A strategic theme, commonly called a concept, is at the heart of every restaurant. Your restaurant’s theme will determine the type of food you serve and how you will design your interior. It will also play a critical role in your decision-making process regarding your target audience and marketing strategies. The theme that you choose can be traditional, trendy, edgy or just plain unique, but you must ensure that it will appeal to a large enough group of area consumers for your restaurant to be successful.


Ethnic themes are very common in restaurants across the country, especially Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Thai cuisines. You can choose to focus on the food, like the Italian-inspired San Domenico, or the dining experience, like New York City’s Brazilian churrascaria, Plataforma. Introducing a new cuisine to an area can be a tricky balancing act. Restaurant marketing guru Denise Lee Yohn cautions that you need to walk a fine line between authentic and approachable food to make it easier to attract customers who may not be comfortable trying something new.


Sports bars often attract a younger crowd, making them well-suited for college towns, but a sports-themed restaurant done properly will appeal to a more diverse group of consumers. The Fours in Boston combines all of the action of a sports bar with high-quality food and two floors filled with sports memorabilia. Dishes such as lobster macaroni and cheese and New York sirloin coexist on the menu with a variety of burgers, wraps and wings. Harry Caray’s in Chicago has opted to utilize a sports theme in two ways. The main venue, Harry Caray's, is a sports-themed fine-dining restaurant serving high-end Italian cuisine. It leaves the majority of the bar business to Harry Caray's Tavern, which is designed to accommodate a more rowdy sports-watching crowd. If you want your sports-themed restaurant to operate like a sports pub, expect to spend a lot of money keeping up with technology such as big-screen TVs, counsels “Entrepreneur.”

Small restaurants often do well by selecting one type of food and positioning themselves as experts in it. Celebrity chef Hubert Keller has done just that with his Burger Bar restaurants, where high-end burgers are the star of the menu. Pink’s in Los Angeles, frequented by politicians and A-listers, is known for its unique hot dogs. If you do plan to go this route, choose a dish that will appeal to your local audience and that you can excel at.

Unique Themes

Don’t be afraid to choose a concept that is slightly unusual. Uniquely themed restaurants tend to become destinations that generate plenty of word-of-mouth advertising, as long as they have good food to back up the experience. The Rainforest Cafe chain has made its mark with a jungle-inspired theme complete with jungle sounds as a backdrop and dishes like Rumble in the Jungle Turkey Wrap and ribs called Mojo Bones. Opaque in Los Angeles was one of the first restaurants to offer a dark dining experience, where diners must rely on their senses of smell, touch and taste since the dining room is pitch black.