Deciding whether—and—when to reconcept is a huge decision. But it’s a choice plenty of operators are making, whether to better suit a changing consumer base, to modernize or to uncover potential new revenue sources.
Here are some tips from operators who’ve recently undergone an extreme makeover.
1. Prepare financially
Make sure you begin any project with an accurate assessment of the total cost. Plus, you’ll need to factor in the lost profits of shuttering your operation during the renovation. Expect a major reconcepting project to cost half to two-thirds the price of building a brand-new restaurant, says Mark Voss, who morphed his Denver-based Tilted Kilt unit (which he’d operated for seven years) over the course of a month into an independent, locally focused concept called Burnt Barrel Colorado Spirits & Sports.
2. Plan, plan and plan some more
Serious plans began six weeks before any actual renovations at Los Angeles nightclub Blind Dragon. The concept just reopened after a month of renovations, debuting as an establishment with a full menu and an assortment of new booths and other seating arrangements (including lowered tables) geared toward dining. Tiki-inspired matting now covers industrial shipping container walls to give the space a more relaxed vibe. All of the interior furnishings were ordered, received and ready to be installed before the operation’s doors closed for renovations. “The key is lining everything up first,” says John Sofio, president of Built Inc., the firm that designed the updated Blind Dragon space.
3. Don't forget staff training
Build time into your renovation plans to get your staff up to speed on the new concept, design, menu and other changes. Blind Dragon, for example, went from serving a very limited menu to a full roster of Asian-inspired dishes. The staff underwent a week of trainings and tastings with the new food.
4. Keep your goal in mind
Before undergoing an extreme makeover, the entire operation must have a clear idea about why it’s happening. Voss of Burnt Barrel said he wanted to try life as an independent. He says he was able to “shake hands” and negotiate an amicable departure from his franchisor.
Blind Dragon plans to extend its concept into other cities. A new focus on food will make it a better fit in places with a less vibrant nightlife scene than LA, co-owner John Terzian says.
5. Market your makeover
“This is the hardest part,” Blind Dragon’s Terzian says. Operators must get existing customers to embrace the change while also bringing in new business. At Blind Dragon, this meant holding several friends-and-family tastings. It requires “true handholding of each customer,” he says. “That takes some patience. You can’t fake that.”
Burnt Barrel has focused on reaching out to customers via social media and the local press. “Transitioning the old customers is a little tricky,” Voss says. “We have lots of regulars who are still here … But we’re seeing new people, too, who might not have been in the Tilted Kilt demographic.”