STARTUP: Creating the atmosphere, core audience & targeting your slow times

When you’re considering a startup food and beverage concept, the atmosphere you intend to create is important.  For example, in Orlando we know Christini’s is a special occasion place and it’s $500 a table easy (as a server you can get a good idea about the tips!), we know when we’re going to Rocco’s Taco’s it’s a fully different atmosphere.  Where does your concept fall in to place? 

As consumers we’re paying for the full experience.  It begins and ends with the atmosphere and midway through there is the culinary or beverage skills on display.  Sure I can grill up a mean ribeye at home, but it’s just not the same with three little ones running and around and the occasional, “Mooooooo-ooooooom, she’s bugging me,” or better yet when accompanied with the diaper-clad minion who yells, “I’m pooooooppppeeeeeeey!”  POOP-EY!”  I’m paying a premium to eat my steak in a facility that doesn’t include those punctuations.  I’m paying for the atmosphere that doesn’t include a couch full of mounded laundry, dirty glasses by the dishwashers and a random flip flop and tennis shoe missing their partner under the table and chair. 

Just like you create a warm, loving, nurturing environment at home you need to think of the environ you create at your food service restaurant.  Does your environment speak to your cores- does it appeal to the group you’re hoping to attract or alienate them?  Let me give you an example of a coffee shop that served a lot of fancy frill girly drinks.  (Sort of like the Vanilla Latte I’m sipping on now).  The clincher here is that the coffee shop attire was lingerie and well, if your main clientele is heterosexual women well you missed something.  I’m not really going to get my Vanilla Latte from the equivalent of a Hooters in the a.m.  Would I take my husband or company there for a novelty experience?  Possibly but that does not make a regular of me. 

Let’s talk about your environment more.  Does it lend itself to your model?  If you are geared to high volume take out or to go do you have ample parking, easy access, possibly even (do you hear the angels singing) a drive through window? 

And music… what sort of music do you play?  Will it appeal to your core food service and beverage audience?  Is it fast, upbeat or slow?  Does it encourage tables to turn or to sit and stay?  Do you offer free wi-fi and often deal with tables being occupied by campers who will sit for hours sipping a single cup of coffee? 

So, make a few lists…. a list of who your ideal client is and what they need or expect in the environment.  Then make a list of things you intend to provide and how you’ll provide them.   Does the environment fit your client’s needs and your business focus? 

Years ago we liquidated a pizza concept.  I sat and talked with the owner about the facility and what he felt went wrong.  He said a few things:  the facility was oversized and he did the bulk of his business through delivery, he was located next to a gym whose patrons wouldn’t come and eat pizza but used his parking spots, and add to that a part of the concept was video gaming and the franchise he had bought into offered a piece of pizza and a soda for $3.50.  So, parents would head to a local mall and drop their teens off for pizza and camping out while they big box shopped. 

So if to revisit some of the parts that failed his model:  only offer special during off hours, during the hours your need to turn tables you should not be offering something that is contradictory to your main goal.  Additionally, what is atmosphere and will it attract the most patrons?  In the case of this pizza joint having a restaurant full of teens who kept tables full and spent minimal didn’t help the goal of turning tables during busy hours. 

When we’re looking at dining at a fine establishment like Christini’s we’re considering we’re not a table that is turning but to sit and talk at our leisure, that is part of the atmosphere and experience. 

Who is your core audience?  How will you create an atmosphere to serve them?