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In an increasingly competitive marketplace, how can restaurateurs leverage the power of the brand, asks Sarah Lelic, Editor, mad.co.uk?
Branding can be a difficult concept for restaurateurs and often something of a double-edged sword. On one hand we live in an ever more homogenised world, leading many diners craving a restaurant that offers style and individuality compared with the numerous chains, be they high end or fast food, that dominate our high streets and city centres. However, a strong brand can also be a massive plus point for restaurants hoping to stand out and compete effectively in today's cut-throat market.
So what can be done to ensure that restaurateurs can capitalise on one of their greatest assets?
The key to capitalising on your brand is to first of all understand it. Whether you work as part of a franchise or are hoping to build a successful reputation as a stand-alone venue, the key thing is to be clear about what your brand stands for. This could be anything from high standards of service, to organic food, to a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Once four or five key brand beliefs have been isolated these then need to be passed along to all staff. When creating a strong brand, buy-in from all stakeholders is crucial and can make a big difference between success and failure. After all, it is no good trying to carve out a niche for as a restaurant which has a well-stocked and diverse wine cellar if the waiting staff are unable or unwilling to talk customers through it.
Similarly, while staff buy-in is important, it is also crucial that the brand indicators adopted are realistic ones. There is no point trying to portray yourself as a purveyor of organic foods and locally-sourced ingredients if this is not sustainable on a long-term basis. Likewise it makes little sense to try and target the upper end of the market if your clientele tends to be families with young children.
Building a successful brand is about recognising and playing to your strengths rather than reinventing yourself as the sort of restaurant you would like to be. It serves little purpose and can often make customers confused about what a particular venue stands for.
Surprisingly, this can even happen at restaurants operating as part of a franchise. Many franchisees, in attempting to put their stamp on their particular restaurant or group of outlets, often stray too far from the parent company's stated brand ethos.
Ultimately, branding is less about creating something bland that conforms with everything else in the local area, and more about highlighting three or four core reasons for customers to patronise your establishment. After all, without a strong brand and compelling reason to visit, what is to stop diners going to the restaurant next door?