How To Select a Theme for Your Restaurant

Marketing 22 minute read 14th February 2023

Opening a new restaurant isn’t easy - mainly when considering the sheer competition. This is true whether you’re smack-bang in the middle of a city center or tucked away in a sleepy village.

Thanks to the rise in online delivery and the increasingly inventive dining experience offered in-house, it takes some serious inspiration to stand out from the crowd.

It all starts with a restaurant theme. But what are restaurant themes, and how do you select a theme for your restaurant? Let’s dig into the details.

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What Is a Restaurant Theme?

If you are wondering what is a restaurant concept and theme, we’ve got answers. The theme of a restaurant refers to designing a space with an overall concept to create a customer experience. More specifically, a theme restaurant uses an overarching motif to draw diners and create a memorable experience to attract them again and again.

To implement a restaurant theme or to establish theming, the establishment could use the building’s architecture, decor, signage, music, sound design, costuming, special effects, or other elements.

Restaurant gimmicks are unique hooks or themes that distinguish your establishment, such as interactive dining experiences, themed decor, seasonal menus, or special events, enhancing customer engagement and satisfaction.

Not all theme restaurants go the extra mile with special effects or costuming. However, some could implement dress codes for employees and use decor and music to create ambiance.

Some locations rely on the choice of cuisine to be the theme of their restaurant. Figuring out what type of restaurant you wish to open can also lead you to a theme for restaurant design.

3 Tips to Pick a Restaurant Theme

Are you opening your first venue or completely revamping a tired idea? You might be asking, “How do you pick a restaurant theme?” Here are three tips for selecting the theme for your restaurant.

1. Get To Know the Competition

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The more you know your competition, the more you can tune your restaurant’s theme to take advantage of the areas they’re not entirely living up to expectations. The competition isn’t to be feared — it’s to be learned from and inspired by.

Start by scouring review websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Google reviews are vital for businesses. What are customers saying about your competitors? Any feedback you can spot about the decor, layout, or general ambiance should provide a goldmine of ideas for your establishment.

Play along as a customer. Book yourself a table and make notes (discreetly) about the experience. Look at the demographics of your fellow diners and compare that to the audience you’re trying to target: Where can you do better with your restaurant theme?

2. Don’t Get Hung Up on Unique Restaurant Themes

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There are few unique restaurant themes left to discover. But that’s fine — you don’t need a USP as a restaurant. You just need to be fantastic at delivering an unforgettable dining experience.

The type of experience you offer will depend mainly on the restaurant’s dining concept. And if you have a unique idea for that, great! But if you know, deep down, that you’ve seen it implemented before, don’t be put off.

Many restaurants view their unique concept as a particular signature dish. This is a great way to define your restaurant’s theme, but so too is custom branding.

Pick whatever it is that makes your restaurant distinct - don’t get too hung up on the uniqueness of it all.

3. Be Budget-conscious

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It might sound boring and a threat to your grand plans, but your budget will largely govern the theme of your restaurant.

It’ll cost money if you need to introduce a signature dish or make significant changes to the decor. The worst thing you could do is blow your entire marketing budget and clear out your bank account just to get the restaurant concept right. Mastering low budget small restaurant design can help you create an appealing dining environment without overspending.

With that in mind, don’t commit to spending more than you can sensibly allocate to developing, implementing, and continuing your restaurant’s motif.

8 Types of Restaurants to Help You Find Your Concept

If you’re stuck on how to theme your restaurant, choosing a common type of restaurant helps many restaurateurs succeed in their business. Whether you choose fast food, fine dining, or a food truck, you’ll find a restaurant concept that will draw and retain customers.

From our list of the most popular types of restaurants in the US, here are six restaurant theme examples that might work for you.

Fine Dining Theme for Restaurants

Fine Dining Theme for Restaurants

Waiters in tuxedos, crisp tablecloths, and high prices might come to mind when you think of ‘fine dining.’ Fine-dining restaurants all come down to the atmosphere, service, and, of course, the food you offer. The high-class feel of this type of establishment and restaurant menu defines this experience.

Fast Food Restaurant Theme

Fast Food Restaurant Theme

Before you scroll down, fast food isn’t all about the big food chains and franchised locations. You might have a very profitable business if you can provide people with food that is ready nearly instantaneously and offers a great taste for cheap prices. Fast food restaurant special ideas can move outside of the norm.

Fast Casual Dining Experience

Fast Casual Dining Experience

Fast casual chains are one of the hottest trends in the food business. Fast casual restaurants rank a notch above fast food. Restaurants of this kind usually hand out disposable dishes containing upscale ingredients such as organic produce and gourmet breads. Exploring current restaurant trends reveals a shift towards sustainable sourcing, innovative plant-based menus, and immersive dining experiences.

Family Style

Family Style Restaurants

A staple of United States dining, family-style restaurants provide a food menu full of home-like dishes at reasonable prices. These locations typically have low-key, friendly settings. You may find different types of ethnic food at family-style restaurants. Customers looking for an Italian restaurant may anticipate family-style dining there.

Food Truck

Food Truck: Try Out Cuisines To Find Your Restaurant Theme

Don’t want to be tied to one location? Want to take advantage of street events and other gatherings in your area? A food truck business might be the ideal theme for your business idea.

Advertise your food truck with a solid social marketing strategy to gain a following. Business owners can use food trucks to try out a particular cuisine before making the investment in a brick-and-mortar location.

Pop-up Restaurant

Pop-up Restaurant: Test Run Different Themes for Your Restaurant

Another growing trend in the hospitality industry is the pop-up restaurant. The temporary nature of pop-ups creates excitement with customers. Restauranteurs can try out a restaurant theme for a set time to gauge the market before opening their permanent location. This results in diverse dining experiences on high streets.

4 Restaurant Theme Examples That Are Great Ideas

We caution you to do your research to find out what concepts will work in your local area. It’s helpful to check local marketing ideas for restaurants. Some theme restaurant ideas can be controversial in nature based on locale. Taking advantage of a pop-up experience will help you to pinpoint whether your concept is worth an investment as a restaurant business. During Halloween for example, consider implementing unique Halloween restaurant ideas, such as themed decorations and spooky menu items, to attract more customers during the festive season.

If you are looking for a niche restaurant that provides more theatrics, you may be intrigued by these four restaurant theme examples.

Most Common Restaurant Theme Example: Location Imitation

Most theme restaurants are casual-style dining that transports customers to another location. These getaways can be destination restaurants for tourists or provide a fun visit for locals.

One of the first restaurant themes dates back to Hollywood in 1933 with the tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber. The bar started with exotic alcoholic beverages to stand out from their competition, then later began selling Cantonese food. After World War II, the owner Ernest Gantt, who legally changed his name to Donn Beach, opened another traditional tiki bar in Hawaii with a South Pacific feel.

Besides tiki bars, another location imitation-themed example is the Rainforest Cafe. For a more out-of-this-world location, the Space Aliens Grill & Bar in Minnesota and North Dakota has a unique space idea. Choosing a location-based theme draws locals for their own restaurant experience at a stay-at-home getaway.

Time-Period Restaurant Concepts

One of the most famous time-period restaurants in the US also provides entertainment. Medieval Times provides dinner and a show by transporting customers to a different time period based in Medieval Europe.

Consider implementing live music nights or themed trivia contests as restaurant entertainment ideas to attract more customers and create a lively atmosphere. If you aren’t planning on setting up jousting tournaments, another time-period restaurant concept involved American diners. Mel’s Diner, the Johnny Rockets chain restaurant and Ed Debevic’s retro diner in Chicago are 1950s and 1960s time-period restaurants. Ice cream shops with an old American soda shop feel are another time-period concept example.

By choosing restaurant concepts revolving around time periods, you can develop your menu to match the motif and create an ambiance with decor items and employee uniforms.

Entertainment-based Restaurant Experience

Murder mystery dinner theaters, drag shows, or comedy shows could be your niche market in major cities for an entertainment-based restaurant theme. These restaurants typically make profits from liquor costs and moderately priced entrees. The menu items can match a theme, or, in the case of comedy show restaurants, are low-cost bar food to focus on the entertainment factor.

Restaurant entertainment ideas include live music performances, themed nights like trivia or karaoke, interactive chef’s table experiences, outdoor movie screenings, and partnering with local artists or comedians to enhance customer experience and ambiance.

The Jekyll & Hyde Club Restaurant and Bar located in New York City provides spooky live entertainment and an immersive experience for customers with dining and special effect show packages. The Magic Castle in Hollywood provides an air of exclusivity and excitement by pairing an invitation-only fine dining experience with dining magicians and a theater experience with rotating magic shows.

By setting up a private club like the Magic Castle, or creating a simple restaurant loyalty program, owners receive customers’ investment in their establishment. Entertainment-theme restaurants also prove that business hours can be set for later in the day and still be successful. Whether you decide to serve the brunch crowd or the late-night crowd, you can find a restaurant concept to match your menu.

Design-Focused Restaurant Theme Example

Take your restaurant concept to the next level by surrounding your customers with a design-focused experience. Unique concepts like Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant in Kansas City serve food to their customers at their table by an overhead train. The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado Springs has been open since 1953 and customers dine inside a real Boeing KC-97 tanker airplane.

If you aren’t ready to go this bold, sticking to a specific decor theme will be a low-cost restaurant theme option. Track down modern furniture or psychedelic designs for a time period from the 1960s. Do you want to serve organic ingredients at a contemporary casual restaurant? Play off this theme by creating a glamorous indoor-outdoor paradise filled with house plants.

The options are endless when it comes to a design-based theme, and it can be a minimal investment to stand out from other restaurants. Business owners can master restaurant marketing strategies when they have an overall concept or theme to promote.

You might want to check out 25 restaurant design ideas to snspire your venue.

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Wrapping up Restaurant Themes

Choosing the best restaurant theme isn’t easy. By following our guide above and learning from the successful businesses already out there, you should find your ideal theme — and the perfect audience for it.

Whether you are interested in opening a restaurant or a cafe, after selecting a theme, you need to promote your establishment. Take advantage of a guest WiFi solution like Beambox to use your restaurant’s free WiFi as a marketing tool.

By using WiFi marketing software, restauranteurs can grow their social media following, save time with automation, run campaigns, and more! Digitize your loyalty program and encourage customers to sign up for email or SMS surveys to receive feedback on their experience. You can do all of these and more with Beambox. Start your thirty-day free trial and turn your free Wi-Fi into a machine for growth.


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