Following on from the podcast interview I did for Hospitality Mavericks (link here), I have been reflecting on what we talked about and how it all seems to revolve around what makes a restaurant successful. Here is a summary of 6 key things we covered:


It all starts with this. It’s a pretty basic question, so basic in fact that it often gets skipped over – what is the point of your restaurant or new concept? What are you adding to the world and what is your ambition? Do you want to be the best local restaurant serving a community? Or do you want to bring a new take on an unloved cuisine to the whole world? How do you want to make people feel? What group of people do you seek to serve? Having an answer to each of those questions is key to becoming a successful restaurant owner.

If you just want to start a burger restaurant because it seems quite simple and you think you might make some money, that isn’t going to cut it. But, your chances of running a successful restaurant will be greatly increased if you have a single organising principle to build around.

Another way of looking at this idea of purpose (if you aren’t quite convinced) is to think about what the opposite is….for me, I’d say it’s apathy. Purpose is galvanising, it gives you something bigger than yourself to keep working for when things get difficult. You’ll need it to attract and retain the best staff. And you’ll need them to create the best customer experience. And you’ll need that to make a long term success of your restaurant business. That’s what you want right?

The DNA of your brand

Once you’ve really defined your purpose, you can work on defining your restaurant brand DNA. This is really the personality and aesthetic qualities that will unite everything you and your team do. It is something completely separate from the people within the business, but at the same time should feel completely natural.

A good brand is not about creating a fictional mask to hide behind, it should be an authentic culture that reflects the leaders of the business and the values they hold dear. Everything should be built out of this culture – the logo, how you write your menu, what your staff wear, what you put on social media, what chairs you select….everything that comes together to form your customer experience.

Creating an experience

The ultimate aim of everything you do is to create a memorable experience for your customer. And importantly, one that they want to rave about and come back for. Particularly with the advent of social media, there can be too big an emphasis on the short term gimmick of the ‘new’. As Jim Collins observed “New is often overvalued compared to great”. I will certainly come to see something new if it looks interesting, but I will only come back if it is great. In a saturated market like London, even genuinely very good places are unlikely to get me back regularly. There are only a handful of places that I will seek out on a regular basis. How can you create this sort of fan base for your business?

One important thing to realise is that your customer experience is actually delivered by several different overlapping disciplines rather than people working in isolation. For more on this, including what those disciplines are, see our blog post on mapping the customer dining experience.

The core of good hospitality

This should be an obvious one, but all too often it gets lost when people think about what makes a restaurant successful. Hospitality is a people-centered business. In the context of a restaurant, it is the act of welcoming someone into your home and cooking them a meal…but for most concepts, it is not the meal that is the most important thing, but in fact the manner of the invitation and how someone is treated before, during and after their visit.

Therefore, a great experience of hospitality is all rooted in the direct connection with another person. If you take a restaurant as having 3 major components (food, service and design), you can see that your experience of design is almost always going to be detached from the person that designed it. Skill, care and style are implied but you have no idea who did it. Similarly, with the food, you know that a chef has prepared it but have not seen them make it (although the increasing use of open kitchens and the popularity of chef’s tables is breaking down this barrier and increasing our connection). But service can only ever be a direct connection – a warm smile, sincere questions and genuine attention to making your meal fulfilling. Getting this true hospitality right is such a simple secret to restaurant success.

You are never done

One of the assumptions I see being made by people setting up their first restaurant is that they think the hard work is done when they open the door and start welcoming in paying customers. This is very dangerous, because it represents a level of complacency that is likely to leave you heading in a downward spiral towards closure. As Michael points out in the podcast, a restaurant is a “feedback machine”. If you want to have a successful restaurant, you need to actively engage with that feedback.

Your new restaurant is a prototype and by putting in all the hard work to bring it to life, your reward is to test if it works. You must review how all of your decisions for the business play out in reality, how the menu performs, how the staff act, if the different types of seating work as expected, if there are any problem areas in the design. Are there any patterns in the customer feedback you get (whether you like it or not)?

Money, money, money

My last piece of advice on what makes a restaurant successful is clearly one of the most important: know from the outset how much you have to spend on the project. For guidance on typical design and build costs in London, take a look at the infographic we produced earlier this year (link here). Make sure you share these expectations with your design team. I still don’t know why some clients insist on holding this information back or not giving the real figures. Trust is an essential part of any relationship, if you can’t trust your team with this information then you have the wrong team.

The worst design results are achieved when a great concept is designed based on a certain level of budget (or simply having had no conversation on costs) and then trying to create a cut-price version of that concept. This is where authentic quality is lost, for example where real marble becomes a fake marble laminate. You might think that a lot of people won’t notice, but you are giving off small signals about your brand i.e. you want to look ‘proper’ but don’t want to spend the money. A number of these signals add up, probably subconsciously in most people, to a niggling question that if you are happy to cut corners on this sort of stuff, what else do you cut corners on that I don’t see? Whereas if you just used plywood, there is no question that you are trying to be anything other than honest.

As a slight aside, fake marble laminate should only be used if it resonates with the core of your brand DNA. I can only think of a brand that is particularly confident and playful being appropriate here, one where the decorative fakeness doesn’t come across as a frugal decision, but rather as a subversion of luxury.

Outside of the restaurant design costs, in fact way before you are confirming your design costs, you should really get a firm grasp on your business plan and know how many covers you need each week, average spend expected, how many staff you will need, how much rent you can afford to pay, etc. If you do not have enough experience to work this out, I would always recommend that you talk to a seasoned hospitality consultant to work through this big picture at the outset. If you want any recommendations on good people to talk to then feel free to get in touch.

And, for more insight on how to design a successful restaurant listen to the full podcast, visit this link here.

This post was written by David Chenery

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