Branding your restaurant is about making it unique and memorable. Who are you? Or, who do you want to be? That may seem like a weird question to ask when thinking about a restaurant. But it’s totally valid when you think about the important role of branding.

Before starting to create your restaurant branding, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want to be to your guests?
  • What images and ideas do you want to convey when people look at you?
  • What experiences do you want to create and inspire when people walk through your doors?
  • What will potential customers look for and see in you when they’re looking for a place to enjoy a nice evening out?

These and others are the important questions you should ask yourself as you step foot into the wide and perilous world of a restauranteur.

Here’s a guide to help you get started.

How to define your restaurant concept

The restaurant concept is the overarching theme and driving force behind the brand, decor, voice, and messaging. Your concept should be what makes your establishment unique from the rest–and ultimately dictates market share and longevity. Planning a concept for a restaurant involves outlining solutions to many practical issues instead of just choosing a style of cuisine. Yes, this is an all-important aspect, but there are a few other things to keep in mind as well.

Create a concept plan for your restaurant

The concept plan is the actual written document outlining the look and feel of your restaurant in addition to the aforementioned problem solving. This will be included as part of your business plan. A simple map to follow when one is lost.

Your restaurant’s concept should be:

  1. Scalable
  2. Profitable
  3. Memorable
  4. Consistent
  5. Sustainable

Keep these 5 things in mind along every step of the design process and you’re well on your way to a successful business model.

Restaurant concepts can be cyclical and they can go in and out of style over time. They’re driven largely by consumer tastes and market demand–so it’s important to consider those when deciding which direction to take.

Your restaurant’s concept is more than just the food

When designing a restaurant, you’re able to choose from a variety of cuisines, or add your own twist to a certain style in the culinary sphere. Will your restaurant follow a long-standing family tradition, or put a 3018 spin on a dish while we’re out here living in 2018?

What’s important to remember is most restaurants today don’t just sell food and beverages, they also sell music, atmosphere, culture, and guest experience.

When designing a concept, play on all five senses to elevate your space.

Your restaurant concept impacts everything

It’s important to start with a solid concept plan as this will affect what type of uniforms your staff wears, decor and table settings, logistics such as location, neighbourhood, parking, wheelchair, and foot-traffic access, etc.

Will your restaurant appeal to nearby residents or mainly commuters? Will you focus on being environmentally conscious by offering dishwashable dinnerware or compostable packaging? Will you cater to dietary restrictions or say no substitutions, ever?

If ever you get lost answering the hundreds of questions in the wide world of restaurant management, use your concept plan as a true north star to always stay on track.

How to develop your restaurant’s brand

Once you have a concept nailed down it’s now time to decide on your brand and brand identity. What do you want your restaurant to look and feel like to the public? What are the most important aspects of your business that you’d like to get across?

What is your “why”?

You may immediately feel that you understand who you are and what you want your business to represent, but it’s helpful to take a moment to understand the bigger picture of why you do what you do.

Once you have that understanding, it becomes easier to consistently translate this vision to your customers, which in turn allows them to recognize your restaurant as a key experience they want to be a part of again and again. This is a major step in developing your brand.

Your brand isn’t just the slogan or the promise of service. But, it’s a great way to keep the vision of your business alive. A good way to begin formalizing your brand’s messaging is to complete a vision, value, mission, and culture statements related to your concept.

Once you have your messaging written out, whittle this down to repeatable paragraphs or advertisements to pass onto future staff, the press, and community who will then truly understand your concept.

This is a tough process. While some restaurateurs take to the branding and marketing quickly, others just want to get cooking and deal with the outward facing business stuff later. Trust us, taking the time to get your thoughts in order now is the best way to start on the right foot.

Start with a clear idea of who you are and where you want to go

When something doesn’t quite fit with your brand or vision, instead of agonizing over the decision whether or not to keep it, you can immediately throw it out, without hesitation. A clear brand identity and vision for your business can help you stay true to what brought you to the industry in the first place, while swiftly and simultaneously helping to neutralize competing interests.

When your “why” is your guiding principle, the brand identity makes up the visual and emotional components that converts non-believers to disciples. It will also allow you as an owner-operator to make clear, educated decisions regarding future design attributes, financing, and the hiring of a team that meet your values and messaging–key factors which will assist in controlling future labor costs.

David A. Aaker, the godfather of brand identity, has suggested looking at your restaurant from the following viewpoints, and asking yourself these accompanying questions to begin understanding your restaurant and brand identity from a marketing standpoint.

Your restaurant brand as a product

This is the nuts and bolts – what will you actually be presenting on plates to your guests and what do these dishes say about you?

  • What does “exceptional customer service” really mean to you and how will you ensure this is consistently provided to your guests?
  • How will you source quality ingredients and provide continuous value to your customers? Will there be a trade-off on this spectrum, sacrificing quality to provide better value or some form of the opposite?
  • What exclusive menu items do you have, or do you offer a unique twist on a classic dish?
  • What demographic (who) does your restaurant appeal to?
  • What will be included in your menu? A continuously shifting seasonal menu, or a sit-down eatery offering a variety of cuisines?  
  • What elements of service will you provide? Which are the most important to you that must be present in your restaurant each day, and which elements can be sacrificed?
  • Are you a fast casual establishment or leisurely escape? Dine-in only or will you also offer take-out?

Your restaurant brand as an organization

What will your organization say to the public as a “business”?

  • What values are important to you and which will resonate with customers and staff?
  • How will you ensure these values are communicated daily through your staff and restaurant?
  • How does your vision of staffing dictate the experience your customers will have?
  • Where does your organization fit within the bigger picture-are you committed to only sourcing local ingredients, or focused on bringing eclectic global flavours to your community?
  • Are there any community groups that you or your restaurant could be intrinsically tied to? It’s always great to give back, and shows the community that you’re not just taking up space, but are an integral part of the fabric of the neighbourhood.  

Your restaurant brand as a person

Here’s where it gets a little abstract-stay with us. This may feel a little weird but trust us, it helps.

  • What’s your restaurant’s personality? Are you fun or serious? Making jokes all the time or sharing the joy of cooking through a reverence for your craft? Think of a celebrity chef, musician, or movie star that you admire. What are the other elements associated with their brand that you’d like to see reflected in yours?
  • What’s your relationship with your customers going to be like? Are you an entertainer? A provider? Will you educate your customers about a particular food movement, dietary style or technique, or perhaps hold open classes during off-hours for aspiring chefs?
  • What’s your story? How did you start and where did you come from? What was the defining moment in your past when you decided this was the life you’d like to aspire to? Why? Understanding these key concepts are another important part of building your “True North Star”-the driving force behind all of your organization’s key business decisions.

Your restaurant brand as a symbol of design

How will you translate your written concept and brand messaging into a tangible design for either you or an external designer to work with?

  • Once you have your story written out, take a look at it to see if any notable parts of your history stick out to you. Are there a few elements you can expand upon which truly encapsulate the unique journey you’ve been on?
  • Look at your story and see if elements of your journey stick out to you. Is there anything you can latch on to that encapsulates what you’ve been through?
  • What elements of decor, uniform, signage and merchandise come to mind when you read through and answer the questions above?

How to name your restaurant

Choosing a name and logo are both extremely important, but also fun and relatively easy.

While you probably think a good name and logo won’t make or break your business, it will allow potential customers to immediately identify your concept and brand identity from a distance, well before they set foot into your restaurant or lift a fork for their first bite.

A logo and name are a representation of what your brand is all about, and are often one of the first interactions a customer will have with your business.

Choosing a restaurant name

While the saying, “it’s all in a name,” may be a little bit of an exaggeration, it’s also not entirely off base.

The name of your restaurant is something you’re going to stand behind for years to come. It should reflect who you are, what you want to portray to your future diners, and, most of all, give at least some indication of your business and expected experience.

Sure, names can be all over the place in terms of actual restaurant experience, but think about it; naming your restaurant “Richard’s Eatery” conjures up different mental images than “Rick’s Eatery,” or even “Rick’s Pub.”  

Here’s where to start:

  1. Research the market: Look at similar businesses for inspiration, but also to understand what signifies a “normal” brand name within your industry. More BBQ restaurants, for example, have “BBQ” or “Pit” in the name. To consumers, it may seem odd if your BBQ joint has a name that sounds more like a french bistro. That being said, this is your business so it’s not necessary to follow the crowd! Sometimes, it helps to differentiate.
  2. Consider the implications: Will your staff be proud to wear uniforms with your restaurant’s name printed on them? Will people really use the buttons, stickers, and t-shirts you hope to eventually give out? Would you proudly hand your business card over to the Prime Minister? How about your in-laws?  
  3. Seeing double: Check to make sure no one else has taken your name, at least within a reasonable distance of your chosen location. No one wants to answer the phone and constantly explain, “No, we’re the other Summer Bistro.”

How to create a restaurant logo

A logo can speak volumes when it comes to getting a clear concept and brand messaging across.

Are you classic or contemporary? Trendy or old-fashioned? What kind of music do you like? Will your space be very fancy and dressed to the nines, or more ordinary? Do you have a sense of humour?

Choosing a logo can be a lengthy process, but it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

First, try to decide what type of logo you want to use.

There are three main types of logos

  1. Font-based logos such as Sony, Coca-Cola, FedEx, and Google that use their company’s name right within their logo design.
  2. Illustration-based logos typically include a small cartoon-style image and somewhat illustrate what it is the company does. For example a men’s tie boutique may use a tie icon within their logo design, with real-life examples including most sports team logos.
  3. Abstract logos usually contain obscure graphics or symbols which may or may not have anything to do with the business at all. That doesn’t mean that the logo is so far removed from the brand’s concept that consumers cannot make an association, but instead often has the opposite effect. Consider Nike’s swoosh or Adidas’ three stripes, both of which have very little to do with the act of selling shoes, but have become iconic in the minds of their consumers.

Just think of marketing your name and logo as setting yourself up for a great first impression. Keep in mind who you are and what you want the feel of the restaurant to be, then do your best to accurately set your customers expectations with this first touchpoint.

Next, consider the implications of the logo choice.

Are you going to have uniforms in your restaurant? Eventually want to give out t-shirts or stickers? How will your logo design look when reproduced across various platforms and mediums? Will this design be easy to translate to black and white or will you continually be producing in colour? This is fine but address what this could mean for cost and adjust your marketing budget accordingly.

Third, consider the placement of your design on your menu. Menu design is an art within itself, but try to conceptualize where your logo will be read the most to further cement existing associations customers have in their minds with your brand. As with most things in life, when it comes to logo design, sometimes simpler is better. Simply put, the quicker your audience is able to recognize and associate your logo with your brand the better it will be for your business.

Lastly, it pays to get help from a pro. Sure, accomplished designers can cost thousands of dollars, but their work is often worth it. However, for someone just starting their business, there are great free-to-cheap options to be found with talented individuals on gig-based sites, such as Fiverr, Upwork and Freelancer. If you get frustrated when designing your logo, check out some of the portfolios by designers within your budget-you’ll be surprised at the quality of work you can find.

If this seems overwhelming don’t let it be! Start with a simple design that you’re happy with and build out from there. If you hit a roadblock, there are thousands of free resources and professionals who can help assist in designing your logo. Try them out and see which one speaks to you.

We like Logojoy, not just for their reasonable prices, but also for the inspirational logo generation processes. Here are a few other fantastic options to get you started:

  • VistaPrint
  • Waldendesign
  • Logomaker
  • Brushfiredesign
  • Designcrowd
  • CanadaCreate
  • 99Designs

How to file for copyright and trademark protection for your restaurant

In today’s tumultuous business climate, it’s imperative to copyright and trademark your work to deter others from stealing or recreating it in a detrimental manner.

The good news is there are online legal services such as LegalZoom and LawDepot which can help you file the paperwork necessary to protect yourself from this type of infringement. In addition, systems like this are a great way to ensure you yourself have not unintentionally infringed upon someone else’s intellectual property.

Your restaurant’s brand–from the concept to the logo–is extremely valuable. So it’s important to protect that investment by taking the proper steps here.

Not only does it take a lot of time and effort to develop your brand, but it embodies your entire business.