How to Rebrand Your Restaurant: Successful Rebranding Strategies Explained

As surely as you’ve thought about your restaurant brand, you have, at some point, wondered whether you need a rebrand. Could be that your sales are flatlining, and you need to seem cooler, more modern. Could be that you really need to raise your menu prices, and will need to attract new customers to make that pay off. Could be that you’re simply sick of your colors or your logo, and you know it’s time to put on a fresh face.

The thing about the old ways, though: They did get you this far, so something was working. How, then, do you know what to keep and what to replace? Therein lies the rub of the rebrand. Whether you need to gently reposition yourself in a changing marketplace, appeal to a younger base of customers (and workers), rethink your menu to counter inflation, or simply update your look, it’s going to be a challenge to know what will work.

So your first step, as you collect your thoughts and ambitions, is to articulate to yourself and to your team what it is you want to say, and what relationship you want to have with your customers.

“Branding is that human connection between why a consumer would want to or choose to use you. Pick you. Buy you. Whatever it is you're selling,” said Cindy Haynes, the managing director of Eraser Farm, a full-service ad agency in Tampa, Florida. “We figure out what that connection is, and then we start to brand and story-tell on that reason. Over 90% of our decisions are emotionally based when it comes to food. And you want to have that connection.”

As a former senior VP of marketing for Front Burner Brands, Haynes oversaw branding for the full-service and fast-casual restaurants Grillsmith, Burger 21, and The Melting Pot. She has also developed branding campaigns for the supermarket chain Publix and managed such accounts as McDonald’s and Melitta coffee.

In her experience, certain brands don’t need much more than to be spruced up — case in point, the modest tweaks McDonald’s has made to its logos during the past 50 years, or the subtle brightening of the Publix logo in its most recent update. But different needs require different solutions. If you’re considering a more fulsome overhaul of your brand, Haynes suggests going through these major steps along the way.

First, listen to your customers

Don’t let your ego or your emotional attachments to your business get in the way of your real audience for your branding. What do they like about your existing concept? What could they do without? In short, figure out your customers' expectations. Whether your customers are loyal or lapsed, you should figure out how they connect (or struggle to connect) with what you’re doing.

On a past rebranding job, Haynes’ first move was to tap into customer complaints. Turned out, the restaurant she was working with simply wasn’t delivering on the promises that it was making to its customers. Listening to the frustrations of the customers who weren’t coming back was a key to deciding what to change and how to move forward.

Decide what you definitely want to keep

People know your restaurant, they know your logo, and you want to keep that familiarity with it. There is value in the restaurant brand you've created, so preserve it! It’s what got people there in the first place, isn’t it?

On one rebranding job, Haynes said, she discussed with her client the importance of brand equity — the goodwill and recognition that the restaurant had built up over years. Those elements came down to such fundamental elements as furniture and decor. The trick is balancing those familiar, cherished parts of the restaurant experience with the need to build and evolve.

“Everything had a reason, and we wanted to go back to the roots of what that was and share that experience with our customers,” she said. “We wanted it to feel fresh and new, but we also wanted everybody to know it was us. And to come back knowing that we were asking them to come back.”

Get your workers fully on-board with the rebrand

Whatever new conversation you’re starting with your customers — whether that’s around quality of food, quality of service, a new vibe you’re creating, or some combination of those — you’re going to need staffers to execute on the ground. That means communicating and perhaps training your workers and managers on your new ideas and practices. Before you sell your concept to the public, in other words, you need internal buy-in from your employees.

“If a customer comes in, and they have the worst experience when they're here, they're not coming back and we're not going to get a third chance,” Haynes said. “So if you're going to give credit to anyone for a rebrand being successful, you have to give credit to operations. Because you can have amazing creativity, actually drive business, the results of your campaigns can be through the roof — but if the restaurant didn't deliver, none of it matters.”

Don’t overlook the experience of the new customers you’re enticing to walk in the door. You’re going to be making a first impression on a lot of people, so make it a great one.

Refresh your logo and update your menu

You probably have a sense of how far you need to go with this rebrand. If you’re staying consistent at your core, you might only need a few tweaks to font, color, and presentation. If you’re blowing up the entire brand, well, do what you gotta to do make sure it stands out and represents where you want to take your restaurant.

One thing to remember as you start branching out: Your customers are going to see only the final product. And their only reference point is your current brand. So take care not to disorient them completely.

Haynes recalls a rebrand in which the restaurant was making some fundamental changes to the logo, but wanted to keep a similar color palette because that was super important. “We didn't want to go and change everything and have people question, ‘Is this the same restaurant? Is it not?’” she said. “Many times that can be just hard on the consumer.”

For a new design, you may want to consider working with a graphic design or rebranding agency. If your budget or ambitions are more modest, consider reaching for one of the many menu and logo design programs that can help you with more cosmetic concepts.

Revamp your marketing and messaging 

You have a new logo, a fresh menu, and a staff ready to rock this new concept of yours. The last push to make is in how you reveal this all to your customers and steer a conversation that will connect them to the new you. That shift will be different for each rebrand, depending on where you were and where you’re trying to go. But it’s an important aspect to this overhaul. People will notice the new visuals and the new offerings. Help them see what those changes are going to mean going forward.

In one rebrand, Haynes said, her client’s messaging was geared toward trying to win back old customers, with an almost personal invite to re-experience the restaurant. “I think their message before was more apologetic, and you never want to say you're sorry when you're feeding someone,” she said. “It gets really tricky. When I came in and I did it over, it was more about the ‘we miss you” message accompanied with an exciting ‘come in and see the new things we’ve done!’”

Once upon a time, you might have used direct mailers to get the word out. These days, you’re going to use a combination of word-of-mouth, strong SEO, and social media marketing. If you’ve got the resources and want to really level up, you might engage a public relations professional to help tailor your message and to get it in front of a wider media audience.

[Photo by Steve Harvey via Unsplash]