Is Testing Your Restaurant Concept Before Launch Worth it?

Yes! Says VSAG Founder Dan Simons. As a veteran of many restaurant openings, some hugely successful – others not – Dan believes the ‘not’s’ are where the biggest lessons are learned.

The old adage rings true here: Hindsight is 20/20. If you look back at the big picture of why your restaurant concept/vision didn’t translate, those answers could hold the keys to successful future openings.

In Dan’s experience, there are two factors that play a major role in launching a successful restaurant (and having it thrive long term): Research and Risk.

Do your research: fill a niche. Talk to people – restaurant employees, managers, guests – and learn information that may support or contradict your assumptions. These informal conversations about experiences and lessons learned by others will help give color to the more formal data you receive from conducting focus groups or formal surveys on the area’s restaurant scene, learning about the customer base, and determining how your concept fits into the marketplace.

Comparing all research and data is crucial to success.  Through research, the end goal is tri-fold: 1) determine the caliber of your competition, 2) discover if there is a niche that is lacking a good concept (here’s your opportunity to tweak your concept to fill that niche), and 3) uncover whether a market is over-served or under-served (and why). Note: In order to conclude if a market is over-served or under-served, VSAG utilizes a research template to determine the sales volume of national chain restaurants in specific markets, then compares each chain’s national average. If it’s above, then most likely the market is under-served. If it’s below, that market is probably over-served.

Know your risks: and be willing to take them. While data is a great backbone for putting your plan in place, says Dan, it’s also important to remember that no one would’ve have answered “yes” to the question “Do you need an iPhone?” before it was created. Risk. Courage. Vision … allows someone like über successful restaurateur/entrepreneur Keith McNally to open the very profitable Pastis restaurant in NYC’s Meat Packing District long before anyone else ventured into that area, even though the neighborhood was deemed a ‘bad location.’ He had the vision to take the risk – and he was right!

So, test the viability of your restaurant concept by conducting the research to determine if your brand can fill a niche or only get lost in the competition. But, let your vision, passion, and confidence provide the drive for you to take the risk in the first place … and ultimately succeed.

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