The restaurant industry is as competitive as ever. Each week, it seems harder and harder to keep your nose ahead of the pack. In addition to being a perpetually crowded marketplace, the hospitality industry is also hugely at the mercy of the consumer zeitgeist. Restaurant and bar trends come and go within the blink of an eye -- keeping up is a task in itself. With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see the importance of creating and maintaining solid brand identity in the mind of the customer. That sort of personable, unique identity is going to simultaneously bring new customers in and keep old customers returning. It will allow you to gracefully accept trends as they come and go, while not appearing desperate or contrived. So today, we’ve assembled a little cheat sheet on how to build a successful, resonant brand.
Spend the Money
It’s probably best to get this one out of the way. Like so many worthwhile things in life, building a brand isn’t free. But, it pays off in absolute dividends. Creating a strong, identifiable brand from the ground up isn’t something you want to bargain-shop on. We know that budgetary restrictions exist, but you’ll absolutely want to invest in your brand to make it really sing.
At the end of the day, people pay premium prices for premium brands. Your bar or restaurant’s brand can justify commanding higher prices by establishing a meaningful personality and persona. This increases overall brand equity, which increases the value (and thus profit) of your restaurant.
We know shelling out your hard-earned cash for quasi-intangibles can seem daunting. But trust us -- the money you pay your graphic designers and brand consultants is going to come right back to you, and then some.
We don’t like to get so proverb-y, but to understand your brand, you’ll need to understand the restaurant yourself. Are you a fast-casual, grab-n-go sort of place? Or are you a sit-down, fine-dining experience-driven establishment? It’s important for us to understand the core values of our bars and restaurants, so that we can better communicate them to the consumer.
Getting to know yourself and your mission is a great place to start a branding or re-branding effort. Understanding these core values will affect every other part of your brand, from menu design and decor, to daily operations and procedures. On top of that, it’ll aid you in learning about your target customer, allowing you to better pinpoint your marketing efforts.
Know Your Crowd
One of the most important aspects of any successful business is understanding how your customers behave. What group makes up your regular business? What do they value in a restaurant or bar? What don’t the value? Why do they eat (or drink) at the places they do?
Although market research is a handy way to develop a snapshot of your customer, we suggest a boots-on-the-ground approach. Look at other establishments in the same market segment as yours. Spend time in their bars. Look around -- get to know what draws people to their chosen ‘watering holes’.
Many POS systems have data-collecting capabilities. Looking at hard numbers and statistics can also give very real, actionable insights into what’s going on under your roof.
Look and Feel
One of the biggest parts of your brand (if not the single biggest) is the way it looks -- the visual identity. Your brand needs to stand out as unique and eye-catching. The visual messaging of your restaurant brand should be apparent across a number of different pieces. The identity of your brand should be communicated through your signage, menus, decor, and even employee uniforms. For properly executing this type of work, don’t skimp out on hiring a good graphic designer.
If you’re looking for inspiration, we suggest building brand books. Include anything you’re drawn to, whether that be logos, colors, designs, or any other sort of aesthetic pieces. This type of compilation can help guide you to find a cohesive, strong visual identity.
Find a Voice
If you’ve determined a visual identity for your restaurant, the next step is to communicate that with your audience. Social media and employee communication are two great ways to create a concrete, unique voice for your bar or restaurant.
In our industry, employees are the single best communicator of our establishment’s vision. At least -- they can be. By educating your employees and managers on the identity of your restaurant’s brand, you can develop within them a deep, intimate understanding of the overal mission. From there, encourage the use of things like branded e-mail signatures, or consistent and cohesive language amongst the team. Employee and guest relations are another great way to build your brand through simple, day-to-day communication.
Social media content is another crucial piece in developing a strong brand identity. Posts on Instagram of Facebook should be carefully considered and should speak in a brand-specific, cohesive voice. If you’re charging $200 per plate, you can probably drop the emojis in favor of a more formal, eloquent tone.
Don’t Forget the Product
We may be doing a disservice putting this one near-last on our list, but make no mistake -- it’s huge. Looking and sounding super cool and on-trend is fine, but without the product to show for it, great branding won’t get you very far. It’s important to keep this in mind. Running a successful business can definitely feel like a plate-spinning act, and that only furthers when you consider branding as part of the equation.
But, consistently delivering high-quality food, drinks, and service is perhaps the most important foundation for a good brand. Without the end product, good branding is a fruitless sort of endeavor. If you end up sacrificing the quality of your product for a cool look-and-feel, you’re doing it wrong.
Keep it Cohesive…
All in all, branding your restaurant or bar is no easy task. It’s another instance, though, where consistency is going to be key. Developing a brand is a long-term, wide-encompassing endeavor that depends on a lot of moving parts. But, when you’re able to nail down each and every aspect, you’ll reap both short-term and long-term rewards. What’s not to love?