Hospitality designers create successful restaurants by using all the tools at our disposal, including branding. Except when planning a new facility, renovation and rebranding are a constant in the restaurant world, although restaurant operators typically enter the food and beverage industry with a passion for food and people, rather than a passion for branding and marketing.
Challenges we typically encounter are: a brand that is hard to define and market, menus that are too large, and décor that is undefined. Every restaurant competes for business with chains that have clear menu policies, excellent or brand-conscious décor, and branding that a restaurant operator is challenged to match.
But all challenges can be overcome, every stand-alone full-service restaurant proves on a daily basis that a good brand, well-operated and serviced, can be successful and a joy to own.
How can you rebrand for success? One strategy is to embrace the expanding local movement, a gateway to sustainability and branding which the public is known to accept. People generally feel good about the region where they live and about supporting their local community.
One new restaurant had excellent food, a good location, a dedicated hard-working chef/owner, tasteful minimalist décor by his mother and adequate financial backing from his father, and yet after one year…there was not enough repeat business to be successful. The father, a businessman, engaged a marketing expert, a hospitality-focused financial planner, and my firm for design. Our mandate: "fix it."
We interviewed the chef/owner, studied the brand, menu, and facility, and together we created a new brand and restaurant concept. The original version was called The Black Hat Bistro. The Belgian artist Rene Magritte’s black bowler hat was the classy brand motif. The menu was large and varied, the quality excellent, if a little pricey. The décor was designer tasteful, black, grey, and glass with a bar and a display kitchen. The layout was fine, with a corner entry, two walls of window seats, and a level change within the space. What was missing?
At meetings, we reviewed branding options that the ownership group could work with, and we identified deliverables which the consultant team deemed essential: a clear menu policy with some small plates to attract local high-tech Millennials and a West Coast brand identity and name—dropping the word bistro, diner, or restaurant so that it could be whatever the customer defines it as in their own mind. We wanted a more casual and comfortable feeling with splashes of orange to brighten the black and gray. To this formula, we added an updated décor concept that spoke to comfort as well as good taste, and a fully developed graphic identity which could support the new name and brand, including the bolder color splashes. We generated a marketing policy that embraced social media in two key areas: visitors and immediate high-tech neighbors.
North 48 was born. The location was near the city’s inner harbour, so many of the visitors to the restaurant could associate the map references to the location and name. "Locals" accept the northern reference as a subtle form of regional identity. The chef/owner liked the new brand because he could feature locally sourced food, but presented as "world comfort food," and the map reference allowed for both regional and international influences.
The strength of the local factor in this rebranding was mainly in the name and the décor. However, local seafood, vegetables, wine, and craft beers are all noted and featured. This is because "foodies" like to know about food sourcing—where what they are consuming comes from—and many people today use food as a form of self-expression.1
We added heritage brick columns to enhance the small amount of exposed brick already visible to warm the feeling and enhance the "Old Town" location and ambiance. Heavy timber beams were added to hide the glare from the kitchen and bar lighting. Thick plank, Douglas Fir tabletops from a local steam-driven saw-mill with beach-stone table candles set the mood and make a good story.
Locally made, wood light shades enhance the West Coast vibe and create a warm glow in the evenings. Moveable booth seating with perforated metal privacy screens enhance the customer's comfort, divide the space in a flexible way, and also have an acoustic benefit to counter the sound reflected by two walls of glass. The room is marketed as a meeting/event space and the moveable booths add flexibility.
Although the black bowler hat spoke to good taste, the new North 48 brand and identity gives a more specific message—which is that the more casual, less formal, Pacific North West Coast restaurant is proud of its location and ready to welcome the world. It is now very popular with the high-tech Millennials whose workplaces surround the business, and who now congregate there every day for lunch and after work. This restaurant definitely "Rebranded for Success." Reservations are now recommended, but you can always try for a seat in the lounge and a signature cocktail.
1. page 79, "Greening Your Hospitality Business," Jill Doucette and JC Scott, Self-Counsel Press 2015
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