There are certain industries out there that really embrace what brand is all about and do a good job of it. The fashion industry is a prime example of that. The restaurant business is another. In both markets the reason why brand plays such an important role is because the products that are sold within each sector are almost indistinguishable, a shirt is shirt and a sandwich is a sandwich. Yes, I agree there is distinctions in quality, but a lot of those can be masked or enhanced by playing the right brand games.

1) Change in the retail high street

The economic downturn in 2007 coupled with the massive and aggressive growth of the Internet and shopping trends meant that the retail high street fundamentally changed. Gone were brands like Woolworths, BHS, Jessops etc. If you were selling a commodity you were either eaten up by cheaper rivals on the high street or you had to face stiff competition from an online shop that didn’t have the same operating costs as you. This gave rise to the restaurant boom. Vacated shop units were being granted A3 licences and new food offerings were springing up everywhere, with immense variety. Korean street food, green juice bars, fried vegan chicken joints, 24hour diners. Anything and everything you can dream of. For these businesses to grow and survive they have to create attraction, they have to win out from competitors not only from the same narrow niche they operate e.g. Lebanese food but from the broader spectrum of all food establishments, as food is one industry where brand loyalty is not limited to a single choice.

2) Ambience and service trumps food

The need therefore was for every food operator, who had the budget, to build a proper brand. That served not only to create attraction and differentiation but also as means to grow to multiple sites and experience the economies of scale.

Where a restaurant can win out is the quality of the concept of the brand and how that is executed within the physical space. When we look at ways in which brands create impressions, the four key areas we talk about are 1) marketing and communications, 2) service or product proposition, 3) the physical space and 4) staff engagement. The last two become magnified like no other industry with restaurants.

If you get the ambience and feel within a restaurant right and you have great food then you are onto a winning formula. Think how many times you choose a place to eat based around the fact that the place looks through the front windows, right. It’s the kind of place where you want to take your girlfriend or bring a client to. If the restaurant isn’t decorated up right and is not desirable or cool, then the temptation to go there is markedly reduced.

The next level where restaurants can distinguish themselves is through the level of service they offer. Now this is more than just thinking over the little details and getting the customer journey right, it is about the personality of the staff. If you recruit, train and get the staff to live and breathe the brand values, that becomes hugely memorable for any customer experience. The more engaging staff are, and how well they carry the personality of the brand is what breeds loyalty. Sharp restaurant operators engage in extensive training regimes and recruitment processes to get the right people to represent their brand.

3) We are emotional not logical creatures

Ultimately the reason why all of this has an effect on us is because we as people, are emotionally driven not logically driven. It is hard for anyone of us to determine the quality of food, as we are so influenced by how that is all packaged up.

When it comes to restaurants it boils down to how well everything is brought together. Each and every interaction lends itself to creating a connection to the brand. The more that you can leverage the personality of the brand and the concept that you have defined, the more then you can create preference in the mind of a consumer.

The goal is to take a food business beyond the functional value that it offers and to play on the emotional ties that can bind customers. As the philosopher priest Dr.Erasmus of Rotterdam once stated ‘we are twenty four more times influenced by our emotions than we are by the very nature of things’, which is something most restaurant owners are switched on to, as to survive today in this frantically competitive marketplace you need to use every trick in the book.