It's no secret that the restaurant industry is a crowded and competitive space. The big question for restaurateurs is: How can you entice guests when there's no end to the options that diners have when looking to eat out, and how can you make sure they’ll keep coming back?
Developing a strong restaurant brand helps. The restaurant industry is growing, but it continues to have “one of the highest business failure rates among the retail and services industries," according to H.G. Parsa, co-author of Why Do Restaurant's Fail? Parts I – IV. When a restaurant is able to establish a recognizable brand, they can count on customer loyalty and word of mouth. After all, 65% of a company’s business is directed to a company by existing customers.
Now, building a restaurant brand isn’t as simple or straightforward as you might think; it encompasses way more than just having a nicely designed logo. Creating a brand that truly resonates with your customers, and keeps them coming back, requires a lot of hard work — but the reward is a sustainable business with a loyal audience.
Brand loyalty is coveted in all industries. For restaurants, attaining brand loyalty is difficult because customers have extremely varied tastes and preferences for different dining experiences. But having a fully thought-out brand allows 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.
Think about the last restaurant you had true brand loyalty with. Why did you keep going back? A great example is Starbucks vs. Dunkin because people feel so passionately about one as opposed to the other. Both chains have a huge presence in the U.S. with recognizable brands, and that didn’t happen overnight. They both have a story, a mission, a visible brand, and a clear market position.
But what even is a restaurant brand? First and foremost, it’s important to differentiate between branding - the way things look, feel and tone of voice - and brand, which includes all of the former but also contains the perception of your business as a whole.
Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.” Your 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 your bar to your social media accounts.
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, ensuring you’re always staying true to your restaurant’s mission, vision, values, and purpose.
Let's dive into how to build your restaurant brand, step by step.
1. Develop a mission statement
Every great restaurant brand first began with a story, a reason for joining the industry. Sweetgreen didn't become Sweetgreen by just 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:
The answers to these simple questions will give you the cornerstones of your brand by defining your beliefs, purpose, and values.
The thing that makes you different from the competition, also known as your unique selling point (USP) is equally important, and will most likely encompass one or more of the answers to the questions above. Having this written down and displayed somewhere prominent is useful as you’ll want to refer back to this throughout the process of developing your brand.
How to develop a brand mission statement:
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.
2. Position your brand in the market
Now that you know your “why” it’s time to move onto your “what” and your "where." This is known as brand positioning, or how a brand is different from competitors, and where it falls in your customers’ minds. Positioning yourself in the market allows you to be able to communicate your value with your prospective customers effectively. The four main points to decide on here are:
A helpful tool when outlining your positioning and defining your brand is using a Lean Canvas or Business Model Canvas. This allows 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.
Another key aspect of brand positioning is determining where your brand fits in the market. You're focusing your menu and concept and how well both will resonate with diners in your area.
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 the 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. Develop 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; it is a vital part of what makes your brand unique, 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. Once you know this, the rest should be no problem; when knowing what type of “person” your brand is and what their personality is like, you should be able to easily figure out how they would speak to the rest of the world.
Your brand's personality can and should help determine the overall look of your brand, what is often referred to as your brand aesthetic. For example, if your brand's personality is bold and exciting then your logo colors should probably be those things as well.
Restaurants also have the opportunity to take their brand personality a step further by incorporating it into their menu. Menu descriptions don't have to bore, if your brand personality is fun and bold, try cracking a few jokes or puns in your menu.
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 that the way your brand looks is the first thing to catch your potential customers' eyes, even before they read what you’ve got to say.
Your brand look or brand aesthetic encompasses much more than just your logo and letterhead; it should be visible in your signage, menus, even the decor on the walls. Create a mood board of logos, colors, designs and other aesthetic elements you like. This combined with the personality guidelines you’ve already put together is a great foundation to bring to a graphic designer or to use as inspiration if you’re doing it yourself.
5. Create a brand book for your business
Just as important as always serving great food or providing quality service is being consistent with your brand. 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 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:
Fonts or typefaces you use on your menu, logo, and designs.
Photos and designs that are acceptable to use in your designs and promotional materials.
Dos and Don’ts to talking to media, an explanation on how to talk about your positioning externally.
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.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but 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.