What is Restaurant Branding?
Ask a handful of restaurant owners what they think branding is, and we bet you’ll get a handful of answers. Often an elusive term, it’s worth defining it before we start looking at trends and ways to brand your restaurant.
According to Entrepreneur, your brand is your promise to your customer. With your branding, you let your customers know what they can expect from your restaurant. Branding differentiates you from the competition.
In the broad sense, your brand is who you are and who you want to be tied together with how people see you.
The centerpiece of your restaurant branding is your logo followed quickly by your website and your physical location.
Everything you communicate to the public should have your brand in mind.
The Difference Between Branding and Marketing
Oftentimes, the terms branding and marketing are used interchangeably. We caution you against doing this.
Why? Because in reality, branding and marketing are two very different things.
Your branding comes before any marketing you do for your business. In fact, it’s the cornerstone of your restaurant marketing.
Branding exemplifies your restaurant and communicates your value to the customer. Your brand basically supports your marketing efforts. It doesn’t outright say, “Buy me.” It says, “This is who I am.”
An easy way to distinguish them is by reminding yourself:
- Branding is strategic.
- Marketing is tactical.
Marketing is what you do to promote your brand. Once marketing is put in place, your restaurant, and your brand, are still standing no matter what.
Your restaurant branding molds the loyal customer – while your marketing is what you do to find and motivate more customers.
Sounds exciting, right? Branding is a largely creative endeavor that you can develop, trust, and be proud of.
The Parts of Branding
When it comes to your restaurant branding, let’s reiterate that your brand is much more than your logo. Your brand is the entire experience a customer has with your restaurant.
The pieces that support your branding include the following:
- Your logo
- Your colors and font styles
- Interior décor of your restaurant
- Staff uniforms
- Your menu
- Website and Social Media
- The music you play in your restaurant
- Your outdoor greenery
- Your parking lot and your lighting
The consistency of these elements (and countless others) is what makes your restaurant a credible and desirable business. Your branding is successful when you incorporate it into everything you do. Think about the things that touch your customer from your phone message to your social media posts to the way you present your food and more.
Everything you do should have your brand in mind.
How to Develop Your Brand
Usually a restaurant begins development of their brand before they even open. They then fine tune and define their brand over time as they learn who they really are.
Does this mean existing restaurants can’t develop a brand? No. It’s never too late to develop and refine your brand. That’s why rebranding exists.
Take a look at what’s already going on in your restaurant. Make a list of your mission, your goals and your values.
Continue to do what your customers like the most, and then use the trends below to really develop your brand.
Your brand is the personality of your restaurant. Once you’ve defined it, you can carry it into all areas of your business and marketing.
Let’s look at trends in restaurant branding.
Fine Tune the Customer Experience
You might call the era we live in the age of the customer. With instant access to anything we want and a gateway to incredible amounts of information comes a time of increasing expectations.
Customers expect the wow factor. They expect you to cater to all of their needs not only when they visit your restaurant, but when they interact with you online on your website or social media.
Customer service and the customer experience will define your brand in the next 10 years. In fact, the experience you provide just might determine if you succeed or fail.
To take a giant leap over the competition, you want to drive the customer experience through your branding. Consider every touchpoint your customer has with your restaurant, and do everything you can to make their experiences seamless.
Branding and enhancing the customer experience are about creating customers for life because this is what will drive your long-term growth.
Branding today is much more than creating awareness for your restaurant.
It’s about actively encouraging engagement.
Some studies show that your customers are hit with more than 5,000 ad messages per day. That means your restaurant has a whole lot of competition to fight with.
There is one way to get in front of your customers over and over again. That is by enhancing your engagement with them.
You enhance engagement with the strength of your brand, and its presence. As you read ahead, know that it is not the tactics you put in place for the customer to interact with, but the brand that backs the interactions that matters.
The more consistent and confident you and your staff is in the brand, the better customers will receive and interact with it.
Instead of constantly sending the hard core sales pitch, use your social media platforms and email marketing to build a relationship with your customers.
Learn about your customers, get to know them and provide the content they want.
Today, brand reach is much less important than brand immersion. Give your customers the total experience. You’ll be able to do this if your company knows every detail of its brand.
The voice that is used, the visuals, and the consistency of your brand’s presence will make a difference in customers’ attention.
Another restaurant branding trend is authenticity.
Your customers want to know the real you. They don’t want the exaggerated version of your restaurant.
When you sit down to refine your brand, be sure that it is something that comes naturally (or with training) that you will be able to uphold throughout customer interactions.
Tell them what they’ll get and then provide it to them every time.
Restaurants are on every corner, clustered all over the city you live in. To stand out, you’ve got to provide something different, something real for your customers.
For example, if you’re brand mission is to deliver delicious, high-quality breakfast food in a relaxing, low-key manner, do that. Don’t over reach and promise something you can’t deliver. The more muddled your message, the less strong a brand.
Building your brand is about being real and building trust with your customers. Their loyalty is invaluable to your success.
Being real also means caring for the community. Today’s customers are more likely to visit your restaurant if you are doing something good and beneficial for your area.
Consider partnering with a local non-profit to provide food or jobs to people down on their luck. Show your customers you care by extending your brand through community service projects.
We’d like to say that your community service is a part of your brand, because as a staple in your area (and beyond), you have an obligation to do what you can for where you find success. Even the most rough and tumble restaurants still find on-brand volunteer or sponsorship work, so consider the strength of being a conscientious brand.
Unclutter Your Message
Let’s consider Panera and Chipotle. Their brand messages are clear, and their logos are simple.
You know exactly what they stand for and what you can expect in their restaurants.
When working on your restaurant’s brand image, keep the success of these two companies in the back of your mind. Enhance your brand as well as your logo and your look by keeping it simple.
Don’t over clutter your message. Keep it simple so it’s easy for your guests to know what you value.
Your goal is to let your customers immediately know what you stand for. There’s too much brand noise in the world today, so to compete, you have to grab their attention quickly.
You don’t want customers to have to dig too deeply to learn about your brand.
Now let’s look at some more rules for defining your restaurant’s brand.
Protect Your Brand
You must protect your brand at all costs. This encompasses the legal aspect of branding as well as creative authority.
If you stray from your brand, then you’ve lost your message and your competitive edge.
Whenever you take an action for your restaurant, ask yourself how it affects your brand. Are you enhancing it or diluting it?
Here are some actions you might take where it pays to think about your brand:
- Does this new menu item fit with my brand?
- Have I stayed true to my brand colors and fonts?
- Is my staff trained to provide the service my brand promises?
- If I hire this new employee, will they stay true to my brand?
- I’d like to remodel? Do my plans fit with my brand?
Set Your Priorities
Other than preparing a consistently delicious menu, your brand must always provide exceptional service.
Your restaurant is about your customers, not you or your staff.
If you run into unhappy customers in your restaurant or online, respond to their comments with empathy and understanding. Do everything you can to make it right.
Remember, we live in a customer-centered society. One unhappy customer snowballs into 20 other people who learn of their bad experience.
Sometimes it may seem easier to keep your head down and preserver, but staying true to your brand means standing up for it. Acting nobly and quickly will be the best route for any negative review.
Don’t let your customers determine your brand because you didn’t take care of them.
Tell Your Brand Story
What story? Every restaurant has a story.
For example, you’re the fourth generation owner of your town’s favorite pizza place. Or, you were the farmer supplying organic produce to the restaurant, and when the owner died, you bought it. Perhaps you grew up fishing with your grandfather and loved it so much, you opened a fish shack.
Everyone loves a good narrative. It helps them grab onto something. Perhaps it’s a shared experience, or maybe it’s one they’ve only dreamt about.
Your mission statement becomes the moral of your business’s story, so make sure it is true and compelling.
Your story is part of your brand and helps people remember who you are because they can make a connection with you.
You don’t want to be known as “that restaurant.” You know the one – it’s the restaurant that has great food, but it rarely comes out on time.”
Your customers won’t put up with inconsistency for long, and you’ve done a huge disservice to your brand.
Don’t give your customers a reason to disconnect from your restaurant. They want to feel good in your restaurant, not frustrated that they had to wait too long to eat.
Consistency starts with your staff and the training you provide. Create a culture of empowered employees, and they’ll do everything in their power to help your restaurant succeed.
Sure, this topic seems more operational than brand-centric. However, the experience you give a customer is essential to their understanding of your brand.
Your employees will treat your customers the way you treat them. Build your brand by being good to your staff.
Watch Out for Discounts
People love a discount. But, being the restaurant that always offers discounts isn’t a great way to promote your brand.
Restaurants that offer discounts all the time attract bargain hunters, and these customers aren’t going to be loyal to your restaurant.
They are going to eat at the next restaurant that gives them a coupon.
Consider the clothing store that offers discounts on their merchandise all the time. Customers come to expect it, so they never pay full price in the store.
This can happen in the restaurant business, too. If you always offer $5 burgers on Fridays, why would your customers want to pay $10 for them every other day of the week?
Be careful about devaluing your menu because this also deflates your brand.
The last rule we want to mention when it comes to building your brand is patience.
It’s going to take a while for your restaurant to build its brand awareness. Chipotle and Panera certainly weren’t overnight successes. And, even these giants in the food industry have faltered and then re-grouped to fine tune their brands.
As with most everything in life, patience is key.
You’ll have some ups and some downs when it comes to building your brand.
Stay true to your brand even when times are tough. Know your brand and keep it in the forefront of all you do.
That’s what your brand identity does. It sets you apart from the competition. It lets your customers get to know your restaurant intimately, and it creates loyal customers.
Restaurants with a strong brand are known by everyone, and they don’t have much competition because they stand on their own.
Well-branded restaurants are marketing powerhouses because they have a strong identity.
If you’ve taken the time to work on your brand, then you’ve created an emotional connection to your customers. This connection along with your great food and exemplary service makes your guests return again and again.
Take some time today to think about your brand. Write down a few notes. Talk to your customers. Find out what keeps them coming back.
Once you have an idea of where you want to go with your brand, make a statement. When you know what you’re truly passionate about, it will make it all the more easy to approach an agency that can help you to refine it and develop creatives for it.
Fine tune your brand, and then make sure your employees know exactly what you stand for. This prepares them to convey your brand message to your customers.
Branding is an important part of the success of your business, and now that we’ve broken down the trends and defined branding, you’re well on your way to standing a head above the competition.