Branding Restaurant Marketing

Why Your Restaurant Needs A Branding Guide (And How to Create One)

Restaurant branding guide

As a restaurant owner, you’ve likely heard this statement before:

“The best marketing is within the four walls.”

In reality, that’s a lie restaurateurs tell themselves when they don’t understand marketing or branding. A bromide to believe that marketing and branding are “for other people.”

Smart restaurateurs know that their brands are their biggest asset. Even though they once thought they were in the restaurant business, eventually – once they started paying attention – they found out they were in the branding business.

When I hear someone brag that they don’t spend time and effort on branding, I think to myself “not yet you don’t.” Spending time and money to define your brand is imperative to carve out a unique place in your segment.

Without it your restaurants will be ill-defined and will quickly lose ground.

The Importance of Branding Your Restaurant

Each dining decision is very much a reflection of whether or not a restaurant is a place “for me”.

It’s why “I would never go there” is something you hear people say all the time about an unfamiliar restaurant.

As industry professionals we have a hard time understanding that. We’ll go everywhere, from the finest, chef-driven restaurant to the weirdest dive, in search of current ideas and stimulation.

But restaurants are not the center of the universe for most people. They don’t do that. They rely on information.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of restaurants out there that are ill-defined. Their potential guests have no idea what’s going on within the four walls, or whether it’s a place “for me.”

Branding is a permanent code of what your organization is and what it’s not. It’s a filter for every decision you and your people make about your restaurant. It defines the niche that you occupy within your segment.

I recently spoke in front of the board of directors of the largest state restaurant education foundation in the country. I knew there were marketing people in the audience from Coca-Cola, one of the all-time greatest brands and the fourth most valuable brand in the world according to Interbrand.

So, I asked them, “How do you define Coca-Cola’s brand?”

“Happiness,” “inspiration,” and “family” is what came back. That says a lot. In words you may never have chosen. What’s the equivalent for your restaurant?

How to Create a Branding Guide for Your Restaurant

Despite its importance, very few restaurant operators have a branding guide.

I’m not talking about a style guide that shows the colors of your logo or how it’s utilized. I’m talking about a guide to the essence of your brand.

Any restaurant, from hamburgers and pizza to the finest of fine dining, should have a well-defined brand. Here’s how to create one:

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Tips to pick the perfect restaurant brand & name

Define What Your Restaurant Is

The best branding guides clearly explain what your restaurant is in as few words as possible. They are reductions in the same way a great sauce is a reduction.

It’s important to know what you are, so you can repeat that and adapt every new decision to conform to your brand. It takes time to do this, but it’s worth it. And the outcome will clearly explain how to proceed when any conceptual question arises.

To help you get started, here are some brand characteristics of some of the different brands I work with.

  • Irreverent
  • Big Flavors
  • Family-Oriented
  • Local Ingredients
  • Old Fashioned
  • A Vacation In The Middle Of The Day
  • Legendary
  • Leading The market
  • Connected To The Community
  • The Home Team
  • Body and Soul

Now, Define What It Isn’t

So, why also list what you are not? Because it reminds you of something critical to your success:

You cannot please everybody.

And even if you could, you wouldn’t want to. Success in restaurants comes from finding a niche within a segment.

When a restaurateur says to me, “my guest is everyone one from 8 to 78” I immediately sit them down and show them that most of their guests are from a very narrow demographic. That’s who they ought to focus on. The rest are insignificant.

Here are some unattributed definitions of what some of the brands I work with do not stand for:

  • Not Family-Oriented
  • Not Serious
  • Not Fancy
  • Not For The Purist
  • Not Peaceful And Quiet
  • Not On Trend
  • Not For Foodies
  • Not A Steakhouse
  • Not For The Unadventurous

Restaurants can use Facebook Live to show off their event-hosting services

A Few Final Thoughts

Once you create your branding guide, you’re unlikely to change it any time soon. So, take your time.

Use it in creative decisions regarding menu items and décor, how you present yourself in your marketing, and even what locations you choose.

Refer to your branding guide when considering who to interview, during hiring and on-boarding, and when educating your employees about representing you.

You are now ready to say goodbye to a few guests in order to excite many guests – people who will come back more often and will tell the world about how great your restaurant is. Because it is “for me”.

You are ready to maximize your revenue, opportunity, and net worth. You are ready to accept that you are in the branding business, not the restaurant business.

Matthew Mabel headshotAbout the Author:
Matthew Mabel is the founder and president of Surrender, Inc, a hospitality and management advisory firm based in Dallas. He helps successful restaurateurs maximize profit, revenue, unit growth, harmony, and freedom.


About the author

Matthew Mabel