In the first part of this article, we covered the benefits and costs of designing a restaurant brand around signature menu items, atmosphere and people. Here are a few key takeaways to refresh your memory:
The following items continue where the list left off. Location, service and style are all integral elements of a restaurant’s brand and overall well-being, and weighing them according to your target market and business model will put you on the right track to increased traffic, sales and profit.
Relying on prime real estate is a great way to generate foot traffic, but be sure to align your restaurant with the local demographic. Proximity to the theater, park, bar, and the like, as well as falling along a ‘restaurant row’ exposes restaurants to a broader user base and reduces the need for marketing to new customers. These locations come at a price, however, and your restaurant’s business model must align with the location’s natural crowd in order to afford the lease.
Observe the people who frequent the area. Note their age range, the way they dress, and how your restaurant can best cater to that demographic. Better yet, is there a demographic you see enjoying the area, but not dining there? A row of trendy eateries may not appeal to a large older population who frequents the street, so you could fill that niche. If by a theater, prepare for crowds who want a quick bit before the show as well as those who want to linger after it ends.
Location, like atmosphere, is more of a first-time marketing tool rather than a way to build loyalty. Aligning your restaurant with the surrounding features and crowd will help make it into an integral part of the location itself.
Some restaurants can offer a truly distinguished service experience, but approach this one with caution. Every customer wants, and expects, great service no matter where they dine. Service can only stand out above other categories if it is exceptionally personal [Alize, Palms], exceptionally quick [Jimmy John’s] or exceptionally entertaining [Dick’s Last Resort]. Distinguished service often comes at a high labor cost, requiring more staff present to deliver personalized or quick service.
While service is not typically the backbone of a restaurant, your staff directly represents your restaurant brand. Their physical appearance, interactions with guests, menu knowledge and a numerous other components can easily tie into other brand components. Leverage your service staff to promote your brand to the customer.
Style, while a bit ambiguous, provides the most flexibility and highest potential for a restaurant brand to grow and evolve. Whether you pride yourself in top-quality ingredients, larger-than-life portions, creative fusions, or another standout feature, customers will think of your restaurant for its overall approach rather than a particular menu item, staff member or design.
Be wary of creating your restaurant’s style around a particular food trend. These trends come and go in the same way as menu items and designs, albeit with a longer shelf life and more flexibility to adapt to new trends. If you’re looking to develop a farm-to-table concept, for example, it would be best to center the restaurant around wholesome and natural qualities, which are essentially evergreen in their appeal, rather than slapping ‘farm-to-table’ on every piece of marketing material. When the farm-to-table craze dies down and can no longer demand a premium price point, your restaurant will thrive with the exact same product.
As is the case with most things in life, keep your style in moderation. Rolling out with pizza, burgers, tacos and chow mien under the theme of quality ingredients will alienate customers by not specializing enough. But defining your restaurant by its style, when done correctly, will allow you to change menus, chefs, locations and the like while retaining the core of your identity.
Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list of restaurant branding opportunities, but should provide a valuable baseline for helping new restaurant owners choose their direction. No branding element is particularly better than another, and can be used in conjunction with each other to develop an integrated experience. It comes down to the owner’s gut to choose one brand element, then experiment with additional supplements to maximize your restaurant’s value.
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Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.