid you not, the customer won’t forget about your restaurant after receiving a cute and caring note. I have seen this only once where I live so I personally did order from that restaurant more from time to time.
49. Delivery on-time guarantee
Adding a time guarantee to your deliveries such as the famous Domino’s Pizza 30-minute guarantee will get people to order much more from your restaurant. If you consider taking this method to use, strongly say to your employees that NEVER place the guarantee ahead of safety. There have been cases that serious accidents have happened because an employee was rushing in order to meet the time guarantee.
50. Give a farewell gift
If you really want something innovative and unique, you should offer a farewell gift or a Thankyou Card. Depending on your prices etc you can determine the gift’s value, however, it doesn’t need to be anything substantial by any means. The thought is here what really counts and the customer will always be delighted from a surprise farewell gift.
I sincerely hope that you got at least a couple of valuable tips and tricks from this list that you will add to your business and if you do, come back and let us know how it went. We would more than appreciate it.
In any business, especially in restaurants where you interact directly with customers, it’s important to have that unique element and show that you have innovative efforts and you are different from the crowd. We have seen most of these tips in action in different restaurants and it really shows that the customers there are more happy and relaxed, as are the employees!