10 Essential Points to Building a Restaurant Brand

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Unsplash/Javier Molina
Burger and fries on a wooden plate.
Brand Building versus Branding

I want to differentiate between the two here as I understand there is a need for visual marketing, branding, logo making, etc. What I am writing about in this article goes beyond all of these as you will find that your brand is not only your logo but your silverware, your fabrics, the layout of your facility, your policies, your leadership team and so much more.

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Unsplash/Ting Tian
Oyster dish in a black pan.
Vision or Mission Statement Guiding Principal

What is your company all about? Not necessarily your story or history (which are also important parts to your brand’s identity) but what are you setting out to accomplish? What are some of the things your customers can count on you to do with their money? Developing a Mission Statement not only helps your consumer understand you as a company but it also can be a guide for your employees in difficult to navigate situations.

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Start With Quality Product

As a chef, quality is very important to me. In the food industry it is almost impossible to cover up for bad product (and hopefully you are not trying to). The same is true in any industry; poor quality parts led to many auto makers’ downfalls, if a shoe manufacturer changed to substandard leather it would show. Word of mouth is still one of the best forms of advertising, and people love to brag about getting a great quality product at a fair price whether it’s a nice meal, a new car, or a comfy pair of long-lasting shoes.

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The people you put in charge of your brand will have an immense influence on its success (or lack thereof). Regardless the size of your brand you will need to have a well rounded out team, hopefully one that is synergistic. Each team member’s strength should complement another’s opportunity for growth, insuring ongoing coaching. It is key that you be methodical about your search and the decision of exactly who does what.

One of the keys here is to choose natural leaders with a true zeal to teach, guide, and continue learning themselves. Another key to ongoing team success is having a culture of constant learning; reading leadership books by Stephen Covey, Kenneth Blanchard, etc. and if time and costs permit to conduct leadership seminars. Once again, the size and scope of your organization truly hold no bearing here, the need for great leadership is present in a single unit to a multibillion-dollar operation. 

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Unsplash/Stefan Johnson
A glass of wine and food on a wooden table.
Continuous improvement or 'Kaizen'

Never think you have arrived. You may be in a position with a new restaurant concept or menu roll out, and feel that after months of planning you are ready to open your doors. That is perfectly fine, but no matter how positive the response please don’t mistake a successful launch or “honeymoon” for sustainable success. Even more dangerous than this is “success syndrome” … when you feel you have no room for improvement at all after a sustained period of success. I am a huge supporter of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but you can make something better without “fixing it”. An organization from top to bottom should always be asking how can we get better? How can we be more efficient, more productive? Some of the most important folks to ask these questions are your employees.

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Community Presence

Having a strong community presence is imperative to your brand’s success. Not only does it allow you to get to know your customers better, it also allows them to get to know your brand better. This can be achieved through a myriad of activities; a beach clean-up, a community garden, the possibilities are endless but the point is to get out there, get to know your community, and get involved.

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Unsplash/Lexie Barnhorn
Restaurant guests dine at a table.

This is a tough one, if you are not prepared you miss the boat … if you over prepare you will most likely burn through your funds very quickly. Having the basics in place will allow you to onboard new folks and expand without inundating your current employees with trainees. This includes robust training materials, SOP’s, certified trainers, the whole nine yards. Supply chain is key here too, having a firm grasp on your usage and forecasts is imperative. There is no better way to piss off new customers than running out of something, and no better way to upset your vendors than making irregular or emergency orders. Getting this right will not only help build confidence in your brand it will also make the second, third and fourth location much easier to get going. Real Estate, Human Resources and Regulatory are all equally important aspects as well.

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Unsplash/Jakub Kapusnak
Multiple dishes and bowls of food on a table.

When you have multiple locations in multiple markets it can become increasingly difficult to “get it right” each time, not only with product but service. This is why I preach consistency so often it doesn’t just apply to your food but also your people, your practices and your policies. Folks gain confidence in a brand when they can continuously feel good about spending their money with it. We all have a favorite spot for whatever; dinning, shopping, enjoying the outdoors … nail it each time and you will have raving fans.

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Unsplash/Dan Gold
Macro shot of vegetable lot.

Consumers have become increasingly curious about the products they use, and the companies they support. Some of the most successful brands have adopted (or started out with) a certain level of transparency. In the food industry this could mean being open about the vendors you use, in apparel it might have a lot to do with sourcing and manufacturing practices, etc. Regardless of the sector you are in, you need to conduct yourself in a fully transparent manor from top to bottom. No person or organization is perfect though, we all make mistakes … it is what you do about your mistakes that will set you apart.

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Hands reach over the table at a restaurant.

Give it time….

I hope that these topics can shed some light on this subject for anyone that may be looking into building a personal brand or simply looking to bring some new ideas to the table. Though I have chosen these bullet points to elaborate on the constant message is to always be learning, hopefully from your mistakes … that you should try not to repeat. Cheers and thank you for reading.

Chef Matthew Tobin is a native of California where he lives with his wife Monica. Having started his career in the “Front of the House” in fine dining establishments such as The White House, and Orange Hill as a young Dining Room Captain, Maître Dei, etcetera he left those more lucrative positions to pursue his passion for cooking. Struggling to make ends meet as a single father to his daughter Ashley, he was not able to afford culinary school. In his early career as a dishwasher and prep cook he was asked by Philip Chiang founding Chef of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro “Why pay to learn how to cook, when I will pay you to learn?” this resonated with Matthew and was a source of inspiration for him as he progressed in his career. He has worked for many other companies such as Amy’s Kitchen, True Food Kitchen, King’s Seafood Company, Specialty Restaurant Group, and more in capacities from Corporate Chef to General Manager. Chef Matthew has helped conceptualize, design, and open many different restaurants in California over his multi decade career.

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