Running a restaurant means every choice is critical — from decisions on location, branding, menu, decor and more, to even your personal time and finances. Since 60 percent of restaurants fail in the first month, it’s important to make calculated decisions that contribute to a booming restaurant, from inception to every year after. To help you make the best decisions for your restaurant, we spoke with culinary consultant Jenny Dorsey on what it takes for a restaurant to have a killer brand, unique menu, top-notch support staff and a secure financial plan.
In part one of this four-part series, Dorsey gives us inside tips on what makes a high-quality restaurant brand. You must reflect your brand across your logo, menu and location to your price point, marketing and service. No matter what stage you’re at, here are five key areas Dorsey recommends focusing on for your brand:
1. Target Market:
“People will say ‘Everyone is my customer!’ but not really,” Dorsey says. “If you’re a neighborhood restaurant, then you have to figure out when your neighborhood wants to eat and what they want to eat. If you’re an upscale restaurant, you have to be prepared for people who want to be treated a certain way.”
Of the five main categories of restaurants (quick-service, fast-casual, midrange, upscale or fine dining), it’s important to understand what type of restaurant you want to be. Fitting the right kind of restaurant to your market will depend on the type and number of customers in your area. Your local Chamber of Commerce may provide basic demographics (population, average incomes, etc.) to help businesses decide what is the best type of restaurant for your market.
Dorsey stresses how important it is to understand who are your competitors. Once you know who they are, both in your neighborhood and in your category, conduct the proper research. This research should include visiting the competition yourself.
“I always recommend doing literal field walks,” Dorsey says. “Go into your closest competitor. How does the food taste? What is the price point? Is there great service? Ambiance? How many people are there? Go and talk to the owner — this is not an industry where people hate each other. They’ll likely tell you if they’re struggling.”
Dorsey says a number of restaurateurs gloss over restaurant finances and don’t understand the exact line items that contribute to a budget. From her experience, running a restaurant is always more expensive than restaurateurs think. Therefore it’s important to set a budget for marketing your restaurant. She stresses there are areas to splurge on your brand and areas to save:
“Having a good website is critical. After that, every restaurant doesn’t need an intense social media presence. If you have the budget, great — but I wouldn’t put it above the servers, cooks: people who need to make really amazing food.”
Before looking at restaurant locations, Dorsey recommends deciding on very clear facility requirements and budget.
“Going back to your financials, you need to know exactly how much you can spend,” Dorsey says. “If it’s $7K, don’t go look at the $8K a month restaurant. It’s going to be a little bit more electricity, a little bit more gas, and then you’re going to have to make $1,500 more in sales a month to make that up. That could be the ‘make it and break it’ for your restaurant.”
“Creating your restaurant brand and concept is not something you can do on a whim,” Dorsey says.
The concept can be the most important piece to get right when developing your restaurant brand. You need to bring something different to the table that creates a unique brand experience versus what is already in the market. Dorsey stresses this concept should not just be about the food; you need to think holistically about your restaurant brand. Clearly understand what your ambiance will be, why people will want to come hang out and what you’re adding to the restaurant’s neighborhood.
“It starts with having a very focused concept of what you want. You should be able to articulate that in a minute or less. That will be very helpful and should guide you in threading the branding pieces together across all key areas.”
Sharing these five key areas for establishing a strong restaurant brand, Dorsey hopes owners can avoid the biggest branding mistake she sees restaurants make: