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Why Branding is Critical for Independent Restaurants

Why Branding is Critical for Independent Restaurants

Some people think restaurant branding is exclusively something for marketing executives at big chains to strategize over. In fact, it's because of the ubiquity of major restaurant chains, their pricing, and marketing clout, that a well thought through approach to branding is so important for independent restaurants and cafes. Consumers may try a restaurant for its low price or reputation but they keep coming back because of the emotional connection they had with it. That’s what great branding can do.

How to Start

According to restaurant industry author Maggie Moulatsiotis, you should first sit down and write down the core of what your restaurant represents to be able to start communicating your brand and connecting with consumers. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What does your restaurant represent? Think of short phrases that speak to your restaurant’s theme or concept, such as: family-friendly, heritage, fine dining or hip and modern.
  2. Why do you serve your chosen cuisine?
  3. Why is what you create important?
  4. What emotional experience do you provide?
  5. Have you received accolades that you can communicate? Think about customer testimonials or community awards

Minimize Messaging Clutter and Distraction

One of the reasons the Mexican chain Chipotle is so successful is that their menu and restaurant are simple and clutter-free. You don’t see Coca Cola signs everywhere or logos on refrigerators. I’m continually amazed at the number of restaurant owners that allow the likes of major soda and beer company brands to compete with theirs. That free outdoor sign or refrigerator the manufacturer offers you might sound good when you’re starting a business. But the value of the exposure you’re giving away and the loss of your brand’s value over its lifetime will exceed the benefit.

Sometimes Less is More

There’s so much competition now for consumers’ eyeballs. Many businesses think this means that the louder they are the more positive attention they’ll get. I see many examples of bars and restaurants throwing third-party logos around to attract clients.

On one major street I was on recently, every bar seemed to have such giant banners with the names of beer and liquor companies advertised on them, that I couldn’t even see the name of the restaurant. These are independent restaurants trying to differentiate themselves in a crowded market by using other company’s logos! In the process, they all looked the same and probably got very little attention.

One look at some of our clients can give you an idea of what I mean. Bitter+Sweet (below photo) is a dessert and coffee shop in the heart of Silicon Valley. The minute you walk into their café, you sense that their product is high quality. You may not specifically notice the simplicity of their iPad cash register, or the European stainless steel appliances and lighting, but you feel like you’re in a special place that’s inviting. Everything behind the counter is visible to the customer and well laid out with no clutter.


The place is spotless but there are no cleaning chemical smells to get in the way of the gourmet coffee smells. All that, in and of itself, is communicating a brand. Now that you’re not distracted with Coke signs and unpleasant smells, you can notice their excellent service, quality desserts, wonderful events they sponsor, etc.

Sweat the Small Details

Many of our most successful clients even strive to use compostable take-out packaging that has no or limited third-party branding on it.

ice cream cup

Some cafes buy product that includes third-party advertising as this generally also has compostable messaging clearly printed on it. You can also go with custom printed compostable packaging and get your own logo printed on a variety of different products.