Restaurant Doctor Hospitality Resources

Restaurant Concept Development

The following material deals with the issues involved in developing a successful restaurant concept. Of necessity it is a bit generic, but it should give you a better idea of who I am, what I have done and, more important, what I can do for you. You will also get an idea of my outlook on the industry. If my philosophy seems compatible with yours, we can discuss how we might work together. But more about that later.

I always get excited by a new project and really love the whole development process. Concept development involves balancing the strengths and limitations of the site against the competitive climate in the market considering the expertise of the operator and the budget available for the project. I've helped a number of people (including myself) get restaurants off the ground and I am convinced that the long-term profitability of an operation is determined in the development period!

In the next few pages, I will share some thoughts on restaurant concept development and how I may be able to help you reach your professional goals in less time and with less effort. Regardless of whether we establish a working relationship or not, I think you will find the information helpful.


Concept development involves finding and implementing an operating style that can occupy a unique position in the minds of the target market and be consistently operated at a profit. This is an inexact science, relying on an elusive ability to "see what's not there," but there are several identifiable characteristics of a good concept:

  • Flexible - the ability to evolve over time without loss of market identity
  • Simple - more classic than trendy with resulting potential for longevity
  • Profitable - the ability to generate excellent return on investment
  • Duplicable - the ability to regenerate and expand
  • Compatible - does not require extensive, expensive renovations to an existing physical plant
  • Fresh and Exciting - not a "me too" approach
  • Appropriate - meets a real need and creates sufficient "gravity" to attract crowds of guests
  • Consistent - can deliver on its promises using the prevailing labor market and existing management capabilities
  • Distinct - uniquely fills a niche in the minds of the target market
  • Durable - can hold its own in the market
  • Complementary - does not require directly confronting a competitor while enhancing the overall dining market

When you are looking for a restaurant idea, I assume that you are searching for a concept that has the potential to be successfully expanded rather than a one-time solution for a specific restaurant. Whether or not you ever actually duplicate an operation, in my experience it is crucial that your restaurant be a duplicable concept.

Developing a successful restaurant has three phases: concept development, prototype development and monitoring. The first phase is the creative process, the second is the physical part of setting up the new restaurant and the last has to do with refining the theories based on operating realities.

Concept Development

The actual development of the concept occurs in four parts:

Background work establishes the general realities of the site. It includes examining economic and demographic statistics, traffic patterns, site visibility and access, physical limitations and architectural features of the building, equipment installed, existing utility service in the building and related items.

Market research includes interviews with the target market, site visits to competitive and complementary restaurants, reviews of restaurants outside the market area for elements of interest or value and the identification of strengths, weaknesses and voids in the market.

Synthesis is the process of digesting all the information gathered in the preceding steps and arriving at an insight into what direction the project should take. The results of this step include the name of the restaurant, a prototype menu, trade dress and operating profile, pro forma financial projections, basic marketing direction, development budget, conversion schedule and similar elements which define the project. Until all these items are known, the odds of creating a successful and efficient restaurant are slim.

All the pieces of the project are summarized in a report which clearly defines the project and assists the owner in making decisions about the project, securing financing (if necessary) and creating a blueprint for developing the project. Even if the report is only used internally, it is a valuable document for keeping the project on track and under control.

Prototype Development

Developing the prototype is the physical process of making the restaurant happen. It includes layout and design, the preparation of working drawings, bids and awards, construction and project supervision, disposal of existing FFE not needed, specification and purchase of new FFE, specification and purchase of POS and related systems, recipe development and testing, logo and graphics, preparation of a detailed restaurant marketing plan, selection of purveyors, hiring and training of staff, selection of uniforms, development accounting, pre-opening promotions and other activities required to go from a great idea to a great restaurant. This is the time when you establish the culture of the restaurant which will influence the working climate of the business for years. It is also the time when you first present yourself to the public and gain that all-important first impression.


Once the restaurant opens, it is necessary to observe the operation and make fine-tuning adjustments required to assure a strong start for the venture. It's a cliche to say that "you don't get a second chance to make a first impression" but it's true! During the first 60 days of the restaurant's operation, there will be many minor modifications and systems required to improve operational effectiveness and enhance profitability/cash flow. This phase involves staff and management coaching and training as well as review of financial performance.

Establishing Your Culture

Think about how different the business environment is now than it was when we first started working. For one thing, the nature of the work force has changed. Workers are more sophisticated, better informed, (less educated?) and have more options than ever before. If you can't find people who want to work, maybe it's only that there are not as many people willing to put up with the way our industry typically treats them. Could you hire someone today who would accept the conditions you endured when you first started working? I sure can't.

For another thing, our guests' expectations have changed. How many people do you think will be satisfied with the same level of service they would accept even two years ago? Yet how much have your service systems, staff training and basic business orientation really changed to address and keep pace with your guests' new standards?

In spite of these fundamental shifts, many operators, knowingly or unknowingly, still do business substantially the way they have always done it. They have never critically questioned the way they were taught to run a restaurant. The problem is that the people who taught us in the 70's were taught in the 50's by someone who learned it in the 30's. Think about it. Tradition is wonderful, but not everything we have been taught is still relevant.

If you understand and address these societal shifts when creating your restaurant, you can create a corporate culture where legendary service flourishes. You establish a culture where excellence is the norm and many of the typical "people problems" most operators experience with their staff just never come up. Solving problems is good; eliminating problems is great!

First, A Little Background ...

I have to confess that I love this business! My first job was at age 14, a summer job washing dishes (by hand!) in a small restaurant on Cape Cod. I received no training and had no idea what I was doing. My memories are of people yelling at each other and the smell of salad dressing floating in the dish sink!

Despite this ominous introduction to the industry, I caught the "restaurant bug" and went on to get my degree from the Hotel School at Cornell. I have been in and around the business for almost as long as I can remember, running clubs, resorts, restaurants and institutional operations. At one time or another, I have made my living doing every job in a restaurant. I have also been providing ideas and advice to foodservice operations of all types and sizes for 25 years.

I have learned a lot in my career - some by doing things right, some by doing things wrong and some by watching the more innovative operators in the industry. It seems that the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. Still, I have managed to gain a fair understanding of what makes restaurants work and gained an ability to pass that understanding along to others.

Now I hardly consider myself an "expert" in the industry. When I was 22 I thought so, but now I cringe when people use that title. I am, however, an incurable student of the business. Because I have a creative orientation, I seem to be able to come up with new restaurant ideas that work. Because I actively look for better ways to do things, I have found some methods and developed some attitudes that enable me to eliminate most of the problems that typically drive operators crazy! I'm talking about incredibly potent, common sense approaches to foodservice that I was never taught anywhere in my career. I can share these "secrets" with you, build them into your business from day one and teach you how to use them to get what you want.

How Can I Help You?

Aside from assisting with the actual development of your restaurant concept, here are a few of the things I can help you do from the very beginning of your restaurant's operation:

I can help you clarify your thinking.
If you are sure what you want to do, I can review your plans and assumptions to be sure all the bases are covered and that your idea is consistent. I can help you clarify what needs to be done in all areas of the project before you start spending your major development funds.

I can help you get organized.
I can give you a foolproof system for selecting the highest quality staff possible without running the risk of running afoul of any legal mistakes. I can help create the manuals and control systems you will need to keep your dream on track and heading in the right direction.

I can help you train your staff.
When opening a new restaurant, the owner has a full-time job just keeping up with the final details of construction, inspections, suppliers and a myriad of last-minute emergencies. Since it is difficult to be in two places at once, it is often training time that gets trimmed. You cannot afford to put your investment in the hands of untrained workers and your reputation will suffer if you let your guests train your staff on the job. I can organize a comprehensive pre-opening training program that will help everyone get off to a fast start.

I can help you minimize your labor cost.
In one of my seminars, I teach that the trick to cutting labor is to see payroll as a profit center rather than a cost point. After all, you can reduce your payroll cost by 50% if you simply fire half your staff! While there are some simple techniques I use to reduce unnecessary hours, the real key to reducing labor cost is to utilize your staff in a way that they will increase your sales.

I can help you maximize your productivity.
I can show you how to structure your organization to naturally bring out the finest work from your staff. Best of all, the more self-motivated your crew, the fewer problems you will have to solve.

I can help you maximize your staff retention.
Staff turnover is expensive. I can show you how I brought a 300% turnover rate down to 20% within 6 months ... without a change in wage rates! I can help you understand why your crew leaves and what to do about it. I can teach you how to beat the labor shortage by becoming the most sought-after employer in town and how to have a waiting list of people who want to work for you!

I can help you maximize your patronage.
I can help you find an exciting concept that will appeal to a broader market. I can help you define and create a clear identity in the market so that people will think of you (and dine with you) more often. I can show you how to actively create and manage word-of-mouth advertising from your existing guests ... and how to have them saying exactly the things you want them to say!

I can help you maximize your repeat business.
My first book was called "Restaurant Basics: Why Guests Don't Come Back and What You Can Do About It." This is the only book on restaurant service written entirely from the guest's point of view -- the only perspective that really counts! I can show you how to create an environment that will draw your guests back more frequently. I can help you avoid the service lapses that cause your patrons to become disenchanted and go elsewhere. I can help you create the sort of legendary service that is practically competition-proof.

I can help you maximize your sales opportunities.
I can help you identify new products and services to offer your market. Just because you are in the restaurant business does not mean your sales have to be limited by what you can do inside the restaurant.

Would You Like To Work Less And Get More Done?

I learned this business the way most people did - working 16-hour days and 7-day weeks! In fact, I used to be proud of how many hours I could put in. The predictable result was that I burned myself out and still didn't accomplish what I wanted. My intentions were good. I just didn't understand. By contrast, managing my last operation, I usually worked less than 45 hours a week and got twice as much done as I ever had in my life! If there were emergencies, we hardly noticed! I left because my staff was totally running the show ... and doing it as well as I did! The route to this stress-free work environment is simpler than you may think.

If you have been thinking that there must be an easier way to run a restaurant than the way you see most people doing it, you're right! I can show you how smart operators around the country are getting more done in a shorter time with less effort and virtually no stress. You can join a growing group of restaurateurs who have a successful restaurant and a life! I understand if this idea seems too good to be true. Consider the possibility that your skepticism arises just because you haven't seen a way to do it, not because it can't be done. If you think that enjoying stress-free foodservice management, spending time with your mate and having time to watch your children grow up is a worthy goal, we should talk.

Would You Like To Become An Expert With People?

In all my training, nobody ever taught me about people and what makes them tick. As an operator, I found I needed to be effective when dealing with my guests because they bring in the money! I also needed to be effective when dealing with my staff because they did all the work and created the guest's experience. Fortunately, I found the answer to the people puzzle. If you are interested, I can show you how to develop an instant working rapport with anyone, even irate guests ... and how to teach your staff to be equally as effective.

In case you are tempted to write off this "human software" training as superfluous, remember that service will be the restaurant battlefield of the 90's. Remember that your restaurant sinks or swims based on how well your staff delivers on the promises you make to the market. Remember too, that your staff will treat your guests the same way that you treat your staff!

Would You Like A Reputation For Exceptional Service?

I have taught seminars across North America on how to build repeat business. These programs address the fact that it costs far more to get a guest into your restaurant the first time than to get them back. Particularly in a competitive marketplace, you cannot afford to let any guests get away! I can show you how to make more money and be more competitive by being able to consistently give your present guests a quality service experience that will cause them to return more often.

Why Is The Restaurant Doctor So Effective?

Here are a few reasons you can feel confident about working with me:

I take my own advice
I consider myself an operator first and a consultant second. The truth is that I would rather be doing it than talking about it. As an operator, I believe my most important job is to learn as much as I can and teach it to my staff, so consulting is just a natural extension of that thinking. Most of my best ideas came in response to problems I wanted to solve in my own operations and it is encouraging to see that when I take my own advice, it works! I will evaluate your situation as if it were my own and give you the advice that I would take were I in your position.

I understand restaurant reality
I have never worked for a large chain or run a foodservice operation where I had big bucks to spend, so I am not accustomed to solving problems by throwing money at them. In my own restaurants and in all my varied management positions, I have always had to work with limited resources. Still, I could always find a way to deliver the goods. I have learned how to solve most restaurant problems without the need to make a heavy financial commitment.

I also understand that after our time together, I will be back in Gig Harbor and you will still be in your restaurant. Therefore, I want to make sure you understand not only what we have done and how to do it, but why it works. It is critical that you be able to maintain the new results over time without me because I do not want to create a dependent relationship with anyone. My goal is to work myself out of a job as quickly as possible. This is why my work usually involves some degree of teaching and counseling. Knowledge is more powerful than ignorance, but understanding is more powerful than knowledge. What you understand, you can maintain.

I specialize in independent restaurants
Many of my peers tell me I'm crazy to work with independent operators. Too many egos, too many amateurs and too little money, they say. The big bucks are with the big operators, they say. This is all good advice and undoubtedly accurate. Still, there is something about the freedom an independent operator enjoys that I find exciting. I see many more opportunities to be creative when working with the "little guys." Maybe it's just that I like to see real changes happen quickly. Whatever the reason, working with independent restaurants is more fun for me than wrestling with corporate bureaucracies. This perspective may limit my income, but making a meaningful contribution to the peace of mind of hard-working entrepreneurs is more rewarding than big fees!

I guarantee my results
A solution that doesn't work is no solution at all. I don't think you should have to pay for something that doesn't work any more than I would expect guests in my restaurant to pay if we had not given them a great time. Accordingly, I will do whatever it takes until you are completely satisfied that I have earned my fees - no hassles, no questions asked.

Is This Going To Be Expensive?

People often ask me if consultants are expensive. The answer is "yes and no." Consultants are expensive if they can't solve your problem (and keep your money) or if they come up with wrong answers. Consultants are also expensive if they come up with the right answer and you ignore it! You cannot afford to retain me if you are not willing to take my advice. In fact, I won't accept you as a client unless I believe there is a good chance that I can do you some good and that your operation will be better as a result. Consultants are a bargain if they can help you arrive at a better answer in less time.

To minimize the financial exposure, I structure these engagements in phases. This allows us to make adjustments if the results start to look negative, if we start to see something we didn't expect or if you should decide to take another approach to the project. Working this way leaves all your options open and keeps you in control of the engagement.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The next step is to get specific about the results you want to see and what assistance you want to be sure it happens. Call me toll-free at (800) 767-1055 and let's talk it over. There is no charge for this initial consultation.

If we agree to work together, I will prepare an engagement letter that outlines our agreement on the work to be done, the desired results, the timing and the projected budgets for fees and expenses. If you concur, we will schedule a time to get started. I can promise that you will have a higher-volume restaurant at a lower total cost than doing it entirely on your own. Even if you use me just to look over your shoulder and provide a second opinion on your own thinking, you will find the relationship profitable.

Working together, I know we can create a restaurant that will make a real impact in the market, be easier-than-the-average to operate and more profitable than most. Remember that great restaurants do not usually happen by accident -- they are consciously designed to be that way ... and helping to create great restaurants is my idea of a good time!

I appreciate your interest and look forward to the opportunity to help you get what you want.

With best regards,

William R. Marvin
The Restaurant Doctor

PS: I truly believe that the success (or demise) of your restaurant may well be determined before you ever open. With the amount of money you have to invest in a restaurant, it just makes sense to have an impartial third party watching out for your blind spots!