restaurant formula

Building a Powerful and Profitable Restaurant Brand: Part 1

Have you noticed that some restaurants seem to be packed every night of the week, while others struggle from the outset? Fifty percent of restaurants fail in the first three years. What is it that separates the most successful restaurants from all the others?

Restaurant success isn’t luck, it doesn’t happen by chance, and it’s not just about working hard or putting in long hours.  Restaurant success is a formula. To understand the formula used by the best concepts, I’ve talked with hundreds of  restaurant owners, managers, franchisees, and executives, from single-unit operators to billion dollar brands. Those discussions have been distilled into a simple framework that any restaurant can use to become successful, stay successful, or turn it around when things go wrong.

The Restaurant Formula™ itself is not complicated, but it is extraordinarily powerful when it is executed well. It is the foundation of all successful restaurants. So if you want to open a new restaurant, improve your restaurant success, or turn around a restaurant that is failing, this is the formula.

The Restaurant Formula™ has two parts: the Concept and the 6 Critical Success Factors.

Part 1 will cover How to Define Your Restaurant’s Concept:


The center of your restaurant formula is your Concept. What’s a Concept? Think of it this way: if you were to tell someone on the street about your restaurant, it’s the one-sentence description you would give them to get them running to your doors. Crafting your Concept is the foundation of everything else you do. It sits at the center of your restaurant success.

To be successful, your Concept must be differentiated from the competition in a way that is compelling for your customers. There are sophisticated, intricate Concepts, such as four-star  fine dining, and there are simple Concepts, such as $1-a-slice pizza. Both can make lots of money and have lines out the door. The key is to create a Concept that is in demand by customers, stands out from the competition, and makes you money.

The Restaurant Formula Includes Four Parts of  Creating a Great Restaurant Concept:

Target – Type – Big Idea – Because

1. Target

Your Target is a description of the ideal customers you want to attract. Picture a restaurant perfect for moms with kids. Now picture one for bikers. Finally, picture one for raving football fans. Did you picture the same place each time? No, yet many restaurant owners think, “Well, my target is anyone who is hungry…” The secret is that the clearer you are about your ideal customers, the clearer they’ll be that you’re ideal for them. They’ll love your concept and bring others like them. You can even target certain customers on certain nights. A night that is perfect for them can be as powerful as a concept that is perfect for them.

2. Type/Category

Your Type/Category is simply the Type of restaurant—quick serve, fine dining, fast casual—and the Category—pizza, burgers, Mexican, etc. Many restaurants are nothing more than a Type and Category. When that’s the case, they are a commodity. Customers have no reason to eat there vs. any of the numerous options out there.

3. Big Idea

Your Big Idea is where a commodity becomes a Concept. This is the unique value or experience you deliver to your guests. It could be a unique environment, it could be classic recipes from the Old World, or it could be a great place for kids. What are you all about?

4. Because

Finally, what’s your Because? Your Because is what lights your Big Idea on fire. It makes your Big Idea believable and repeatable. It will ignite your word of mouth and social media. Think of Chipotle. Their Big Idea is sustainability, and that’s true, because they use products that are hormone-free, non-GMO, etc.

Part 2 of “Building a Powerful and Profitable Restaurant Brand” will cover the 6 Critical Success Factors.

 This article was written by Gerry O’Brion, creator of the Restaurant Formula Series.