Whether you’re a 5-star rock star chef, an owner of a small, outdoor cafe, or a partner in a group of trendy sports bars, your brand matters.
We’re not talking about your new logo or your latest promotional campaign, either. Those are important elements, but your brand is the sum of all that you do. It’s what your customers, employees, the media, and even your personal relationships think, feel, and expect from you or your establishment.
Your brand is the cumulative result of the perceptions and realities that manifest over time. Your brand is about creating a reputation and image — from what people see, to what they hear, to what they experience day in and day out.
As entrepreneurs, restaurant operators, and food and beverage leaders, we don’t control the final impression of our brands. That’s the role of the audience we serve and connect with. We do, however, drive a large share of those opinions and views by the decisions we make concerning our brand planning and execution.
When world-class athletes compete, they play hard and strive to be on top of their game at every match. When food and beverage professionals and the establishments they lead compete, they need to work smart and stay on-brand.
Here are three common blunders restaurant operators make that hurt their brand and their business’ bottom line. Are you guilty of any of the following?
1. Skipping the brand plan and just start buying stuff.
Not having a brand plan is a plan to fail. Your plan does not need to be a 50-page document, but at a minimum, it should concisely define your brand essence.
This means being able to answer the following:
- What is your purpose? To make money, have fun, create jobs, help the local community?
- What values drive your brand?
- How is your brand different?
- What is your brand personality and what is your promise to your customers and employees?
Once all of this is ironed out, your brand plan should next address this question: How will you make your story stick in customers’ heads?
Too many operators decide on their brand name and then start buying stuff. This is no better than flushing cash down the toilet. Instead, get the brand plan down and make investments like furniture, signage, and even uniforms that align with what your brand stands for.
2. Falling in love with something for the wrong reasons.
Yes, it’s exciting to be a part of designing a brand experience, coming up with a name, developing the concept, etc. Creativity is a very emotional endeavor and for an entrepreneur, it can be a channel to let your passions flow. That’s all good. But don’t get married to ideas that don’t move the dial forward on your path to success. Be open to letting them go. Inject some logic into your choices and bounce things off your target audience, not your family members and best friends. They often won’t tell you the truth and they’re not likely experts. This includes selecting a name that you’re crazy about but that no one can spell, let alone pronounce. Or worse, you choose a charming location with no parking, sitting in a flood zone. I’m not suggesting you let go of your ingenuity, but do always keep the customer experience in mind — it’s a critical part of your brand.
3. Throwing consistency out the window.
Consistency sets expectations for customers. Consistency molds your brand and reputation. Brand owners who set a high standard and diligently practice consistency in their brand delivery, from their food to service to communications, and add fuel to their brand tank make all other marketing efforts more effective.
Improve your consistency by implementing these benchmarks:
- Use checklist training for your staff with clear guidance on service policies.
- Use photos of food presentation standards for kitchen and service staff.
- Create promotional materials that strictly follow a brand’s visual look and feel. This means sticking to a simple color palette, limiting your typefaces to two or three, and making sure they send the right message. The integrity of your logo must also be protected with consistent use of the right size. Select art and images carefully to create a memorable pattern.
- stablish a common content voice and personality in both internal and external communications.
Whether you are a small or large operator, being on-brand everyday is a doable task and can produce more happy customers and fatter bottom lines. It just requires making decisions on what you stand for and having the discipline to execute your brand story.