Branding the Chef

Branding a chef fits well in today’s celebrity-chef culture where chefs enjoy much influence and fame. Diners look for chefs with culinary philosophies that closely match their attitudes about food or those who have compelling personal style.

Destination restaurants and big-name chefs draw customers in unprecedented numbers due to chef-authored cookbooks, signature culinary styles and popular cooking shows. But even small restaurants can capitalize on the trend by hiring articulate chefs with unique culinary styles, superior training, years of experience and the ability to communicate effectively with customers.

Frequently, a restaurant will not have to employ a chef on an ongoing basis, but find a consultant chef to rework their menu. Then the restaurant can brand the menu with the chef without worrying about their employment situation.

Benefits of Branding a Chef

Branding a chef generates attention to the quality in the same way that people want to try a famous chef’s food and watch him or her at work. Restaurant competition has become intense, and customers support local foods and restaurants that showcase the culinary masterpieces of accomplished chefs. Benefits of branding the head chef include:

  • Each chef is unique, and competitors can’t offer what each chef literally brings to the table.
  • Chefs with name recognition generate attention and more interviews and feature stories in local media.
  • Customers are attracted to celebrity chefs and willing to visit a restaurant to try the cuisine.
  • Identifying the chef adds a personal touch to marketing.
  • Branding a chef may mean establishing the reputation of a highly talented chef who has up to that point stayed behind the scenes.

How to Brand a Chef

Restaurateurs begin branding efforts in-house by publicizing the chef’s accomplishments and style among employees, vendors and customers. Strategies for building a chef’s brand include:

  • Make sure that a chef has strong communications skills as well as talent and training.
  • Include a biography on the menu, and post information on the website and social media pages.
  • Issue press releases to promote the chef.
  • Consider getting the chef to give talks, interviews, demonstrations or cooking classes during hours when the restaurant is usually closed.
  • When possible, encourage the chef to circulate through the dining room as often as possible
  • Choose a signature look for the chef whether it be traditional, colorful or edgy.
  • Prepare short and long biographies, photos and branded visuals to accompany press releases, social media posts and requests for information.
  • Focus on characteristics that distinguish a chef such as culinary training, years of experience, apprenticeship with a food celebrity, work in a high-profile market or strong personality.
  • Throw events where the chef demonstrates cooking innovative or popular dishes on your menu.

Risks of Branding a Chef

Any strategy could backfire, and branding a chef carries risks. Disagreements, pay issues and chefs leaving for better opportunities or to own their own restaurants are always possibilities. Other risks include lazy chefs who won’t interact with customers, chefs who make bad impressions and those who don’t communicate well.

Restaurant managers can guard against many risks by creating a comprehensive employment contract making interaction a job requirement. The contract could include a noncompete agreement that limits a chef’s ability to open a restaurant in the area, use recipes developed while employed or hire other employees away from the restaurant. The state of California doesn’t allow noncompeting agreements, and other states restrict what contracts can limit. Check with an attorney for details of the law where a restaurant operates.

Another solution involves licensing the chef’s likeness, signature slogan and recipes. This strategy would involve paying for the use of the chef’s name, likeness and recipes, but it would establish clear legal rights and protect a restaurant if strong feelings or personal ambition sabotage the working relationship between a chef and restaurant management.

Celebrity culture has become pervasive, and local diners enjoy the opportunity to dine at restaurants where celebrity chefs prepare their food. Restaurant owners can enjoy the benefits of branding by choosing the right chef, protecting their interests contractually and promoting the chefs at every opportunity.