Most independent restaurant owners think they’re in the food business, when in reality, they’re in the experience business. And the only way to deliver a unique and consistent experience that will endear you to your customers is through a well thought-out and developed brand.
Branding a restaurant, however, is hard work. Few owners put in the necessary effort. Restaurant branding requires identifying and defining your unique selling proposition, then developing and designing a framework that successfully communicates that to customers. Branding starts by asking yourself five simple questions — the Five Ws.
“Why” is usually last in the five W’s. But in this case, it’s first. Why brand your business? It’s critical for a whole host of reasons. When developing your restaurant concept, the brand will influence everything from the look and feel of the space, to the style and texture of the linens, and even the uniforms your staff will wear. As your restaurant grows, you’ll need to look to your brand when making decisions to ensure things are consistent. Your brand will guide all of your marketing efforts. It will dictate the colors of packaging you use for takeout orders. And your brand will be the overarching voice and tone of your restaurant. As your brand begins to resonate with your customers and your restaurant grows, the value of your brand may become more arbitrary. But it’s no less important. This is the stage where your brand builds goodwill and really develops some value in the eyes of the market.
The initial brand development responsibilities fall on you, the owner. All the marketing consultants in the world can’t tell you how to brand your restaurant if you yourself don’t even know what message you want to convey to your customer. I hired a branding agency when I opened my first restaurant, hoping they would brand my restaurant for me. I was surprised to find out that’s not how it works. As an owner, you need to define your brand before looking to graphic designers and consultants to help you create its visual representation.
Your brand is a lot of things, but the one thing it’s not is easy quantifiable, especially early on. That’s likely the reason so many owners neglect to do the work necessary around it to get it right. Making decisions that impact the bottom line is far easier than making ones you can’t immediately link to dollars and cents. At least, that was the way it was for me at first. I had a hard time committing resources to branding because I couldn’t directly tie sales to my efforts. But with a consistent approach to branding the sales did in fact come. So ask yourself those difficult questions about what you ultimately want to be in the eyes of your customers. Brainstorming around it and you’ll get all the information you need to make the decisions that ultimately shape your brand.
When should you start thinking about branding your concept? Sooner than you might think. Whether you hope to open one, 10 or 100 locations, you should be thinking about branding long before you open for business. Branding should be a part of the concept creation process and continue on throughout your restaurant’s life cycle. Whether you know it or not as the owner you are an extension of your brand and as such are always branding. Just remember to ABB – Always Be Branding!
Your brand is obviously ever-present in your logo and tagline. But it should also be ingrained in the systems you develop to operate your restaurant. It should be in employee handbooks and should dictate how staff interacts with customers. It should also be the core of all your marketing efforts and influence how those efforts are interpreted by your customers. The perception of you restaurant is dependent upon how well your brand is conveyed to your customers in both the tangible ways, like printed media and packaging, and the intangible ways, like individual customer experience.
There are so many reasons why you should brand your restaurant and really none why you shouldn’t. If you want to become a recognizable fixture in the foodservice landscape, give your restaurant’s brand the attention it deserves.
It you want to become a recognizable fixture in the foodservice landscape give branding your restaurant the attention it warrants.
Gabe DaSilva is the founder of My First Restaurant an online community where new and aspiring restaurateurs can access the tools and training they need to successfully open and operate their first restaurant.