Inventing a restaurant concept: How to offer something far more special than your average dining experience

2016 The Restaurant Show_Wednesday

Owning a restaurant presents you with a minefield of considerations; from legal implications to staffing through to deciding on and executing a concept.

We talked to Sebastian Lyall, Founder of Lollipop/The Bunyadi, Jonny Boud, Co-Founder of GoodLife Projects and Thom Elliott, Co-Founder of Pizza Pilgrims at this year’s Restaurant Show to get their expert opinions on inventing a restaurant concept and offering something far more special than your average dining experience.

How would you define a concept?

Sebastian: A restaurant is merely an idea at first. It really becomes a concept once people get behind it and once you develop everything around it. For us, we welcomed as much feedback as possible, helping us develop The Bunyadi’s naked restaurant concept into a truly holistic dining experience.

Thom: You can make anything a concept if you want to. It’s about having the vision and the focus to create it.

Jonny: At The Rum Kitchen we looked at creating something contagious. That thing that people want to tell their mates about and in my mind that is the best definition for a concept – something that sticks out in people’s mind and that they want to talk about and want to experience over and over again.

How do you stand out from the crowd?

Sebastian: Remember that what you think is a great concept, might not be the case for other people. We test out our concepts first by having a pop-up so that by the time we moved to a permanent location we have a sense of what people want.

Thom: Well, our concept is all about one product, simple right?! The official guide for making a margherita pizza, something that has four ingredients in it, is about 27 pages long.

I think people tend to freak out if they don’t have a clear understanding of what the concept is from the get go. In our case, the name itself immediately tells you what you can expect when coming to our restaurants. In comparison with the naked restaurant, we are really boring: you come in, wear clothes, eat pizza and really, the craziest thing you can do is have an extra beer.

Jonny: By making sure that our brand is on point throughout every single aspect of our business that a customer would experience. From the language we use on our website, through to our menus and our staff – everything plays a vital role and should not be ignored.

How do you tell your story?

Thom: As it turns out pizza has been done before – it’s a thing! It’s one of the most crowded markets. For us to cut through the noise we focused on not only having the best pizza this side of Naples but adding the human element. Like how after a couple of pints down the pub, me and my brother decided to go to Italy, buy a three wheeled van which could easily be overtaken by a jogger on an uphill climb and share our journey with everyone that would listen.

We put out videos of our pilgrimage and funnily enough, one of our most retweeted tweet was when we broke down on the A40 because we ran out of petrol – people went mad and were giving us advice and offering to come help us out.

Jonny: We were, and still are, passionate about the Caribbean concept. Before opening The Rum Kitchen, there was nothing that we found which did the Caribbean concept justice and it was something that we knew we could do. To top that, we also got a space in Notting Hill, which completely encapsulated our concept and our ideas.

From there on, it was about the details – how would everything feel to a diner and did that hold true to what we wanted to inspire? The two main things for us are staffing and product. I’d be lying if I said we did it all ourselves, we got together a team that could see our vision and that could help carry it through.

Sebastian: More than anything else, attention to detail and carrying that through from the beginning. From the language that you use in your PR or social media to the way your staff communicate with your diners – everything needs to represent that concept. One of the things we enjoy doing is to keep the customer guessing. When we launched the naked restaurant, no one knew what was going to happen.

With this type of concept, less information is more. It was just one page online saying that we are about to launch a naked restaurant, encouraging people to sign up for more information. This then snowballed into the press talking about us and in turn people talking about it on social media. We provided an idea and next thing we know, people are talking about it and making jokes about naked dining vs hot soup on social media. All of this is great content and helped us develop The Bunyadi.

When we launched the Breaking Bad Bar for example, we had so many people on social media asking us if they could make their own cocktails, something we hadn’t originally planned on letting people do and yet, that turned out to be a huge crowd pleaser.

Finally, what are your top tips for making a concept led restaurant succeed?

Jonny: Make sure you have an audience and that your idea is relevant. With The Rum Kitchen we really tried to look at the big picture and take it beyond just the food. We wanted people to feel like they are on a Caribbean holiday the moment they come in. Look at what happens when the customer walks into your place, who greets them/how do they get greeted and what happens after that?

It’s very important to be willing to take on board feedback, even the negative points can help you succeed.

Your biggest advantage, and the thing you should initially focus on the most, is your staff. Getting the right team of people around you and then constantly recruiting and training them.

Sebastian: Personally, there is nothing more vital than attention to detail. The location isn’t always the be all and end all – it will work if your concept is interesting and you pay attention to every single detail. Put your ideas out there and see what happens and most importantly what people say about it and feel about it. That is the easiest and the best way to test out a concept.

Thom: Just have a crack! Don’t be afraid to go for it and be willing to change. If you have people telling you it’s not right, then listen.

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