Your restaurant’s “brand” is everything surrounding your restaurant—from the experience your guests have while dining there, to your perceived ambience and your online presence.

If all of these facets don’t match, you run the risk of a “brand implosion.” That’s what branding expert Liz Goodgold calls it when a customer’s online experience is different from the in-store experience.

Your online presence is often your customer’s first impression of your restaurant, and that impression has to be consistent with your brick and mortar personality. “Great brands build loyalty by managing expectations,” says Goodgold. “The customer wants to know what to expect on every visit.”

Mia’s Pizza and Eats is a family restaurant in Cumming, Georgia, that works hard to maintain brand consistency on its website, blog, and social media pages. “Any content I post on Facebook, Twitter or my blog has to do with family,” co-owner Clori Rose says.

The restaurant is even named after the owner’s daughter. The key to online success, according to Rose, is knowing your customer base. “Branding should ultimately be the pursuit of the relationship with the customer. Facebook makes building this relationship especially easy because I can ask questions [of customers] and do a little market research,” she says.

The Farm House Café in San Diego, a rustic country French bistro, takes its farm brand literally. The home page of its website looks like a barn door, its logo includes a duck, and the Twitter entries that run on the restaurant’s website are called “Twitter Quacks.”

For restaurants with a decidedly fun ambience like Mia’s and the Farm House Café, an equally fun online personality makes sense. But how can fine dining establishments maintain a dignified brand online?

Cathy Lalley, director of marketing of Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar with locations in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, says: “I think it’s hard to be ‘fine dining’ on Facebook, but Facebook allows higher end restaurants a chance to reach a younger crowd that may assume we’re stuffy.”

While Lalley wants Seastar’s brand to be approachable, she is careful to keep online language elegant and not too casual.

Goodgold emphasizes that both design and a consistent proprietary vocabulary help upscale restaurants to present the appropriate ambience online.

“A high-end restaurant wants to educate their customers as to why the food is going to be so expensive,” she says. “They can talk about their grass-fed beef, their exceptional wine list, and their organic ingredients. Taking time to educate the customer actually supports that price point.”

Fine dining restaurants are expected to pay attention to detail at the table, so they need to extend that detail to their online presence. A poorly written blog or website can degrade a brand in the customer’s mind just like a dirty bathroom.

The Internet deprives customers of the senses of smell, taste, and touch, so everything counts. If the online experience creates an expectation that clashes with reality, you have created a disconnect.

And as Goodgold put it: “Disconnects are a way of hanging up on your customers.”

By Melanie Votaw

Industry News, Marketing & Promotions, Technology