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Testing Your Restaurant Concept Prior to Launch

By Dan Simons

With all the time, effort, money, and sleepless nights that go into building a restaurant business, prospective restaurant owners want to be sure that their concept and overall vision will translate the way they want it to and ultimately succeed!

Two elements that play a major role in the successful launch of a restaurant are research and testing. Both are essential elements for a business to thrive long term. As such, here are some more specific tips if you're thinking of a new restaurant concept.

Do Your Research

Conducting local market research is crucial to finding out if your concept can fill a need or if it will get lost in the competition. The first step is to determine the caliber of the competition and if a market is over-served or under-served. The next piece of the local business puzzle is determining the ‘why's’ and ‘how’s’ of your findings. Why is the market lacking? Why is the competition thriving (or not)? How do I fill the industry void? How do I comb through the findings and potentially rework the vision to create a successful brand? It seems like a daunting task, but sifting through all your research, and getting a third party's opinion will prove invaluable. Learning everything you can about the industry you are about to thrust yourself into will help in the long run. Plus, thorough research can be put into your restaurant business plan and lead to better investors!

Conduct Focus Groups

Hear what other folks have to say or perceive about your concept. Focus groups need not be formal, but more conversational. The goal is to receive as much feedback as possible on your overall vision, menu, and décor/design, while simultaneously learning to use words and messaging that your target customers use. Initiating conversations with industry counterparts, workers, potential guests and/or friends who love to dine out will provide you with a more personable approach to your concept, so you can get a real sense of how your concept feels from a guest’s perspective, not just the bottom-line business perspective.

Examine Your Risk Factors

Once your concept has passed the conversational feedback test, it is time to examine your risk factors. Are you comfortable with your vision? Do you think it has what it takes to succeed? Do you have a strong plan in place, as well as the confidence to move forward? The final hurdle is figuring out if YOU have what it takes to succeed. Even a great concept can fail if you don't have the right team with the right experience in place.

If you've tackled these three areas, your vision, passion, and confidence in your concept will translate to those you talk to about starting your business – that is the beauty of entrepreneurship. If you believe in yourself and your concept enough, it will push you through the tough times, the late nights, and the second-guessing, all of which are part of the package to achieving success.

Researching, testing, examining your risks and making the decision to move forward in the restaurant business comes down to how prepared and educated you are about creating a concept that will flourish. The more confident and ready you are to open the doors to your dream, the greater the chance for success.

Dan Simons is a Principal and Co-Founder of Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG), an international restaurant and hotel consulting firm, and also Managing Partner of The Farm, a restaurant management company that has developed and operates the very popular Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers restaurants in Washington, D.C.

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