Article contributed by Raymond Haldeman, Restaurant Designer
As a former restaurateur turned restaurant designer, I am often face to face with struggling restaurateurs eager to ask me questions about today’s restaurant rebranding trend. In recent decades big hospitality corporations have taken a whale size bite out of independently owned restaurant hides. The pendulum is starting to swing back however as bold and creative entrepreneurial rebrands are enticing a younger hip audience who grew up eating in chain restaurants into their establishments, and now aspire to a more original and engaging experience.
As with running a restaurant operation, restaurant rebranding is a comprehensive endeavor and owners must be honest with themselves when they assess their shortfalls and address the right strategy for an effective turnaround. A cosmetic make-over and name change will not improve a restaurant’s image if the the food and service still lack consistency. However, in the face of strong competition from corporate franchises. a designer-rebrand, when combined with improved kitchen function, the right menu, a price point that services the location’s demographics and an upgrade to servers’ knowledge and attitude can provide an immediate “about-face” for any operation experiencing declining sales & waining popularity.
Yes, a restaurant rebrand can, in one day, provide a restaurant with an entirely new start. In one day, sarcastic Yelp reviews will disappear forever. In one day, cold food, bad meals and long waits experienced by customers sworn not to return are forgotten. In one day, rebranding is an opportunity to mold and craft public perception anew. This opportunity when approached comprehensively can put any restaurant back on the road to profitability and give weary operators a reason to be excited and optimistic about the future of their establishments once again.
This time around smart owners will align themselves with a restaurant rebranding and design professional who is intimately familiar with running a restaurant. This crucial decision often determines the degree of success of newly rebranded restaurant operations as most interior designers, without having experienced the actual management of “day to day restaurant operations” unwittingly sacrifice function for visually appealing design. This shortfall can be costly to an operator as it can detract from the efficiency of the operation and marginalize the efforts of a newly trained and eager staff to provide the ultimate dining experience for the customers on par with the new design.
So, indeed restaurant rebranding does cost money, but this time, with the guidance of a restaurant rebranding specialist, the money will be spent wisely. I recommend operators remove any trace of the previous operation so restaurant patrons experience the reinvented eatery as new, valuable and exciting. By the same token, from a business perspective it is not only the best option available to the restaurateur but a bargain when one considers the opportunity to create a new income stream under the existing overhead.
Remember a rebrand is not starting from zero, there is no moving, the lease is in place, the infrastructure exits, the kitchen is operating, the bathroom plumbing has been run, the zoning is there, and the owner is now intimately familiar with the market. Now a concept can be developed by carefully and thoughtfully applying all the wisdom and knowledge gained in the initial operation to the new brand. Many operators are using rebranding and its promise to get it right the second time around.
Here is a quick case study of a restaurant rebrand: I recently completed a restaurant rebranding job for Jeff Gernitis, who purchased The Pilot House in Cape May, NJ, on the Jersey shore. A musty old run-down seafood house. Jeff and his partners kept the restaurant operating for several months while formulating a rebrand plan. During this time they set about familiarizing themselves with the nuances of the location on Washington Street Mall, a pedestrian promenade of shops and restaurants, a short distance from the oceanfront site of the iconic Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant which they also own. This was invaluable because while operating as the Pilot House they were able to answer many questions, test theories andmenu items and spare injury to the future brand as mistakes and miscalculations were absorbed by the old Pilot House brand.
The old “fried seafood combo platter” menu format was tossed and replaced with a more contemporary “fresh fish” & “local ingredients” type menu developed by Chef Carl Messick.
Gernitis gave me free rein in the conceptual theme and functional details of the redesign and I took full advantage of his confidence. I decided to exploit the city’s excellent reputation as a tourist destination by creating a concept that would propel the restaurant to the top of the town’s “Top Must-See Tourist Attractions List” and one that would appeal to all ages. If an hour and half wait for a table at 7PM on a Wednesday evening is any indication, this goal was most certainly accomplished!
The entire space was gutted to “open concept status” and then large design elements such as two 12’ aquarium-walls and a 10’ see-thru stainless steel and barn-wood fireplace were custom built and installed to break-up the vastness of the space, separate the bar from dining areas, and enable the operators to shrink & enlarge the space as needed depending on the day of the week and time of year. The edge lit blue water glass bar-top provided the most dramatic WOW FACTOR. 700 linear feet of soft, dramatic and glowing LED lighting, detailed architectural craftsmanship and quality finishes were used to create the Casual & Contemporary Aquatic Theme.
I am happy to chat with anyone who is planning a restaurant rebrand and has design questions. My goal is to help you enhance your vision. Call me on my cell! 305-968-8855
Raymond Haldeman is one of the leading entrepreneurial authorities on Bar, Restaurant & Nightclub design and operation in the country. He parlayed his successful career as a well publicized Society Caterer and Restaurateur into a thriving Restaurant Design business. His development of functional designs with wow-factor, has become an industry standard. His latest restaurant design and rebranding projects include the total renovation and rebranding of the Pilot House, now Fins Bar & Grille, in Cape May, NJ, the design and subsequent expansion of Cuzin’s Seafood Clam Bar in Marlboro, NJ, and Beacon 70 in Brick, NJ.