Restaurant Branding Strategy: Crafting an Identity
Think about the brands you love. What do you like about that brand? When explaining it to a friend, which parts of the brand do you identify? Perhaps you enjoy the quality of the brand’s products. Maybe you like their witty advertising or the colors they use. Could be you had a great experience in a store, or a site, that helped create brand loyalty, or it could be a brand that a trusted friend recommends.
While there are usually a few critical sensory identifiers we associate with brands (Nike’s check, Apple’s white plastic or Old Spice’s quirky commercials), brands comprise many elements that touch upon our surface senses and our subconscious. They inspire us, comfort us and above all, make us feel good about spending our money on them. Brands usually don’t “just happen” either. They’re highly curated, the result of many decisions and an empathetic viewpoint towards the customer experience.
Cultivating a restaurant branding strategy is no different than any other kind of brand, in essence. You’re essentially crafting the identity that you’ll have in a particular space. However, the restaurant space is unique in that it encompasses many segments and caters to every type of customer imaginable. Guests will use some composite of your visual identity, and their own experiences to determine the quality of your restaurant’s brand. While there are many old skool attitudes regarding branding, it’s important to remember that “no brand” is still a brand. So, try as you might, you’ll never escape it. It’s an intricate part of consumer culture, and it’s what keeps customers coming back.
Restaurant Branding: First Things First
Before you can worry about the granular aspects of a restaurant branding strategy, you need to establish a foundation. Whether you’re just opening a restaurant, or you’ve been around for a while, a mission statement will help your branding efforts in always providing a place towards which to orient. With a clear mission statement, your other branding and marketing efforts will flow more smoothly.
A mission statement for a restaurant should answer five questions:
1. Who are you?
Straightforward enough. What are you? Are you a restaurant? A food truck? What’s your name? What’s the name customers will use to refer to you?
2. What do you do?
What do you serve? How do you distribute it, outside of walk-in customers? Do you provide delivery or carry out services? Can customers order from you online? Can they make reservations? Do you cater?
3. For Whom are you doing it?
Who is your primary demographic? For many restaurant operators, the answer to this question is “everyone.” And while this may be true, try to specify your ideal customers. Are they looking for lunchtime convenience? Are they trying to get away for the evening? Trying to feed a family?
4. Why do you do it?
What’s your primary purpose in running the restaurant? Sure, you want to make money. But, what else? What are some of the goals you have in doing it? Are you addressing a need in the community?
5. How are you going to do it?
Through what means do you plan on achieving your mission statement? Upscale service? Swanky decor? Live music? Think about the metrics you’d use to measure your success.
While these questions may seem basic, you’ll probably find that a little introspection goes a long way in helping build your brand. If you struggle to answer the five questions above, that’s OK. It may take some time to key into them. We highly encourage you to have that all figured out before making any moves on branding though.
Identify your Position in the Space
Upon determining your mission statement, the next important piece of developing a restaurant branding strategy is to identify where exactly you fit into the landscape, or at least, where you’d like to be. There are many restaurants, many of whom essentially compete for the same customer base. If you don’t have a clear understanding of where you fit in, neither will your potential customers.
Five good questions to ask in determining your position in the restaurant space might be:
1. What do you serve?
Now’s the time to be specific. Do you serve upscale French cuisine? Ethiopian food? Breakfast platters? Your special menu will help determine where you sit in the local (and national!) space, and in many cases, your customer-base and segment.
2. What are your value props?
Besides the killer food you create, what are some of the benefits for a customer who eats at your restaurant? Consider the convenience, the location, the ambiance, and the prices.
3. Who, specifically, are your customers and what do they want?
Ask yourself what a guest of your restaurant values, and how you cater to those needs. Are you open during late night hours to serve people who work third shift? Do you feature a robust delivery service? All of this help determine what customers want and why they’d choose your restaurant in the first place.
4. What are your competitors doing?
Competitor research is crucial to branding. Upon identifying the last three questions, try and determine which other restaurants also cater to that niche in your area. What are your competitors doing well, that you could implement or do better? What are your competitors not doing that you could apply? Can you do what they aren’t? It’s not the end of the world if they are doing things you can’t, but you will have to strategize in other areas.
5. Utilize Restaurant Data
If you’ve been in business for a while, and you’re rebranding, you may have access to restaurant data which can help in your branding efforts. If you’ve got robust kitchen technology, like a kitchen display system, you can likely access restaurant data which will give insight into your own identity and customer types. This data may include average party sizes, revenue statistics, popular menu items, and more.
Craft the Identity
With a coherent foundation in place, you’re ready to begin crafting your restaurant brand identity. There are many elements that go into your identity, so it helps to break them down into sections.
Choosing a Name
While it seems rudimentary, this is one of the first elements of your restaurant that a guest will encounter, before even stepping inside. They may read it on a website listing, or hear about it from a friend. What does your restaurant’s name convey? If your restaurant serves French food, a French name would not only be “on brand” but would be a strong signifier to a customer of what they could expect. Restaurants with personal names attached, like Frank’s Diner, for example, denote something more “down home” and suggest a more personal touch. A creative name, like The Rustic Frog, may pique the interest of a customer, curious to see what the menu entails.
Creating a Logo
Not all restaurants need a logo, but it indeed goes a long way in cementing a brand identity. Your logo can be as simple as your restaurant name in a well-polished typeface. If your brand allows for it, logos with a mascot or character are fun and suggest something friendly and casual, even kid-friendly. The main point to remember with your logo, if you have one, is to try and keep it consistent. If you print it somewhere, work to keep the same logo everywhere, on your website, on your menus and everything in between.
The Decor and Ambiance
Now that you’ve got customers in the door, they’ve seen or heard your name and decided to venture into your establishment, what will they see, hear and smell? The decor, lighting, furniture, and artwork help create your restaurant’s ambiance and are part of the customer experience they’ll associate with your brand. How does lighting set the mood in a space? Does it make sense for your restaurant to have low lights or fluorescent lighting? Do you have tablecloths? Booths or tables? How are they arranged? Do you serve beverages in repurposed mason jars? Are there old license plates lining the walls (think Americana), or do you tactfully hang a few oil paintings? Do you have music playing? Pop, country or classic rock? Ultimately, there are no right or wrong answers as far as what to do, but think about how all these choices contribute to the guest experience, and to your brand.
Does your restaurant have a dress code for staff? Some restaurants have a designated uniform, with branded clothing or an upscale standard, like white shirts/dark slacks. Others may opt for a more casual look. Think about how staff uniforms contribute to the brand. If you’re serving Texas style BBQ, does it make sense for your servers to wear bowties and cumerbunds? If you’re courting a younger, millennial crowd, a more casually-dressed staff might make them feel more at home. It’s up to you, just orient towards your brand.
Designing a restaurant menu is an involved process in itself. While many customers will read your menu online, a polished, branded one they hold in their hands will usually resonate more. Some decisions an operator may make with a menu is whether to use photos or illustrations and what to call their dishes. Creative names, like “The Smothered Elvis” may evoke wonder in customers, or may confuse them. Think about how the vocabulary contributes to your brand, as well as the perception of the food.
The last tip in creating a restaurant identity is to seek out brands you like and to try and emulate what makes them successful. Don’t steal copyrighted content, but remember that creativity goes a long way, but some things, like customer service principles, are universal.
Maintaining Your Restaurant’s Brand Internally
Once you’ve determined your brand, you must document it. Document your mission statement, and return to it often. Ensure that all your staff – veteran and rookie – are familiar with the branding guidelines, and maintain consistency there. Your brand doesn’t exist if you’re the only one who knows about it. Make it as visible as possible, and let staff know where they can refer to it if they need to.
Customer Service Strategy
While “good” customer service is a given, you should help set some specific markers so you can continually evaluate. Creating a customer service strategy means you map out potential scenarios, like a customer complaint, and develop a consistent formula for dealing with them. You set standards of excellence and establish a reliable protocol for how to speak and address customers and situations. While you can’t anticipate every snafu, to have a documented process in place takes a lot of the pressure off those moments when emotions run high, and instincts are fiery.
Kitchen Consistency and Preparation
Kitchen technology will automate your processes and help you keep your speed of service in good working order. With proper meal coursing, you maintain your guest satisfaction, while also reducing waste and extra work. With all these processes in order, and the nuts and bolts of restaurant service, you can put particular emphasis on the guest experience without worrying so much about your back-of-house.
Remember also that kitchen technology can be a useful tool for data storage and analytics, which can also aid your customer service and branding efforts. Are there particular days or times when your speed of service suffers? What executive or staffing decisions can you make to improve that? These systems also help to create consistency, whether you have one restaurant or several units.
Your restaurant’s brand can and should evolve. One way to ensure it develops naturally is to refer back to your mission statement frequently. How is your customer service strategy contributing to those goals? Can you do anything to improve the guest experience? Maybe you need to scale things back to be more hands off. Whatever you do, use your mission statement as the ultimate barometer and hinge your efforts from that.
Raising Brand Awareness
No matter how much work you put into your brand, it only exists if people know about it. If you craft a memorable dining experience, there’s a great chance that customers will tell their friends about it. “Word-of-mouth” is marketing 101. It’s influential because customers will often trust their friends and relatives before trusting a company. In 2018 though, this strategy isn’t enough. You’ve got to compete in a potentially crowded marketplace and appeal to customers before they visit your restaurant. In modern times, that means you’ve got to have your restaurant information listed in the places where customers are looking – the internet.
A Restaurant Website
Every restaurant, big or small, should have a site. Restaurant websites provide an excellent channel to showcase your brand through photography, curated content, your menu and other information a customer would find useful about your restaurant. Some restaurants use these platforms to tell their unique origin stories or include quotes from satisfied clients. Others may opt to have a strictly “bare bones” approach. There’s no right or wrong, but know this: creating a website helps you “own” your SEO a bit. When someone Googles your restaurant or restaurants in the area, it makes it far more likely that your website will come up, and not just third party review sites which you cannot control.
Social Media for Your Restaurant
Social media is essential for sharing your restaurant’s brand, but it’s up to you how much you use it. Marketing on this platform is effective because people use it every day to interact with friends, celebrities and the companies they like. It helps you “meet” customers on the platforms they’re already on, and provide opportunities for you to share the unique parts of your restaurant, daily, that will get them in the door, including promotions!
There are many different social media platforms to choose from, so it’s vital to gauge your bandwidth when selecting which ones to use. A simple Facebook page is a no-brainer. Even if you don’t use it much, you can use it to direct customers towards a website and to gain essential information on your location, menu and any upcoming promotions.
Twitter tends to be better for sharing content, but a restaurant with an active marketing approach and the bandwidth to pull it off could reach a very eager customer-base on the platform. Twitter is a great way to share daily promotions or even just links to other, adjacent content. It may prop your restaurant up as an authority or even a part of the local community.
Instagram’s primary currency is photos, so it should only be used if you’ve got quality photos to show off. Instagram doesn’t drive tons of traffic from its site but is often used by companies as a way to showcase their location, their decor, their team and other “behind the scenes” bits of the brand. In a nutshell, you should have a Facebook platform, and use the others as you see fit.
A loyalty program incentives customers to return to your restaurant, and helps further your branding efforts. It allows customers to acclimate with your menu and establishes your restaurant as something modern, a place to which they will return. A good loyalty program, something that pays off (like, a free meal after they’ve spent a certain amount of money) provides an excellent value prop and also suggests that you’re not going anywhere.
A convenient mobile app streamlines things for your customers and puts your loyalty program right in their pocket. It helps you to stay on your customer’s mind (or at least in their mobile notifications) even when they’re not in the store and lends a slick, modernized appeal to the establishment. You can push notifications to them, informing them of current or upcoming promotions, extending your marketing efforts beyond your own four walls. You also make it more likely they’ll stop in on convenience, knowing they can utilize the app to do so. There’s a lot of prep that goes into building a mobile restaurant app, so it’s important to take a good stock of your workload and budget. However, those restaurants who do invest in an app could see substantial returns on customer loyalty.
You can’t create a restaurant brand overnight. It’s multi-faceted and encompasses many different factors. By establishing a clear mission statement from the outset, breaking down the process, and continually referring to that statement, any operator can fulfill a winning restaurant branding strategy, creating an identity with which customers will connect.
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is a Content Marketing Specialist at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write about technology. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.