On the Line / Marketing / How to Build a Restaurant Brand

How to Build a Restaurant Brand

Learn how to market your restaurant and build a lovable restaurant brand.

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The restaurant industry is a crowded and competitive space. How can you entice your restaurant customers when there's no end to the options diners have when looking to eat out? And then once they have become your guest, how can you make sure they’ll keep coming back? The answer to these questions and more: a strong restaurant brand.

In 2021, digital marketing is everything. In many cases, having a present and easily accessible online brand for your restaurant is the difference between having a profitable night or another day in the red. When your restaurant has a memorable brand you can keep customers coming back time and again on the strength of your marketing alone.

After all, 65% of a company’s business is directed to a company by existing customers.

Now, building a lovable restaurant brand isn’t as simple as many might think— it is a little bit more involved than just creating a nicely designed restaurant logo. Creating a brand that truly resonates with your customers and keeps them coming back requires work and a concentrated effort.  The reward? A sustainable restaurant business with a loyal customer base.

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How do you brand a restaurant?

So, what even is a restaurant brand? First and foremost, it’s important to differentiate between branding— the way things look, feel, and sound— and brand, which includes all of the former but also contains the perception of your business as a whole. 

Ultimately, your restaurant brand is how you want your customers and the community to remember you, from the moment they walk into your business to the second that they search for you online. Brand is reflected everywhere, from the vibe of your restaurant felt by all of your diners to how you conduct your social media accounts.

Ways to Develop a Restaurant Brand

  1. Have a clear vision or concept for your restaurant.

  2. Create a mission or vision statement for your restaurant.

  3. Understand your positioning in the market and your competition.

  4. Develop a brand voice and tone for your restaurant brand.

  5. Use design, branding (logos, merchandise, colors), and aesthetic to create a cohesive visual brand.

  6. Constantly try new ideas and evolve your brand with a brand book.

Your unique brand is one of the most valuable aspects of your business. It’s the compass that guides every decision made in your restaurant, making sure you’re always staying true to your restaurant’s mission, vision, values, and purpose.

Brand loyalty is coveted in all industries. For restaurants, attaining brand loyalty can be even more difficult than average due to all of the varied tastes and preferences held by each customer.  However difficult it may appear to be at first, it’s important to consistently focus on retaining a high level of brand loyalty. With 52% of consumers saying that they recommend to others the restaurants they are the most loyal to, it’s clear that loyal customers are the key to spreading awareness of your restaurant.

Having a fully thought-out brand encourages customers to feel positively about their experience in your restaurant, even if the service wasn’t up to par one night or their meal wasn’t cooked correctly. This is the power of great restaurant marketing.

Think about the last restaurant you had true brand loyalty with. Why did you keep going back? For example, the world of coffee shops is one of the most crowded industries out there. Yet time after time, customers will pass up perfectly good coffee for popular brands like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, all thanks to the strength of their branding. Both chains have a huge presence in the U.S. with branding that is recognizable by color alone— but that didn’t happen overnight. Their branding grew thanks to their unique story, clear mission, visible branding, and a clear market position.

So, how do restaurants with strong branding pull it off? Let's dive into how to build a restaurant brand, step by step to find out.

5 Steps to Building your Restaurant Brand

1. Develop a mission statement for your restaurant.

Your mission statement or value proposition should be the foundation your culture, product, environment, employees, and customers build their relationship with your brand upon. It should be definitive and show your restaurant's unique perspective. A mission statement doesn't have to be paragraphs long, even one to two sentences are enough to get your point across.

Think about your customers when drafting your statement. How does your restaurant serve them, and why are you serving them? Why are you choosing to serve this type of food in this style? What is your promise to your customers, and why should they care? Your goals, and how they’ll affect your customers, are also typically included in mission statements.

Once you have begun drafting your mission statement, the story of your restaurant will begin to reveal itself to you. Every great restaurant brand begins with a story. Sweetgreen didn't become Sweetgreen just by opening their doors and pushing out salads. They took time to develop their story, mission, and core values— which come through in each location. 

Start your brand development journey by putting pen to paper and answering the following: 

  • Who are you?

  • What are you doing?

  • Why are you doing it?

  • What are you hoping to accomplish?

  • How are you going to accomplish it?

The answers to these simple questions will give you the cornerstones of your brand by defining your beliefs, purpose, and values. From answering these questions you will also be able to identify your unique selling point (USP), which is the primary draw for customers to choose your restaurant over the competition. Having your clearly defined USP written down and displayed somewhere prominent is useful as you’ll want to refer back to it throughout the process of developing your brand. 

2. Position your brand in the market.

Now that you know your “why” it’s time to move onto your “what” and "where." This is known as brand positioning (aka how your brand is different from competitors) and will determine  where your restaurant falls in your customers’ minds. By taking the time to accurately position yourself in the market, you can better communicate your value with prospective customers. In order to position your brand, you’ll need to determine the four Ps.

How to Position Your Restaurant Brand

  • Price— developing your restaurant menu pricing strategy is a useful jumping off point for accurately positioning your brand in the market. Additionally, it will allow you to more accurately define who your true competition is.

  • Product— aka the contents of your menu, your menu design, your restaurant theme (if you have one), and which culinary experience you’ll provide.

  • Promotion— how you will be marketing your restaurant in order to attract customers.

  • Place— the physical location of your restaurant. 

A helpful tool when outlining your positioning and defining your brand is using a Lean Canvas or Business Model Canvas. These tools or frameworks  allow you to easily jot down your thoughts step-by-step using a simple process. The end result is a great overview of your brand and business.

You can help determine your brand's market fit by focusing on your restaurant's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and competition. Look beyond your team for insights: ask people around the neighborhood what they think about your concept strengths and who they think your restaurant competition is in the area. Your potential customers are a great way to determine if your brand will succeed because they're the ones who will be coming to your restaurant over other spots.

3. Find your brand voice.

Next up, it’s time to start thinking about the “how." This is where your brand voice comes into play. Your brand voice refers to how you will communicate with the public. Therefore, it’s a vital part of what makes your brand unique by showcasing your brand’s personality, how you speak, act, and interact with prospective, new, and existing customers. 

To develop your brand voice, start by describing your brand as if it is a person with three words (ie. Bold, Fun, Authentic) and then elaborate on each until you have a good understanding of the personality of the brand. For example, what makes your restaurant “bold”? Is it the flavor of your food? The decor of the dining room? Or even the energy of the people you hope to attract?

Once you know this, the rest should be no problem. When you know what type of “person” your brand is and what their personality is like, you can then  easily figure out how they would speak to the rest of the world.

4. Develop the look and feel of your brand.

Undeniably, a huge part of what makes your brand is the way it looks. You want a brand that reflects all the things we’ve already covered in this article as well as being something which stands out and is memorable. Remember, your restaurant design is the first thing to catch your potential customers' eyes, even before they read what you’ve got to say.

Your brand look and brand aesthetic encompass much more than just your logo and letterhead— it should be visible in your signage, menus, even the decor on the walls. Start by creating a mood board of logos, colors, restaurant designs, and other aesthetic elements you like. Then, combine your mood board with the personality guidelines you’ve already put together. This will serve as a great foundation to bring to a graphic designer or to use as inspiration if you’ll be designing the look of your restaurant brand yourself.

5. Create a brand book for your business.

Remaining consistent with your restaurant branding is just as important as always serving great food and providing quality dining service. With every interaction your customers have with your business, you want to strengthen and emphasize your brand as you’re building a relationship with them.

Whether it be online (on social media, your restaurant website, in your tech stack, or paid advertising) or offline (such as menus, tabletop design, or uniforms) the way your brand looks, talks, and acts must be consistent. As you can’t control how or where your customers or potential customers first come in contact with your brand you’ll want to ensure that no matter what, you offer an invariable experience.

One of the best ways to maintain brand consistency, also known as “staying on brand”, is by creating a brand book. A brand book, which could also be referred to as your brand guidelines or style guide, is a set of rules that explain your specific brand elements like voice, tone, colors, and position. The purpose of a brand book is to align your entire team on the branding of your restaurant. 

Some things to include in your brand book are:

  • The fonts and typefaces that you use on your menu, for your logo, and in all of your designs.

  • The photos and designs that are acceptable to use in your designs and in all promotional materials for your restaurant.

  • The Dos and Don'ts for talking to the media, alongside an explanation on how to talk about your positioning externally.

Restaurant branding is made to evolve.

It's important to remember that your brand should evolve and change with time. Branding isn't a one and done deal, it's something that should shift along with your customer base. Think of branding as a relationship you need to foster both with your business and your customers. Then, as the relationship your customers have with your brand evolves, you can evolve your branding along with it. 

This might sound like a no-brainer, but just remember that none of the above really matters unless you actually back it up with great products and service. Your brand is only as strong as its weakest component and impacts your ability to build a relationship with your customers.

Your brand as a whole — your purpose, positioning, voice, look, and consistency along with good quality food and outstanding service — is what makes up a memorable experience and a great restaurant that attracts customers and keeps them coming back. To get started building a brand that excites, download our free Restaurant Marketing Guide today.

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