Ever wonder why more restaurants don’t use unique concepts for their food, service, décor, or overall execution? After all, buying, preparing and serving food is one of the most personal forms of expression that exist for those engaged in it. Restaurants aren’t retail clothing stores or airports. They’re far more personal, and the concept within which they exist should be reflective of the people who have created it.
Clearly, the openers and operators of restaurants are creative people. As a result, there are some unique restaurant concepts around the world. A few of them are well-known. There is Dans Le Noir in London, a restaurant that offers dining in complete darkness. The idea is that depriving guests of their reliance on sight emphasizes the taste, texture, sound and smell of food. Many of the servers and waitstaff are visually impaired, and have been trained to serve guests without relying on sight.
Or there is inamo, also in London, where guests order food through an interactive digital menu that is projected onto a screen. The same high-tech touch-screen tabletop also lets guests customize their “tablecloth”, watch their meal being prepared by the chef on personal cameras, or play interactive games with dining companions.
For true uniqueness, how about Dinner in the Sky, a 22-person table suspended in mid-air by a crane at a height of fifty meters by a team of professionals? A personal chef and waiter stand at the center of the oval-shaped table, giving guests a chance to experience a gourmet meal and (potentially) height sickness at the same time.
The independence and risk-taking required to open an originally-conceived restaurant is truly admirable. Like many business, success often comes in the form of following a formula, if not a corporate concept. The paltry success rates this business generates—especially since 2008—make most operators willing to let other people take risks when developing concepts. These days, there is enough risk in the mere fact of opening a restaurant.
However, with so many restaurants flooding markets in recent years, in spite of the financial crisis, it may be necessary to generate something that stands out from the crowd. Perhaps it is worth considering what your unique restaurant concept would be. Would it be something like fabled rude-server concept, in which the servers criticize the guests at every opportunity, and slam entrée plates down on the table? Unfortunately, that has been mastered—at the world-famous Ed Debevic’s in Chicago. In this ‘50s throwback diner, the surly waitresses smack gum and toss salty one-liners while coolly pulling the pencil from their hair bun to write down orders. Guests are as likely to hear “Eat and get out,” as they are to enjoy a cheeseburger and soda.
If your concept is a dining room decorated like a bathroom, this has, unfortunately, been done too. The Modern Toilet Restaurant in Taiwan asks guests to enjoy their meals on a glass-top table while sitting on actual toilets. Two-top tables are situated along the wall against urinals, and the plate and glassware is all fabricated to resemble bathroom accessories and/or products (we’ll generously leave it at that). Not sure how the actual bathroom is decorated.
You might also try Absolut Ice Bar and Restaurant in Stockholm, where the interior is built completely from ice (bars, glasses, barstools, walls, everything). Guests are given fur jackets and capes to brave the freezing temperatures before entering, and are only allowed to stay for 40 minutes at a time. The interior is lit with deep blue and guests mostly sip on Absolut products before being asked to leave. Also, the food is sub-par. Otherwise, it sounds like a successful concept.
Finally, there is the VIP Zone in Russia, where the décor, uniforms, plateware and glassware are all replications of an actual Soviet-era gulag. Guests eat on wooden planks with clanky aluminum utensils, while attractive servers dressed in striped prison garb stand nearby waiting to present a fingerprint-smudged bill. Meanwhile, portraits of Soviet dictators line the wall, also staring while guests eat.
It may sound like all of the unique restaurant concepts have been taken, but there are many more that have yet to be developed. And while it may sound like a risk that might not be worth the reward, unique concepts in this industry are certain to get attention across regions and for many years.