How To Create an Effective Restaurant Branding Strategy

Your restaurant branding strategy should be intertwined in every business decision made within your restaurant and move you closer to accomplishing your restaurant goals. Here are 6 ways to measure whether your restaurant branding strategy is helping or hurting your restaurant.

Once you’ve done all the legwork involved in creating and executing your branding strategy, it’s time to ask yourself the question: is it working?

Your first instinct is likely to check your restaurant’s reporting and analytics to assess progress, but that isn’t the only way measure the effectiveness of your restaurant branding strategy.

Here are six ways to gauge whether your restaurant branding strategy is helping – or hurting – your restaurant.

1. What Are Your Guests Saying?

The best way to confirm whether guests are onboard with you and your purpose is to simply ask them — and there are many ways to do this. You can leave comment cards on tables, send email follow-ups after visits asking for feedback, and take a look through your reviews on different review sites.

Are your customers’ reviews consistent with your brand positioning? Do the comments regarding your restaurant’s food and service reflect your focus and your standards? If your restaurant aims to take guests on a culinary tour of the south of France with flavors and aromas inspired by the region, yet the comments you see on social media and review sites say the most Francophone thing about you are the French Fries, you’ve got a branding issue on your hands.

If customers simply don’t “get” your brand and are vocal about it, you won’t be able to put butts in seats. Case in point – A 2017 article by Foodbeast found that a half-star difference on a Yelp review rating can swing restaurant business by a whopping 27%.

2. Does Your Shirt Match Your Pants?

Restaurants that have gone through a significant restaurant rebrand or have moved into a location formerly inhabited by another popular restaurant may find that they have a difficult time shaking the reputation attached to their name or address.

Making your restaurant concept stand out in an increasingly oversaturated market is tricky to do, and even trickier still when you’re up against long-held associations guests have with your brand or location.

Big companies refocus and rebrand all the time – including Chipotle, who recently announced their aim to become a “purpose-driven lifestyle brand” rather than a fast casual Mexican-American concept – and live to tell the tale, but it takes a ton of work.

This is the business version of teaching an old dog new tricks: you need to recondition your customers – and the general public – with how they associate your brand.

If you’ve found your location is causing issues because of the restaurant who lived there last – whether they were well-liked or not – don’t miss out on the opportunity to have a conversation with guests who came looking for the old restaurant or compare you to them. Being the new kid on the block will surely get you a lot of attention, which will give you ample chances to introduce your concept and squash any comparisons to old tenants.

Ask about what they liked and what they didn’t about the previous tenants; these insights will help you win over their fans and become an entrenched part of the community.

The same strategy can be used if you ever find your restaurant in the midst of a PR blunder: reframing the conversations being had about your restaurant is key to overcoming bad press and the potential for a poor reputation.

3. Are Your Promotions Cohesive?

When a new restaurant struggles to get customers in the door, they tend to panic-promote.

This looks like:

  • Half price wine night on Monday
  • Half priced apps on Tuesday
  • Happy hour from 4pm – 6pm and then 10am – 2pm on Tuesday through Thursday
  • Karaoke every other Friday
  • Kids eat free on Sunday

WHEW – that’s a lot to chew on: when you panic-promote, things get messy. 

Since promotions typically constitute a price discount, when you run multiple promotions at once back to back you’re costing your restaurant money. You also may be confusing your customers: by giving your customers one consistent promotion to associate with your name – trivia and half priced apps every Wednesday, for example – you’re giving them a consistent reason to visit.

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If your restaurant’s promotion schedule is chaotic, you have a branding problem on your hands. Restaurants with an effective brand strategy understand that every marketing action must ladder up to their brand and produce results that impact their bottom line.

Here’s an example: you’ve heard rosé is pretty popular, so you discount the one brand of rosé you have on the menu in order to attract new customers and re-engage with your existing supporters. The problem is that you’re a sports bar, and rosé isn’t a very popular option for your customers to begin with. This promotion is doing nothing for your bottom line, it’s not introducing you to the customers you want, it’s costing you money, and it’s out of touch with your brand.

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4. Are Your Discounts Paying Off?

Using discounting very frequently as a way to create value for your guests is a mistake. Besides costing you potential revenue, you’re also setting guests up to have a discounted view of your brand.

What this means is customers will never accept paying full price for certain items, or their meal in general, because they’ve grown accustomed to always having a discount available.

This strategy plagues a number of common brands, mainly in retail – J.Crew, Macy’s, and Old Navy come to mind – and shoppers know to avoid spending money there until they have a discount (which they can count on arriving every few weeks).

Groupon is the prime example of a discounting tactic that could be hurting your restaurant’s brand.

Once Groupon has been permanently introduced as part of your restaurant’s culture, it’s virtually impossible to build back value in the brand; guests looking for a deal simply don’t return when the deal no longer exists. Your restaurant may have a full dining room, but guests will be paying roughly half the price and the will only remember the discount they received and not the brand.

Referred guests will now have the wrong expectation of the business when they don’t receive the same “deal.”

Groupon is a great way to get people in the door when you’re new, or to fill seats on your consistently slow shifts, but don’t lean on it for too long.

5. Does Your Restaurant Have a Clear Goals?

Having a vision for your restaurant is much more than drafting up a business plan. It’s a set of goals and aspirations you have for your restaurant brand, both qualitative and quantitative.

Here are a few examples:

  • I want my restaurant to be the #1 {insert restaurant type} in my area on Yelp or Tripadvisor.
  • I want to be able to ask anyone in my area if they’ve heard of my restaurant, and always be met with a “yes.”
  • I want to serve 10,000 customers in a month.
  • I want to have over 1,000 customers in my loyalty program.
  • I want to make a difference in my community.
  • I want to help my employees establish long term careers in hospitality.

Great brands know who they are and why they’re here (mission), know what they stand for (purpose), and know who they want to become (goals); this is what is known as having a solid brand vision.

Mission + Purpose + Goals = Brand Vision

Educating and empowering your team to embody this vision is an integral part of making your brand vision a reality for your restaurant. Educating your staff about your restaurant’s brand strategy creates ownership and accountability – without it, you have no chance of reaching every guest properly or consistently.

You can never spend enough time educating your team; create a culture of lifelong learning within your restaurant. Everyone can always be better!

But remember: education isn’t a one-way street. Engage with your team by asking for their feedback. It is most certainly a dynamic process where ideas are brought forward and validated through consistent experiences between the team and the guest.

6. How Long Has it Been?

You’ve heard the phrase that to become an expert at anything you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice.

Branding strategies take time to execute properly. You cannot develop consistency without putting in the time necessary. Implementing your brand strategy effectively will take time and patience, but in the long run it will enable to you to avoid the messiness that knee-jerk reactions cause.

When presented with a new business decision that doesn’t have any time constraints, pause and take your time ensuring your solution is inline with your restaurant's brand vision and brand strategy.

A household name is not made overnight – give you and your team time and patience to grow and iterate on your restaurant brand strategy. If you find something about your brand doesn’t resonate with your target customer, adjust so that your brand and their values are synonymous.

Put Your Plan into Action

An effective restaurant branding strategy wins you customers and keeps your restaurant name top of mind with existing guests.

You won’t know until you try, and try, and try. Persistence and patience are key when it comes to implementing a restaurant branding strategy.

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