In my experience as a Restaurant Brand designer, when someone is opening a new restaurant, the first thing they focus on. is the food. Maybe the restaurant is inspired by a family recipe, or an opportunity has been identified in the market, but in my (slightly biased) opinion, the brand is equally, if not more important, to consider building first.
The First Impression isn’t Food.
The first few seconds a potential customer spends on your website or Instagram page, and the first 30 minutes they are exposed to your restaurant, the experience isn’t actually about food at all. Their initial experience is about the overt and subtle cues of what the brand stands for, and the experience they’re about to have. It’s a time when they form an opinion and set an expectation, all prior to ordering a drink or a dish.
What’s in a Brand?
Brand is everything that relates to creating your guest experience. Brand is the look and feel of a space, the website experience, menu design, the way a server greets you, what the staff are wearing, , the coaster a drink is served on, the name of the drink itself, the funny sign in the bathroom, the music that’s playing, and the list goes on! What’s important to note, is that all of these elements link together to define your brand and establish what a guest thinks and feels about your restaurant.
When creating a new brand, you need to consider the entire guest experience to ensure you’re creating a cohesive end result. We start by asking a few simple questions:
Step 1: Establish what you’ll stand for, and to whom.
- How are we trying to make the guest feel?
- How are we different from others in the market?
- What will we be known for?
- Who is our guest?
Step 2: Consider how these elements will support the overall brand concept.
Name and Experience
- What’s the name of the Restaurant and what does it represent. Is the name playful, elegant, or maybe mysterious?
- Then consider how that feeling carries over to the Logo, Brand Voice, Icons, and Supporting Brand Graphics, Patterns, illustrations, textures, etc.
- Exterior signage: Restaurant Name, Hours, and Key Messaging.
- Interior signage: Washroom, Wait Signage, Wayfinding, Graphics
NOTE: The exterior is a beacon for your brand, so keep that in mind! Whereas, the interior can be more subtle because it’s the interaction that happens with someone who’s already committed to interacting with the brand.
More overt branding on more pieces often reads as a lower cost or franchise style restaurant.
- Tent Cards
- Takeout containers
- Review the brand items you need for your day-to-day business operations such as business cards, your website, gift certificates, and uniforms.
- What Experiential Touchpoints will you have? Giveaways, Server Behaviours, Guest Journey
Step 3: Hire The Fifteen Group!
All kidding aside, as the experts in Restaurant Branding & Operations, we focus on how the space and concept should make a guest feel, and ensure all of the elements are working together to support the overall brand vision and create a consistent guest experience. We mindfully set up cues for the guest to know what they’re in for so they enjoy their time and can adjust their expectations for the experience accordingly.
Take a menu for example—if you are a fast-casual affordable concept, giving guests a heavy leather-bound menu with a beautiful watercolour-esque paper inside, and teeny-tiny (though beautiful) type—you’re not signaling to the guest that they are about to receive a table number, or need to keep an ear out for their name being hollered across the restaurant to collect their order. That type of elevated menu experience traditionally aligns with a refined dining experience, such as a steak house. Any moment where the experience disconnects from the brand materials and the story you are trying to tell, can result in guest confusion which can ultimately lead to a less than stellar experience.
We’re not suggesting you have to follow the crowd and create a cookie-cutter experience, but it is critical to the overall success of your brand that you are aware of guest perceptions, and how your restaurant category typically leads the guest experience in all brand touch points. Or, said another way—know the rules before you break them.
To continue using the menu as an example, the words you choose to describe your items also have a significant impact on how a guest experiences the food. When branding your menu, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s the name of the dish?
- Is it descriptive, elegant, or funny?
- Are you listing primary ingredients?
- Are there adjectives that indicate freshness or quality?
- Is there an ingredient origin story?
- How is the dish eventually served?
- Is it beautifully plated in smaller portions, or a heaped pile of food almost overflowing the plate?
Throughout every step of creating a new restaurant, if you start with Brand, and take these elements into consideration, you’re well on your way to creating an experience that helps complement your original vision, while creating something memorable for your guests.
Here are some of our clients that get gold stars for achieving a consistent brand experience:
West Village Café — Relaxed, stylish interior, casual menu, healthy lifestyle brand
Proof Kitchen/Lounge – Elevated casual interior, Intelligent brand with subtle cues throughout the space – etched beer glasses, equations.
Smoke’s Poutinerie – FUN, irreverent brand, playful brand voice, over the top look & feel, and brand offering
Olivia Harrison, Branding Director at The Fifteen Group