What are customers looking for when visiting a restaurant? The main assumption is usually that all you need is great food and exceptional service. Yet, you'll find restaurants that satisfy neither of those criteria with lines out the door every night and a waiting list that spans weeks.
So what is it about these restaurants that draws in crowds night after night despite their shortcomings?
The answer might be as simple as a well thought out restaurant branding strategy.
With the right restaurant branding, restaurant operators position themselves in the public eye to draw in their target audience. Branding is becoming more and more relevant in the current restaurant landscape, making it just as important to build a restaurant's image as the food and service.
This article by Matt Utber of the London-based branding agency The Plant, answers some of the most common questions restaurant owners and operators have about branding and managing their public image.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about restaurant branding.
1. Why is branding so important?
A strong brand is one of the most important aspects of any restaurant business. Whilst the food offering is paramount, branding can offer a creative advantage and distinctive edge in an increasingly competitive restaurant market. But what exactly do we mean by ‘branding’?
The ‘brand’ is a complex, 360 formula that lives in the hearts and minds of your customers - perhaps even before they’ve set foot in your restaurant. Some of the key elements of a modern brand might include:
The rationale or theme behind the food you serve
The type of customer service experience you offer
The multiple touch points of your interior design from the furnishings to the forks
What you stand for as a business and your purpose for existing
The reputation you (or your chef) has created over the years
The way you communicate to your customers, from the font on your menu to the tone of language on social media.
2. But I thought branding was about our logo and signage?
Think ‘branding’ and you may instantly think ‘logos’. The visual aspects of your brand are of course essential and often the first encounter with your restaurant be the external signage or the press images shared online.
If you have a theme or story in mind, the graphics and visual design can help set the tone. These are known in the business as ‘hard’ branding elements and could include (but not limited to):
The logo - the ‘stamp’ of your brand that tells the story in one punchy statement.
The look and feel of the interior design - as well as furnishings, this will include decorative pieces and props, choice of serving ware, and the little touches right down to the choice of hand wash.
Fonts and signage - from the signature on your email to the specials board, external signage to way finding around the space and business cards, the typeface and formatting helps set the tone
Menu – how and where is it presented? A handwritten A-board, or beautifully printed paper booklet? The menu branding encompasses graphic design, copywriting and finish.
Packaging - you may have an in-restaurant deli or takeaway food offering which offers further opportunities to disseminate your brand after the customer has left.
Online assets - your online presence is a digital iteration of your physical restaurant. Your branding will filter through to your website, any partner booking sites and social media posting strategy.
3. Logo - tick, Menu - tick, Packaging - tick - what else?
An attractive logo and stunning table setting means nothing if the restaurant experience doesn’t match up. We’re talking about the ‘soft’ elements of your brand - in some ways the heart of your branding programme. Soft branding elements might include:
The positioning of the restaurant - is this a fast food lunch destination for business people or a relaxing, healthy cafe for mothers? An Instagrammable bar for Millennials or New York-style weekend brunch destination? Is it casual or formal?
The types of images you use in your communication - whether its images of your food on the menu, or tempting teases on Instagram, great imagery can drive desirability and shape the expectations of your future customers.
The language and the tone of your marketing material - this should always be pitched at your target audience whether its email communication to press or employee training documents.
The language you use front of house - how do you greet your guests and what kind of rapport do you want to build? A 5* concierge service or fast and friendly casual encounter?
4. But what makes good branding?
Every element should be shaped for and by your target audience - and be of high quality across every touch point.
Consistency is everything - a good brand creates a memorable experience by layering what you are about, across everything you do.
Whilst the ‘hard’ elements are more difficult to change, the ‘soft’ elements should be responsive to customer feedback and their evolving needs and wants.
Small touches and surprises can help offer a stand out, memorable experience.
5. How do I know my brand is effective or not?
An effective brand will increase the value perception of a restaurant for all stakeholders - be it the diners, the employees or online fans with an intent to visit.
An effective brand makes it easier to acquire new customers and to maintain repeat business because of the consistency and clear message of the entire experience.
From a quantitative standpoint, it's easier than ever to listen to your customer whether it’s reviews on TripAdvisor, booking data and comments and shares on your social feeds. Listen, learn, iterate.
Matt Utber is the Creative Director and restaurant advisor at The Plant, a London-based hospitality branding agency. For the past 12 years Matt has been creating brands for companies all around the world, large and small, from Jamie Oliver and Four Seasons through to start ups and food halls.