How to Get Your Employees to Jump on the ‘Brand Wagon’

Every day, ambitious restaurateurs spend time and money building their brands. They buy ads, they send out news releases, create promotions, and they make sure all the graphics and visuals are in sync and tell a consistent story.

If they are successful, they create an identity that is distinct, stands out, and serves as a magnet to win over customers.

That’s all great! But restaurants often forget to leverage their most powerful engine to build their brand: their employees. When employees are charged up, they act as brand ambassadors. It is like adding pure octane to your brand tank!

Employees are the face and voice of a restaurant’s brand — and they play a huge part in delivering the customer experience. To empower this force, restaurants must invest in brand engagement, communications, and employee training from the get-go.

Getting employees on the brand wagon will not only help build the business brand, but studies show employees who are proud of the brand (and their employer) will be loyal and stick around.

Here are a few steps every restaurant should take to get the full benefits employee support:

1. Start with on-brand recruitment.

In most markets, restaurant operators are consistently adding staff to their team. Instead of posting a generic ad, you should include copy that is on-brand and represents your brand’s personality and essence. When you start the interview process, make sure your brand and values are clear to the potential employee. This serves two purposes. One, it can make your restaurant more appealing to the prospective employee and two, it can help weed out people who would not be a good fit with your organization.

2. Make brand education part of onboarding and training.

Once you hire someone, make sure that your brand is a part of your onboarding process or new hire orientation. Beyond food safety, company policies, and customer service, make sure to devote time and energy to explaining what your brand stands for and the ways employees can protect it and contribute to its success. When employees get reviewed for job performance and skills, don’t forget to test their knowledge of your brand, its uniqueness and even the tools that support it. Employees are one of your most important brand representatives. They should know and live the brand.

To make these ideas more concrete, you should have ways to explain how the brand essence is reflected in your restaurant experience and translates into their roles. To show that you’re serious about your brand, consider having all employees sign a brand oath. This can be one-page document describing the brand and lays out what you expect from your team. I might even recommend operators include a brand knowledge test in employee reviews.

3. Include employees in brand planning and give them opportunities to contribute.

Whether you are a new restaurant or an existing one, including your team in creative planning and brand communications is a win-win. Some of your best ideas can come from unexpected sources and this interaction will make employees really feel like they are part of the team.

Yes, this collaboration can be an added step, but in the long run you will have more support on implementing change and trying new things when you’ve asked for input. This can include: new menu item sampling, an idea session to create new promotions, or even how the restaurant wants to be a good citizen and give back to the community.

4. Make employees part of your brand street support.

Create ways for employees to get involved in grassroots marketing. Always reward and recognize them for their efforts. This can include: posting social media items, visiting local hotels and providing copies of your menu, signing up guests to your loyalty program, or even volunteering to be a mystery diner at one of your competitor’s places.

If you invite them to mystery dine, make sure you’ve covered in clear terms what this means. For example: how do you want their experience report submitted? Do you have a form? Does it include taking pictures, talking to guests, asking certain questions, or even sampling the menu?

Every six months or so, run a contest to recognize the employee who is truly carrying the brand torch. Important contributions can include: listening to and sharing customer insight with management, helping a co-worker, or helping the restaurant solve a problem.

5. Keep brand communications a priority.

Brand communication with your employees needs to be a part of the daily culture, not just a once a year activity they do and forget. Brand leaders should send out a quarterly newsletter or brief email memo on milestones to celebrate customer feedback, seasonal promotions, or publicity the brand has earned. This can be a low-cost way to keep employees thinking about the brand and keep them engaged. Posters in the break room can be another way to express the brand.  Running employee contests that incorporate the brand messaging can be effective as well.

6. Show recognition and appreciation.

Everyone likes to be acknowledged for his or her contributions and feel appreciated. Tokens of gratefulness don’t need to be super expensive. Give movie tickets, gift cards, or even VIP parking privileges to employees who contribute ideas or demonstrate stellar brand ambassadorship. Feature a star employee in your newsletter or on a wall of fame in the kitchen. Name a menu item after them for a month.

The key to turning employees into brand ambassadors starts with keeping them engaged, contributing, and informed.  Building a brand from the inside will take effort and some resources, but it will also make all of your other marketing and branding investments much more efficient.

Your employees are an incredibly important part of your brand. When they subscribe to the importance of the brand, you should reward them for that support. Don’t forget to listen to your employees’ ideas on how to improve the brand! These simple actions involving your staff can provide benefits that will pay off 10 times over.