The popularity of theme restaurants has skyrocketed in recent years because of the parallel growth of the market for items of nostalgia. As fast food restaurants offer cheap food in cookie-cutter buildings, theme restaurants offer diners a good meal, as well as an experience. Theme restaurants such as Ed Debevic's and Medieval Times use music, well-trained waiters and themed menus to set the mood for an interesting dining experience. If you want to open your own theme restaurant, you have to understand why these restaurants are successful while offering higher-priced meals than their competitors.
Finding the Right Theme
The starting point for most theme restaurant owners is a period of time that is easily mined for food and entertainment choices. For example, Medieval Times relies on the verbose language of medieval Europe, food staples such as turkey legs and competitive sports like the joust to get diners into the action. Once the right period is selected, a restaurant owner should either cover the entirety of pop culture from this period or focus on a single aspect. Ed Debevic's is an Illinois theme restaurant that features 1950s music, jukeboxes, diner food and other artifacts from this decade. This restaurant puts a different twist on the theme restaurant by encouraging its waitstaff to be rude and joke around with customers.
The typical theme restaurant features a period-appropriate menu, waiters who buy into the restaurant's theme and a show. The menu should feature appetizer, entree and dessert names that are appropriate for the theme. The Rainforest Cafe features a Jungle Safari Soup, Amazon Fajitas and a Sparkling Volcano on its menu. In the case of Medieval Times, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede and Ed Debevic's, the waitstaff is instructed on the right accent and dialogue to use when taking orders. While an after-dinner show is not a prerequisite for a theme restaurant, diners who pay for the theme restaurant experience expect more than full stomachs and lighter wallets.
Marketing Theme Restaurants
Successful theme restaurants use multiple media to persuade potential customers to bypass their competitors. The Internet gives theme restaurant owners a platform to get creative, using QuickTime videos and Flash animation to show the dining experience. Owners also use YouTube and social networking websites to reach out to tech-savvy consumers who are looking for new places to eat. While the Internet makes marketing easier for theme restaurants, owners should consider using restaurant marketing firms to cover every medium in their home markets. Firms such as Quantified Marketing Group and GEC Restaurant Consultants charge premium rates for their services, but they can develop marketing blitzes that can increase daily sales.
Theme restaurant owners should consider seating options, merchandise and hiring decisions before opening their doors. The theme of a restaurant should continue into the seating area, with diner booths in 1950s restaurants, bench seating in Medieval Times and natural wood chairs in the Rainforest Cafe. A restaurant's merchandising options should extend beyond T-shirts and mugs to DVDs, hats and gift items that attract a greater number of customers. While good waiters are important in any restaurant, theme restaurant owners must look for waiters who are personable and capable of performing during dinner shows. A theme restaurant set in the 1950s, for example, should have a waitstaff familiar with dance moves and slang from this time.
The major benefit of running a theme restaurant is the potential for high profits in a relatively short period of time. Successful theme restaurants sell merchandise and high-priced meals nightly to packed audiences, generating enough revenue to consider opening additional restaurants. While the profits that come with theme restaurants are nice, you get the chance to create your own brand name by starting a unique theme restaurant. Instead of relying on a well-worn theme like the 1950s, you can operate on fresh ground with a theme based on outer space, the 1920s or comic books. This creativity will help your brand grow on a regional and national basis, allowing you to pursue additional themes in the future.
- Photo by jenandjohn (Flickr)