13 Unique Restaurant Ideas for 2021
So you want to open your own restaurant, but don’t have any ideas for the concept? Well, look no further. When opening any business, it’s important to make yours unique to set yourself apart from the competition. It may not be the best idea to open another burger joint if there are seven more down the street, unless you can make yours better (or cheaper) than competitors’ restaurants.
There are plenty of new and unique restaurant concepts that have turned out to be successful. If you need a little inspiration, here are some unique restaurant ideas and examples of these successful restaurant concepts that can help you get started on the path to opening your own.
1. Pop-Up Restaurant
Maybe you don’t know which market to target. Maybe you just don’t want to fully commit to a single location yet. In any case, a pop-up may be a good restaurant idea for you!
Example: Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria, a Thai spot in Orlando, has created a pop-up by temporarily adding their menu items to other restaurants in different parts of Florida.
Pros: A pop-up restaurant gives you the chance to test out your menu in various locations as you move your restaurant around. If you end up wanting to open a permanent location, you’ll know exactly where your food will sell best.
Cons: Moving a restaurant around can be costly. You’ll have to find a new location to set up everywhere you go, and you’ll likely need equipment that can be transported easily. You’ll also have to make sure your restaurant licenses and permits are valid in each new location.
Who would want to eat here: Pop-up restaurants always attract a crowd. The temporary nature of your restaurant can drive people to want to eat there as soon as possible. If you’ve got some good restaurant promotion ideas, use them to make sure people know you’re in town!
2. Special Themed Restaurant
A special themed restaurant could work as a kind of pop-up, or could make for a permanent location. Themed restaurants can be anything you want, really — capitalize on a pop culture trend, or come up with a more evergreen idea. An aquarium-themed restaurant? An eatery stylized like an old west saloon? Your imagination is the limit with a themed restaurant.
Example: The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado allows diners to eat inside a fully-intact Boeing KC-97 plane. The restaurant seats 275, while the plane itself can only seat 42, demonstrating that there’s plenty of interest in the restaurant beyond those wanting to sit inside the plane.
Pros: Choosing your theme allows you to attract exactly the kind of customers you desire. The more popular or interesting your theme is, the more customers you’re going to draw in.
Cons: This idea might require some more creativity, and it may be expensive to set up the theme. It likely was not cheap for The Airplane Restaurant to convert an entire airplane into a restaurant dining room (not to mention the cost of actually acquiring the airplane). Finally, basing your restaurant on a pop culture trend may require special licensing if you want to use a trademarked theme.
Who would want to eat here: This will largely depend on the theme. If the restaurant’s theme is small aquarium, you’d likely draw in families with children. A saloon-themed spot would draw in fans of Western movies, and so on.
3. Historically-Themed Restaurant
Do you want to open your restaurant in an area with a lot of historical infrastructure and significance? You can certainly take advantage of that history. Building your restaurant near a historic location will add flair that can attract customers from all around.
Example: Spoon and Stable is a restaurant in Minneapolis that was built out of an old horse stable. It’s now an award-winning restaurant that serves a variety of luxury foods from wagyu steak to Alaskan halibut.
Pros: If you build your restaurant in a historic building and want to maintain that historic ambiance, you’ll need minimal reconstruction or redecoration.
Cons: It can be expensive to purchase or rent a historic location for your restaurant. Many local governments also exercise strict control over what can be done with buildings of historical value, so the premise itself may present a challenge.
Who would want to eat here: Anyone wanting to be immersed in history will flock to your restaurant. From visiting tourists to area locals to history buffs, a historic restaurant is bound to attract a lot of customers.
4. Minimally Staffed Restaurant
Here’s a restaurant concept for the tech-savvy. Technology is the way of the future in most industries, and restaurants are no exception. People are naturally fascinated by any sort of new technology, so why not incorporate that phenomenon into a new restaurant concept? From self-ordering restaurant kiosks to digital menu boards to digital kitchen display systems, it’s possible to make your restaurant’s front-of-house almost entirely staff-less, allowing your customers to be served by machines.
Examples: Large restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell are increasingly employing self-ordering kiosks so customers can order food without having to talk to staff. This trend is likely to continue to grow in the restaurant industry, especially as labor shortages continue. Other restaurants even allow machines to be the cooks. Spyce, a restaurant in Boston, has robots to assemble its healthy bowls, and keeps only two workers on staff at a time.
Pros: Reducing staff as much as possible is a great way for restaurant owners to reduce labor costs and increase their overall profits. Allowing customers to input their own orders also increases speed and eliminates the human error that can be made by human waiters and cashiers. Self-ordering kiosks have also been shown to increase ticket sizes by 40-50%.
Cons: Some automation equipment can be expensive to acquire, leading to high upfront costs to set up your restaurant, but these costs are mostly offset by the reduced labor costs and increased profits.
Who would want to eat here: Since automation is still something that industries are adopting in relatively small steps, a restaurant where customers have minimal interaction with staff would be an interesting concept that would likely draw in large numbers of curious customers.
Automated ordering can be a big help anyway if you want to open a quick-service restaurant. It can make the ordering process go faster, bringing in customers who need a convenient and quick bite to eat.
5. Food Truck
A food truck is similar to a pop-up restaurant, but it allows for even more mobility. Instead of having to pack up your restaurant and leave every few months, you can move a food truck around whenever and wherever you’d like. Some permanent restaurants have food trucks as an extension of the business, but there are several standalone food trucks that have found success.
Example: The Cow and the Curd is a food truck serving Wisconsin cheese curds that operates around Philadelphia. The truck exclusively serves cheese curds, and yet they’ve found enough success to be ranked by CNBC as one of the most popular food trucks in America.
Pros: Running a food truck means you won’t need to shell out rent for a permanent location, and it allows a lot of the same flexibility as a pop-up restaurant. You’ll be able to test out your product in different locations and see what works best for your restaurant.
Cons: Food trucks vary in size, but they’re rarely as big as an actual restaurant’s kitchen. You’ll be working with limited space to store supplies and equipment as well as actually cook the food. As you move around, especially if you move between states, you’ll have to ensure your restaurant licenses, permits, and parking spots are valid for wherever you’re operating.
Who would want to eat here: Like pop-up restaurants, the temporary nature of food trucks is alluring. As you move around and bring something new to each location, you’ll attract customers who enjoy trying new restaurants.
6. Boat Restaurant
This option is almost like a food truck, but a lot more fun for your customers. Some restaurants are built out of boats that are on the water, giving their customers an unforgettable experience. It’s a surefire way to make sure your restaurant stands out from others.
Example: Grand Banks is an oyster bar in New York City built on a historic fishing boat, the Sherman Zwicker. This restaurant offers its customers great food, as well as a stunning view of NYC and the ocean.
Pros: Running a boat restaurant immediately makes your restaurant unique. It won’t be hard to draw in a crowd when you offer such an unusual experience, and the great view doesn’t hurt!
Cons: Your first challenge will be finding a boat to use for your operation and a location to dock it permanently. Beyond that, boats can be expensive to maintain, making this a potentially difficult idea to execute.
Who would want to eat here: In a tourist-heavy coastal area, a boat restaurant would be a great way to draw in visitors to your locale. Beyond that, the uniqueness of a boat restaurant would be enough to attract a local crowd as well.
7. Dinner and a Show
Many people like entertainment while they eat. If we’re eating at home, most of us sit on the couch and find something to watch while we have dinner. Why not bring that concept to a restaurant? Whether it’s a movie or a live theater performance, offering customers entertainment while they enjoy your restaurant’s food is sure to be popular.
Example: Studio Movie Grill is a chain with locations all around the nation that serve as a combination of a restaurant and a movie theater. Guests take their seats in the theater and servers take their orders and deliver the food out as the movie plays.
Pros: Having entertainment inside your restaurant brings in a new source of revenue: tickets to the show.
Cons: This type of restaurant will be more costly to start. If you’re screening films, you’ll have to get the rights to screen movies at your location. If you want live performances, you’ll need to pay the performers. If you’re trying to open a restaurant with no money, this may not be the option for you.
Who would want to eat here: This concept would be attractive to couples. We’ve all heard of the “dinner and a movie” date, and combining those two services would make for the perfect date spot. You can also attract anyone who’s a movie or theatre aficionado, making this a potentially very successful restaurant concept.
8. Food Incubator
This isn’t necessarily a restaurant concept, but food incubators are an important part of the culinary industry. Food incubators are commercial kitchens that allow aspiring food entrepreneurs to rent out their kitchen space for their businesses. Several excelling food businesses have gotten their start as tenants in a food incubator.
Example: GIA Kitchen is a commercial kitchen in Saint Paul that rents out its kitchen space and equipment to startup food businesses. It’s open 24 hours and allows each business to schedule the time it needs to use the kitchen.
Pros: Given that a food incubator isn’t necessarily a restaurant, you wouldn’t need to actually produce the food yourself. You would supply the kitchen and equipment, but your tenants supply their own ingredients and other necessities.
Cons: It can be difficult to acquire the space needed for a large commercial kitchen, and the equipment needed to rent out to your tenants leads to a large barrier to entry. Although these kitchens can be profitable, it is hard to open one without a good amount of cash on hand.
Who would want to eat here: Okay, people wouldn’t really eat here, but food incubators will attract food startups who are looking to get their business going but don’t have the money yet to rent out their own space.
9. Animal Restaurant
This sounds like a strange restaurant idea, but it’s been done before. These are restaurants that have animals — usually cats or dogs — as part of the ambiance. These places are usually cafes, focusing more on drinks than food. Depending on your location, you may be able to break that mold.
Example: Catfeine is a cat cafe in Tennessee where visitors can get coffee, sit in the restaurant and play with the cats who roam free around the space. The location also serves as a cat rescue; the cats in the restaurant are fostered, and visitors are even able to adopt the cats.
Pros: Who doesn’t love animals? Especially if you’re an animal lover, this can be a fun restaurant concept to create. As in the example, you could also help foster animals get adopted.
Cons: Caring for animals is costly and requires care and attention. You’ll have to pay for their food and vet bills, and ensure that the animals are trained and safe to be around your customers. If you’re not an animal person, this probably isn’t the concept for you. Restaurant regulations also have strict rules about animals being around food, so you’d have to check your local regulations.
Who would want to eat here: Anyone who loves animals would enjoy visiting an animal cafe. Any visitors who are stressed or lonely would have a place to relax, unwind and socialize with the animals. Unfortunately, it would deter those who are allergic to animals.
10. Communal Tables
As an end to the pandemic is seemingly in sight, people are eager to get back out into the social world. What better way to get out and meet new people than to dine with them? Some restaurants offer communal tables, which are essentially large tables that seat several people from different groups together. Some people may not enjoy eating with strangers, but others may welcome the experience. Even eating at a bar is a form of communal dining.
Example: Union Square Cafe in New York City was opened as a gourmet restaurant in 1985, but offered bar seating for diners, something The Atlantic calls “revolutionary.” The cafe does offer traditional table seating, but the bar is still open for those who wish to eat there.
Pros: Communal tables make economic sense for a restaurant owner — you can fit more people in less space. Why use a whole dining table on a single guest when you can just give them a seat next to other single diners at your larger table? By increasing the number of customers you can serve at once, it also increases your potential profits.
Cons: At the moment, some people may be understandably uncomfortable sitting at communal tables, but as vaccinations increase and the pandemic comes under control, it’s likely that things will start to return to normal. In general, communal tables may also be a turnoff for groups who want their own space or couples wanting to dine by themselves. However, with the right restaurant floor plan, it’s always possible for you to offer some traditional seating alongside communal tables.
Who would want to eat here: Communal seating is a great solution for people who want to go out to eat by themselves, without the awkward loneliness. For people looking to socialize in a post-pandemic world, whether by themselves or with a friend, communal dining provides an opportunity to meet new people.
11. Cultural Fusion Restaurant
Most restaurants’ identities lie in their food. One way to make your restaurant concept unique is to combine food types that are not normally served together. Maybe you like both Italian food and Indian food, and perhaps you can find a unique way to combine them that makes amazing and delicious dishes.
Example: One example of a unique fusion restaurant is Taqueria Tsunami, a chain in Georgia that combines Latin and Asian cuisines. They serve food like chicken tacos with Thai peanut sauce, and short rib quesadillas with Korean barbecue sauce.
Pros: Finding a unique combination of cultural cuisines can really help you stand out from the competition. Obviously, fusion cuisine is an idea that’s been done before, but if you experiment with it, you could create something that nobody else has done, or at least nobody else in your area has done before.
Cons: Experimentation can take time, and it can be expensive, especially if you’re not the one who plans to make the menu yourself. You’ll definitely want to perfect some signature recipes before you finalize your idea for this kind of restaurant.
Who would want to eat here: Fusion cuisine will attract all sorts of eaters. Any foodie loves new food experiences, so by coming up with a unique fusion, your restaurant could become the talk of the town.
12. Vegan Restaurant
Plant-based diets are becoming more popular than ever in recent years, and grocery stores and restaurant chains are trying to keep up with the trend. Burger King launched its Impossible Whopper a few years back, driving up its sales significantly and proving there’s a lively market for meatless food. Why not get ahead of the curve and open up a fully-vegan restaurant?
Example: Tarantino’s Vegan is a fully vegan Italian eatery based in Las Vegas. They offer a variety of normal vegan fare like zucchini sticks, salads and soups, as well as plant-based meat and cheese alternatives in dishes like “chicken” parmesan and plant-based burgers.
Pros: Veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise as people become more conscious about the ethical and environmental impacts of the meat industry. While many restaurants now offer vegan options, offering a fully meatless menu will set you apart from those competitors. Modern meat substitutes that imitate real meat can ensure that anyone who enters can enjoy your restaurant’s food, whether or not they’re on a plant-based diet.
Cons: Plant-based foods, especially meat substitutes or other animal product substitutes, can be more expensive to source than traditional foods, and may be harder to acquire depending on your restaurant’s location.
Who would want to eat here: Vegans, vegetarians and any plant-curious people would flock to a vegan restaurant that serves good food. With tasty dishes or a variety of meat substitutes, a vegan restaurant can even attract a healthy amount of non-vegan customers.
13. Farm-to-Table Restaurant
Farm-to-table restaurants, which serve food that’s usually sourced from a local farm, aren’t a new concept, but there are plenty of regions where this market is still fresh. Much like plant-based diets, demand for farm-to-table food has grown in recent years.
Example: Farm & Table, as the name implies, is a farm-to-table restaurant based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This one is unique, in that the restaurant actually sits on the farm that produces its food. It features a seasonal menu, based on the produce that’s available.
Pros: Farm-to-table restaurants are in high demand, drawing in crowds eager to enjoy fresh, delicious, locally-sourced foods.
Cons: This restaurant idea isn’t new, and most cities already have several farm-to-table restaurants. If you want to open a farm-to-table restaurant, you should try and choose a location where your concept can rise above the competition.
Who would want to eat here: Everybody likes farm-to-table restaurants, especially those looking to support local farmers in their communities. Health-minded or eco-conscious customers especially will flock to these restaurants for their high quality and ethically-sourced offerings.