Ever wonder what it is that makes movie stars so fascinating? Looks, glamour, and ability are all important, but the key to a star’s appeal is his or her personality. Personality is how we really know each other, and it can encompass a range of attitude, traits, and behavior that is truly jaw-dropping in complexity. In fact, one of the ways we talk about any complex entity is by describing its personality—as in “the Porsche has a personality completely different from the Hyundai’s.” Cars don’t have personalities, of course. What we’re really saying is that the experience of driving the two cars is like spending time with two entirely different people. We are biologically more attuned to relating to living creatures than to inanimate objects. Savvy marketers recognize this and will give an otherwise boring item a personality by animating it (Pillsbury Dough Boy) or associating it with a real human personality (Mr Whipple?).
You can see where we’re going with this: a restaurant is a complex inanimate entity, and if the public is going to relate to it, it needs to have a personality. The bricks and mortar of a restaurant’s personality are its Brand. So what is a Brand? The answer is the position the restaurant occupies in the mind of the marketplace.
First you need to define your Brand in terms of food & beverage, décor & environment, and service. Gather your management and key employees and have a team meeting to do a laundry list of items in each of the above categories. In this meeting highlight the items that make your restaurant unique. Try to quantify this info from the perspective of the guest. Discuss how guests perceive the food, environment, service, etc. This is called the guest experience. Once completed you will have a positioning statement (a summary of the guest experience in each category) and a Unique Selling Proposition (the things about you that are unique) that separates your restaurant from the others.
The second step is the litmus test. You have to objectively determine if your restaurant is living up to the positioning statement and the USP. Ask the question, are we living up to our promise? You do this, first of all, by asking your clientele. Do comment cards, exit interviews, or just have short conversations with your guests. Better yet, do all three. Now, quantify the information in report format (any format is fine, the key is to study and digest the feedback—looking in particular for inconsistencies). If your guests see the restaurant the way you do, congrats—you’ve already got a Brand and can begin strengthening and refining it. If not, share the report with the team and determine your plan of action to do a better job of living up to the promise.
We called this column Care and Feeding because this is not a one-shot deal. Defining the Brand is only the beginning. Your staff has to live it, your management has to talk and act it, your menu and decor and marketing have to reflect it. Decisions are defined by the question: does this strengthen or weaken the Brand?
And finally, you have to stay the course in your dedication to be the best at what you, uniquely, do. If you do, your restaurant will become a trusted, well-liked personality in the mind of the marketplace, and will benefit as a result.