Keeping Your Restaurant Concept Up To Date

KONTEKSO Team Design, Restaurant, Retail Design

Your restaurant needs to get a fresh look and be more fluid in design.  What is a fluid concept? You need to listen to your market needs and demands.  Just like any other piece of equipment, or a high-tech gadget, a restaurant concept could and will become outdated and obsolete, if not maintained and regularly updated based on the current market trend.  What might have worked for your restaurant 20 years ago, most probably will not work today.  Just like a 10 year old computer that might still turn on and run, but it will be slow, inefficient and no longer compatible with current and relevant applications the user has today.

So how does a restaurant become a “10 year old irrelevant computer”?  The market demands and needs are constantly changing with every generation.  If you have not updated your concept since the day you opened 20 years ago, most probably profit margins have dipped, by not being relevant to your demographic and your equipment and building systems being past their lifespan.  The results are? Working harder to produce the same if not lower results in sales and profit.  The physical and aesthetics aspects are part of the equation. Your menu is the other part which we will not discuss since it’s not part of studio KONTEKSO’s expertise.

Listening to your audience (targeted demographic) is the single most important key in identifying cues for updating your concept.  A good example would be Daphne’s Greek fast-casual restaurant chain.  They opened their first location in 1991 and for 20 years the chain grew to a 68 unit concept without any update or evolution of concept.   Audience/demographic signals were simply ignored resulting in becoming an irrelevant concept seeking Chapter 11 protection and closing of some locations in 2010.  In 2011 the new ownership of the bankrupt chain has overhauled the concept by introducing a more relevant design, brand, logo and menu for the restaurants.  In this scenario, the brand is starting fresh when it could’ve stayed current by updating and moving with the market.

Another lesson is from Olive Garden Restaurants, established in 1982 and grown to an 800+ unit chain without any substantial change or update to the concept until 2014!  By around 2009 the sales had dipped, resulting in creative solutions to put a Band-Aid on a larger problem of no longer being relevant to the current market.   In 2014, Olive Garden deployed a much more up to date design for their restaurants, with a new identity that is a bit more in line with the current trend, and an updated menu along with an online ordering system.  Olive Garden might have waited too long to respond to their audience and market, but with the financial backing of their parent company the concept might survive, the jury is still out on this.   Other concepts in this sector such as Applebee’s, Black Angus, and Outback Steakhouse and Bennigan’s  were not so lucky without any change to their concept and have either been eliminated or on the path of elimination with no hope for resuscitation.   Others such as Panda Express are in grave danger with an outdate concept and new competition by ShopHouse Asian Eatery (by Chipotle) that is responding to the current fast-casual trends.

We can cite countless restaurants with the same scenario from fast-casual to high dining with knee-jerk reaction that could’ve been avoided with gradual change responding to the market change and listening to cues from their audience.  We have used the casualty of the larger restaurants as an example since they attract more media coverage, but casualty is much larger within the single and low count unit restaurants.

Most single unit restaurants do not have the momentum and financial horsepower to last as long as these industry giants to wait unit the very last minute to pull the parachute cord on the non-performing concept.  With most single or smaller unit count restaurants, not evolving with market change and implementing updates gradually to keep your concept fresh can result in an irreversible damage that might just be a little too late to save the concept.  When your restaurant’s concept is no longer performing like it should and no longer producing the expected margins due to the neglected concept update, the required financial power to correct the irreversible tailspin might not be there.  Gradual change and updates will cost you less, especially when your restaurant is not in a downward spin in the red.

Aside from the aesthetics of your concept, outdated equipment, building systems and finishes are virtually a money pit and at times a liability.  Your outdated equipment and building systems like HVAC, Remote Condenser Systems, Refrigerators, Lighting, BOH equipment (back of the house), Etc. will require a great deal of maintenance and repairs.  In addition to the down time, they most probably do not employ the latest efficiency technology and performance available today.  Not only implementing green technology in your restaurant concept will help the environment and sustainability, it will also reduce your labor and utility overhead, while providing a better environmental quality for your guests and staff within your restaurant.  We can look at Starbucks updating the lighting systems at all of their units and as of 2010 all new stores will be LEED® Certified.  Chipotle has also updated their lighting system and is also moving in the direction of testing LEED® certified units with 2 locations in IL and MN that are designated with LEED® Platinum Certification.  With an increase in cost of labor throughout the country, brands like Chili’s have embraced technology with at table tablet ordering/payment system, and new fast-casual pizza concepts like PieFive Pizzaria would’ve never been possible without the latest oven technology that did not exist 5 years ago.

The aesthetic element of your concept plays quite an important role, as it visually communicates to your audience by relaying who, what and how you are. Fashion and Architectural trends are constantly changing every year with every generation.  What was a trendy restaurant 5 years ago might no longer fit within the current fashion and architectural trends and be a bit more distant in relevancy.   If you look at Starbucks or Chipotle, they have gradually evolved in design.  What their concepts looked like 10 years ago is not remotely close to what it looks like and performs today (less dramatic for Chipotle as it is a much younger concept). Maintaining your identity is key, subtle gradual changes over the years to keep your concept up to date, relevant and fresh is important.  The design of your restaurant will need to convey who you are and who you are will need to respond directly to the cues of your audience.  It is all about maintaining a constant connection with your audience, while new generations are constantly being introduced into your demographic.


To sum everything up, listen to your audience as their needs and expectations change with market trends.  The key to remaining relevant is gradual change and periodic updates to your concept rather than waiting until the very last moment to pull the cord on your parachute; it might just be too late.  By consistently studying and comparing your concept against the current market needs you will have a better preparation and understanding of how to remain relevant prior to your concept dipping into red margins.   Your concept is a living breathing machine that will need to move, grow and respond with your audience. Consistent gradual update to your concept will have a minimal financial burden and prevents the concept from entering the red zone, in contrast to deploying a knee-jerk solution in an effort to save an already non-relevant concept.

Share this Post