When running a restaurant, you can have the best food, the lowest prices and the most courteous staff, and still not find people coming through your doors as often as you’d like.
That’s due to one final missing ingredient:
No matter how good a restaurant is, great food and great staff mean nothing if nobody realizes your restaurant truly is a great place to eat.
Taste, price and service can go a long way to building a strong reputation, but the puzzle doesn’t fully come together without a bit of marketing, advertising, or any of the related activities best described as branding.
“It’s important for a restaurant to understand what their brand is. It’s probably one of the most important things for them to do,” says Flanagan Foodservice Marketing Manager Jackie Oakes.
Think about any restaurant you know. What comes to mind? The fast-food chain that operates like clockwork and gets your food to you right away, at a good price? The local diner that pairs large portions with affordable prices and a family-friendly atmosphere? The Italian place that clearly makes every dish from scratch and wants you to enjoy every last bite?
None of those reputations were created by accident. Indeed, they’re all products of concerted efforts –combinations of decorating, menu design, advertising, marketing and other conscious efforts to define what sets those restaurants apart from dozens or hundreds of competitors.
What brings customers in and brings them back again and again is the first thing any restaurateur should consider in order to achieve success, Oakes says.
“What happens with a lot of restaurants is that they’re trying to focus on building a restaurant by looking at the cost of goods, as opposed to servicing the customer. If I’m going to build a brand of a restaurant, I’m absolutely going to be cost-controlling the product I’m buying, but I’m really going to focus on the image my restaurant is creating for the customers who dine at my facility,” she says.
“Why did they come to my restaurant? Did they enjoy their experience? Was the outcome of their experience good enough for them to come back?”
A branding exercise can be as simple as maintaining a brand for a long period of time or as complex as an integrated multimedia advertising campaign, and both methods can be effective. It all depends on the target market -- a local restaurant can’t afford the money or time to run a big advertising campaign, but it also doesn’t have to convince people across the country to give them a try the way a chain does.
Therefore, says Oakes, since independent restaurants only have to worry about building their brand within their community, they can do it by focusing on a few community initiatives, such as sponsoring a minor sports team or hosting a fundraiser for a local cause.
“One of the big things to help a restaurant build a brand is networking in the community,” she says.
“If you’re going to build a brand, you need to have great, friendly service and staff, and you need to work that into your local advertising so you build your brand whether it be sponsoring local soccer teams, doing things like billboard advertising, having good promotions, serving high-quality foods.”
On an even smaller scale, having an owner or manager stationed by the door to chat with customers on their way in and out of the restaurant can help build a brand, as it leaves the customers with a friendly feeling about the restaurant.
Social media helps too, and many restaurants have taken to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to help build their brand -- but social media should be used in conjunction with other methods, as it is difficult to attract those who have yet to try your restaurant through these channels.
Customer comment cards, loyalty programs and e-mail marketing are other easy ways Oakes suggests to help build a brand.
“You need that feedback from your customers to understand that you’re building the proper image or brand for your restaurant,” she says.
“It’s really about customer follow-up and customer retention. In the restaurant business, the worst thing you can do is have a customer try a restaurant once and not come back – because that means you haven’t given them an experience with a reason to come back again.”