Top chefs may be in the driver’s seat when it comes to whipping up the perfect souffle or sushi platter, but not all of them are visionaries when it comes to conjuring up creative restaurant ideas that attract customers outside the kitchen. That’s where you come in: innovator, creator and idea pro, specializing in delicious restaurant concepts that will keep even the most creative chef in the kitchen while you work your idea magic.
Make a list of the creative services you plan to offer restaurateurs looking for ideas. Whether you’re a whiz at designing interiors or conjuring themes, producing materials an eatery needs to spread the word about its fare – ads, menu design, table tents and other communications – or you’re equipped to tackle an entire restaurant start-up based on your original ideas, define your mission to focus on the range of commissions you're prepared to accept.
Understand the restaurant business from apples to zucchinis. Talk with chefs, owners, managers, suppliers, vendors and wait staff. Work in at least one restaurant environment to see how work ebbs and flows to learn all you can about the culture of a professional kitchen so you’re able to match your ideas and recommendations appropriately. Learn about the costs an entrepreneur incurs when undertaking the establishment of a restaurant from the ground up, as your fees may largely depend upon the portion of her budget earmarked for idea generation.
Amass credentials. Build a portfolio of signature restaurant ideas. If you have no live projects and exhibits to show, use prototypes and models of ideas you developed in school so potential clients can see what you’re capable of doing. The most convincing credentials you can offer are before-and-after photos and data that show how a restaurant looked before your influence and how it looks or functions after your ideas were implemented.
Make cold calls to pitch potential clients. Locate folks opening new eateries via business ads, the Internet and by word-of-mouth within your geographic area's restaurant community. Make appointments to discuss your services. Bring your portfolio. Offer free estimates. If you’re willing to do small jobs to prove your worth – picking out banquettes, designing a menu or finding artwork for walls – your other talents won’t go unnoticed. Conversely, never give away ideas you can sell to someone else.
Charge fair prices for your ideas. Learn what the market will bear in your target restaurant community and set your service menu accordingly. Once you become the go-to person for creative restaurant ideas in your area, you can raise your rates.
Advocate on behalf of your restaurateur clients so they recommend your services and turn to you again for new ideas. File paperwork necessary to get copyrights, trademarks and patents associated with the ideas for your clients by using prompts on a legal website designed to protect intellectual property. While they may be your original ideas, you were hired to generate them, which makes them a work product that belongs to the restaurateur signing your check.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.