All restaurants have a decor or "theme," but a "theme restaurant" is one in which the theme — rather than the food — drives all decisions. Customers are often attracted to theme restaurants, at least initially, by the theme, not the cuisine. Examples of theme restaurant chains include Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, NASCAR Cafe, Planet Hollywood and Hooters.
Food and menu preparation may be what many people first think of when they think of culinary schools. However, many culinary schools also teach about non-culinary components of successful restaurant management. These components include table settings, design, architecture, decor, lighting, music, and the attire and attitude of the service staff. Learning these components can help students to understand several valuable lessons about interacting with theme restaurants, such as:
- Restaurant Themes Should Complement, Not Camouflage: Successful theme restaurants have themes that complement great food; unsuccessful theme restaurants use their themes to try to camouflage poor food.
- Theme Restaurants Aren't Going Away: The failure rate for all restaurants is high, but the failure rate for theme restaurants is even higher, says a Dunn & Bradstreet publication. However, "The reality is that the theme-restaurant segment is more diverse than ever, and it is positioning itself for growth on the basis of its service, style, and substantial menus," says the National Restaurant Association.
- Chefs Determine Theme Restaurant Success: Good food and service bring return customers and earn neighborhood loyalty. If the food isn't good, a theme restaurant has to rely on entertainment and tourist attractions, and their popularity can change overnight.
The message for culinary students, chefs, and restaurateurs is simple: for a successful theme restaurant, offer a fun theme to attract new customers and great food to keep them coming back.