Restaurant go-ers do judge a book by its cover. Although the taste and quality of the meal is king, do not under-estimate the value of aesthetics. Think about the intended and unintended messages that your restaurant is conveying: the outside signage, the shape of the building, the color of the door, the lighting, the plants out front or the waiting area. Each of these details impacts your customers' perception of your establishment. Even if you are trying to be a low-cost player in the marketplace, there is no excuse for weak curb appeal. A few simple tweaks will change the environment and attract the right clientele.
Let's consider a real-life example. Take Dunkin' Donuts - a donut and coffee chain in the New England area that has been around since 1950. Originally, Dunkin' started out as an authentic small chain of stores that focused on selling donuts. Over time, that brand expression evolved to its iconic and simple orange and pink - a friendlier version of a convenience store with quick, no nonsense service to get customers in and out and on their way. As Dunkin's strategy shifted to be known for its liquid gold, (i.e. hot coffee) its sign and curb appeal evolved to match. Older signs for Dunkin' Donuts showcase the word 'Donuts'; some even exhibit a large donut on top. As Dunkin' Donuts became focused on coffee, this name was shortened to DD to minimize donuts, and a steaming coffee cup joined the logo. To further emphasize the coffee cues, a dark brown background emerged behind the sign; also increasing the contrast for weary drivers to better see it. Here's a simplistic road map to improving your own restaurant's curb appeal.
Step One - Define Your Brand Expression
Take out a piece of paper and cut it vertically in half, writing these words in the two columns - "Brand" and "Customer Target".
Take a moment and close your eyes. What adjectives and words come to mind when you think about your restaurant? Are you more about the food or the experience? What is your headline? What do you want to stand-out in the minds of customers? Are you authentic, drawing on a rich heritage? Are you modern? Is the environment lively or muted? How do you want customers to feel when they enter your door? Who is your target customer? Who do they walk in the door with? What colors match this experience?
Jot down words to describe your restaurant in the context of these two columns.
Step Two - Learn from Competitors
Grab your smartphone, and get out into the field with the goal of simply noticing your surrounding area. Finding the time to get out of the restaurant or office can be challenging, but taking even a half hour to allow yourself the space to consider others' choices will help you prevent your own mistakes. Notice everything about businesses similar and dissimilar to yours.
Step Three - Prioritize
Get out that list of words in columns and start circling. Given your knowledge of your own brand and competitors, start circling the words on your list that have the most meaning to you. These are the ones that are going to help you differentiate your restaurant brand offering.
Step Four - Design Parameters
Grab some magazines or head to Pinterest to locate imagery that best describes the Brand Expression you are after. What images create the mood that you describe? Using these adjectives and images, develop a creative brief for design parameters around your brand that your team can use as you make decisions. Sketch out some options. Consider color theory (i.e. did you know purple is a regal color?).
Step Five - Customer Input
Although people from all walks of life will enter your restaurant on a daily basis, it's important to design to the heavy user. Talk to your target audience when making decisions. Gaining their trust and approval will remove many hurdles. They are the ones you're going to be interacting with the most, so don't be afraid to engage them. When debating various options, reach out to at least fifty of your potential heavy customers and ask their opinion. First give them a high level overview of the restaurant, ask them open-ended questions, and then ask them directly if the choices you are making fit with the brand expression adjectives that you described and jotted down. Always ask "why is that?" and probe further.
Step Six - Update and stay relevant
A field of restaurant excellence has emerged where secret shoppers perform random visits to stores to assess the restaurant on a variety of attributes. Why not institute a program like that yourself to audit your offering with your target audience? That will keep you on your toes in terms of maintaining your brand in a competitive market.