Restaurant Branding: How to Develop a Brand for Your Restaurant


Wazzee Supper Club Sign, Denver, CO

What do you think of when you hear McDonald’s, Applebee’s or Pinkberry? Undoubtedly you recognize the names, but most likely your memory also conjures up a particular menu item, television commercial or emotional response. Whether you love or hate these food service establishments, you recognize them and you know them. This is because they have all incorporated branding into their core marketing philosophy.

When executed correctly, a four year-old can recognize your brand without the ability to read. They know who you are and what kind of food and emotional response to expect. However, an older customer (one with money and the ability to read) will recognize a brand with an idea of what food, emotional response, level of service and price point to expect.

When you think of your brand, you may be intimately aware of what it means to you and your customers. On the other hand, it may be something you have put little thought into since naming your restaurant. One common marketing theme that is utilized by the most successful restaurants is the complete use and exploitation of their brand. If you think your restaurant carries a name, but not a “brand,” think again.

Branding is not always positive.

When left without direction, customers will assign a brand to your name, and this could have its share of negative effects. Sometimes there is success without branding, but this is typically a gamble. The proper branding tools will lead to greater success than without consideration of your restaurant’s branding altogether.

Your restaurant carries the capacity to lasso all of these thoughts, and with that, draw in the guest count. So how does it work? And what if you don’t have a million dollars to spend on a large-scale campaign?

Finding Your Brand’s Purpose

Brainstorming a branding image requires drilling down to the core of what your restaurant represents. Start with a pen and paper and write down:

What does your restaurant represent? Think of short phrases that speak to your restaurant’s theme or concept, such as: family friendly, heritage, fine dining or hip and modern.

Why do you serve your chosen cuisine? This is a clever way to say why you opened a restaurant or why you care about running a business. Answers could include thoughts such as: to provide hospitality, because you inherited the business from your family, seafood is delicious and versatile, because it melds your two favorite styles of cooking.

Why is what you create important? Convey the emotion that you feel your restaurant provides. Consider what fuels your creativity, think about reasons such as: we connect families with food, the restaurant is a pillar of the community, we provide the community with the finest dining option, we inspire people with artful food.

What emotional experience do you provide? Contemplate what emotion you want customers to feel when they visit your restaurant. Some example of these emotions could include: warm and inviting, familiar and trustworthy, sophistication and elegance or young and adventurous.

Have you received accolades? Write down any rewards, recognition or positive customer feedback you have received whether in person or online. Also consider what others have already recognized about your business. Is there a common theme with what your fans say about your restaurant? Write that down.

With a broader understanding of what your restaurant is saying to the public, use this to create a slogan or attitude to coincide with your advertising, outdoor signage or menu and take-out design.

Create a Memorable Sign

Next, look at what the front of your establishment is broadcasting. Does it stand out or signal to the public that your restaurant is special? Although it is true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, restaurant owners should not leave potential customers up to a virtuous decision. If your sign looks cheap, the perception of you restaurant could be that it is cheap and the food might not be that great. If your sign looks generic, the same assumption of what you serve is easily made. When looking at the heavy-hitters of restaurant branding, examine what makes their image stand out.

McDonald’s famous “golden arches” are consistent with all of their packaging and storefront décor. They were imagined simply enough from the first letter of the restaurant’s name.

Pinkberry’s use of a fresh pink and green palette is synonymous with the “freshness” of their ingredients and immediately conjures up the idea of a refreshing treat.

How can you use your name or concept in your signage? Go back to your brainstorming ideas and consider the attributes that you assigned to your restaurant’s core purpose. Bring together the concepts of creating a slogan and put that towards an image that matches your restaurant’s personality.

Think about how to attract your core audience.

  • Use large lettering and bright colors to attract busy families.
  • Create elegant and clear letters for fine dining establishments.
  • Play with color to establish the mood of your restaurant.
  • Find a recognizable element of your menu and work with unique graphic design concepts, such as a fish skeleton, a bright strawberry or a palm frond.

Incorporate your logo and slogan on all of your marketing material. This includes your menu, take-out containers, your website and any other promotional material.

Become a recognizable fixture in the local dining community with careful branding design. Remember to keep your messaging succinct and on point with your restaurant’s personality. Use your restaurant’s careful branding to put a positive face on your business and advertise a taste of what customers can expect to enjoy.


About Author

Maggie Henderson

Maggie once gained five pounds in pursuit of the perfect Indian dal recipe. When she isn't cooking, she spends her days as a marketer and her nights and weekends blogging, taking pictures and chasing after her son and dog.

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