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An all-inclusive guide to restaurant branding

The food-service industry is both competitive and crowded; new establishments enter the market every day. In this environment, strong restaurant branding is a must. Done well, it can help your business stand out from the crowd and build customer loyalty.

What is restaurant branding?

Restaurant branding is the process of creating a recognizable identity for your restaurant. A great brand is both visual and experiential; it encompasses the different ways customers interact with the company. This includes visual components, such as your logo design, menu layout and signature colors, as well as big-picture elements, such as the brand voice and core values.

Branding helps you carve out a place for your restaurant in a challenging industry. It communicates how your establishment is different from competitors so customers can make an informed choice.

Think about the most popular restaurants you know — chances are, they have strong brand identities. That’s because successful restaurant branding comes with a few key benefits:

  • Easier customer acquisition. A strong identity builds brand awareness and recognition, ensuring potential customers know about your restaurant and understand your unique selling proposition (USP). This familiarity increases the chances that diners will choose your establishment for their next meal.
  • Higher customer retention rates. After a customer dines at your restaurant, your branding reminds them of the experience and encourages them to come back for more. Because it’s cheaper to retain existing customers than to find new ones, this perk can boost your bottom line.
  • Better brand loyalty. When your brand messaging resonates deeply with customers who share the same values or preferences, it can build long-lasting brand loyalty. Loyal customers are more likely to try new foods, attend events and spend more money at your business.
  • Consistent customer experience. When your branding is clear across all touchpoints, guests know they can rely on you to deliver a consistent experience. This can give your restaurant a competitive advantage when customers are in the mood for something specific.
  • Increased order volume and revenue. If a customer loves your brand, they’re more likely to share it with friends and family. In many cases, a personal referral is all it takes to convince a new customer to try your restaurant.
  • Easier hiring. A recognizable brand helps attract job seekers who fit your restaurant’s personality and values — a big advantage when it comes to hiring and retaining employees.

How to build a brand in the restaurant industry

Next to creating the menu, building a strong brand identity is one of the most impactful things you can do as a restaurant owner. Take your time with each step — an intentional, thoughtful process helps you get it right on the first try.

1. Research your target audience

Restaurants get nearly all their business from dine-in customers and delivery orders. To succeed, your brand must meet the needs of the local market.

To start, determine how many of your customers are:

  • Local residents
  • Just passing through
  • Tourists in the city or region

Then, break down each group into different demographics. How old are they? Why are they dining out? What are their dietary preferences? What are their priorities? What food do they like?

The more you know about your target audience, the easier it is to identify what they look for in a restaurant brand. Local health-conscious diners might want fresh ingredients, while college students are likely to prioritize price. People who are just passing through probably want a convenient location and fast service.

2. Define your restaurant brand

This is the most important step in the restaurant branding process: defining your brand. Your goal is to distill your business ideas to a clear, concise concept. Start by identifying key elements:

  • Mission. This statement describes what your restaurant does. For example, the sweetgreen mission is “building healthier communities by connecting people to real food.”
  • Vision. A vision statement explains what you want your restaurant to achieve in the future. It gives your brand something to strive for.
  • Brand values. These are the core beliefs that inform all your business decisions. For example, Chipotle’s brand values include “making food fresh every day,” “fighting for our planet” and “treating our people right.”
  • Unique selling proposition. Your USP is the element that distinguishes you from competing restaurants in your area. It should be something that benefits customers, such as a unique atmosphere, a new cuisine or fast service. Think about what sets your restaurant apart.
  • Brand positioning. This concept refers to how you position your brand to affect customer perception; it’s directly connected to your USP. You might position yourself as the go-to spot for healthy lunchtime takeout or the most romantic date-night restaurant in town. Think of how your restaurant will serve customers.
  • Concept. A restaurant concept defines the overall theme, atmosphere and service type. This will help you when you start physically planning your restaurant.
  • Signature dishes or ingredients. Identify the foods that will be the stars of your menu. This might include the chef’s specialty dishes, a unique local ingredient or seasonal ingredients.
  • Aesthetic. Describe how you want the restaurant branding to look. It might be clean and modern, bold and colorful, or cozy and earthy. 

It’s not uncommon to discover areas of overlap between different restaurant branding ideas. If you’re opening the only counter-service spot in town, for example, your restaurant concept might also be its USP.

3. Develop your brand identity

Now that you have a clear understanding of your restaurant brand, it’s time to create a brand identity — the elements that help customers recognize your company.

First, develop a strong foundation:

  • Brand name. This is the name of your restaurant. It often conveys something specific about your location, personality, style or cuisine.
  • Brand personality. List the characteristics of your restaurant to explain the vibe and diner experience. You might use words such as fun, sophisticated, youthful, innovative or healthy.
  • Brand voice. Your brand voice is the way you use words to express the restaurant’s personality in marketing materials, menu descriptions and customer communications. Consider your tone, vocabulary choices and style. A trendy bistro might use slang terms, and if you run a cozy local coffee shop, you could write as though you’re speaking to a friend.
  • Brand story. Write a short narrative that explains your restaurant’s origins, mission, vision and values. Keep this handy so you can add an “about us” section to your restaurant’s website further down the line.

Finally, it’s time to create the most recognizable part of a brand: the visual elements. These are the things that create the look and feel of your brand. At a minimum, you should:

As you develop these visual brand elements, ensure each one reflects the intangible elements of your restaurant — namely, its personality and style. If you’re building a fun, family-friendly restaurant, you could use playful fonts, bold colors and saturated food photos on the menu. A fine-dining establishment might opt for script fonts, a sparse menu design and black-and-white photos.

For a restaurant, interior design is an extension of the brand’s visual identity. It should match the overall aesthetic of your logo, fonts and colors to create a cohesive brand image and a consistent experience.

4. Create a restaurant branding strategy

The last step in restaurant branding is getting your new brand in front of your target audience. Use a variety of marketing tactics to build name recognition and awareness.

  • Social media. Build profiles on popular social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. This is one of the best ways to directly connect with customers and introduce them to your brand. Use your visual identity elements wherever possible to help customers recognize your brand. Individual posts are a great place to showcase and refine your brand voice. 
  • Email marketing. Collect email addresses from your guests and/or buy access to local mailing lists. Send marketing emails to promote specials, new menu items and events.
  • Influencer marketing. Pay local micro food influencers to promote your restaurant to their blog readers and social media followers. Social media influencers can have a direct impact on growing your brand’s reach. 
  • Online ordering. Build visibility among local diners by putting your restaurant on an online ordering platform such as Grubhub. This will give your restaurant instant access to a large cohort of customers.

Branding best practices

Restaurant branding is different for every company; your brand strategy should be tailored to your business, food and guests. To build a successful restaurant brand, use these best practices:

  • Create brand guidelines to maintain consistency for visual elements and food photos.
  • Make sure your messaging is clear and consistent from channel to channel.
  • Build brand integrity with friendly, helpful customer service.
  • Respond to customer comments and reviews using your brand voice.
  • Share your brand story on social media accounts.
  • Post regularly on your blog and social media to boost brand awareness.
  • Hone in on your company’s unique qualities to develop a one-of-a-kind brand.
  • Add branding elements to your to-go and delivery packaging.

By following these tips you can design a restaurant brand that will strongly resonate with customers and grow your ROI.

Grow your brand with a trusted partner

The more exposure customers have to your restaurant branding elements, the more familiar they become. Your delivery partner can be a valuable asset — a reputable platform such as Grubhub gets your restaurant and menu in front of customers who are actively looking for new places to eat. Sign up today to start increasing order volume and building brand awareness.

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