By Mark Plumlee
Over the past two years, thousands of restaurants have shut down across the country. Others have shut down their brick-and-mortar stores and moved to a permanent takeout model.
In the place of restaurants that shut down, many new ones have sprung up to take their place.
We’re left with an industry full of newcomers trying to stand out and leave their mark. An industry rife with competition, that’s ready to put the pandemic behind it and move on. In order to overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19, restaurant owners were forced to adopt new technologies to facilitate contactless dining and safer customer relations.
In order to survive amid all the new competition, restaurants will need to adopt a new approach to an old discipline and elevate their design.
Here are seven ways adopting professional design can help your restaurant in 2022:
1. Reset your marketing
At this point, everyone is tired of pandemic messaging. We’ve been living with COVID-19 for two years and we’ve all seen hundreds, if not thousands, of restaurant flyers imploring us to wash our hands, wear a mask, etc. Not to say restaurants and their customers shouldn’t still follow best health practices, but just that safety signage has, out of necessity, overwhelmed and dominated the rest of restaurant marketing for the past two years.
Moving ahead in 2022, new and exciting designs can help wash away the process signage of the pandemic, and instead focus on the return to welcoming news about your great food and deals.
2. Go retro
Design can put you on the cutting edge, or it can give your restaurant a nostalgic glow. This applies to more than your simple restaurant aesthetic. You can also design your marketing materials to provide a more retro customer experience.
Be different and stand out by giving customers a paper loyalty card to punch or stamp. That way, you keep your brand in their pockets. If you want to give these marketing materials an added digital component, you can add a QR code that links to your website, online menu, daily specials, etc.
3. Build brand equity
For the past couple of years, most of the news out of the restaurant industry has been negative: store closures, mask mandates, cleaning systems, etc. It’s time to get back to making positive brand associations, like outdoors/healthy sports activities if your restaurant is healthy. Or more western-themed country images if you have a steakhouse. Or farm images for farm-to-table.
Adding this imagery through posters, menus, flyers, and more adds depth to your brand. A memorable brand does more than feed you or give you a setting, it gives you an aspirational lifestyle.
4. Maintain a physical presence
Everything these days has been slowly transitioning to digital, but we often lose something in the process. Click a button, consume your food: this is not how the restaurant experience works on an emotional level. It appeals to deeper levels of satisfaction, affirmation of identity, the excitement of exploration, being catered to, etc. Use design to avoid the transaction trap and elevate the adventure of experience.
Great design can connect customers to your brand in a physical way that gets lost in digital transactions. Customers can pick up and hold a menu that reflects your brand and serves as a starting point for their meal. They can flip through your bar menu and look at all your beautiful drinks, or bring home a takeout menu and stick it on their fridge. None of these things happen, though, without a base of great design.
That being said, design can also help you…
5. Stand out online
All restaurants need some kind of digital presence these days. When looking for a new restaurant, the first thing customers do is consult Google. The same goes for vetting restaurants they may be interested in, finding and ordering takeout, looking for hours, etc. For most customers, your first touchpoint will be digital.
With so much competition in the digital sphere, you need to find a way to stand out from your competitors. Design can help you create a memorable brand that sticks in your customers’ minds. An online menu that combines great design with user-friendly practicality, a splashy website design, eye-catching social media posts; all these things can give you a leg on your competitors in the digital rat race. On the other hand, bad design can do the opposite, torpedoing your brand and pushing your audience towards your competitors.
6. Create more touchpoints
Use design as leverage through consistent repetition of the same message. Design all of your messages with the same building blocks. Ensure that every customer interaction contains the same presentation qualities: a logo, an image, colour choices, font choices. Every single customer touchpoint helps to create and define a brand in your customers’ minds. Don’t miss an opportunity to nail those touchpoints with excellent design.
7. Meet expectations
At this point, customers expect businesses to have a professional design. They may not consciously choose what business to patronize based on design, but it plays a subconscious role in decision making. Sloppy design signals a general lack of attention to detail, and no one wants that from the place serving their food.
The good news is that professional design has never been more attainable. Restaurants no longer need to hire a graphic designer or toil away in MS Paint. Template design services give you all the tools you need to customize and create designs that will blow your customers away and give you that professional look you need in 2022.
Delight with design in 2022
Restaurants have battled for the past two years to survive an unprecedented pandemic. Moving forward, they’ll have to fight another battle against unprecedented levels of competition in the industry. Capturing the hearts and minds of customers will take more than just delightful service and food – it will require delightful design as well.
Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Editor for MustHaveMenus, a DIY design and digital marketing service for restaurants with the largest collection of menu templates on the web. His work has been published in Modern Restaurant Management, QSR, FSR, Food Service News, Hospitality Tech and Bar Business Magazine. When he’s not covering food industry trends and technology, he likes to write about the Portland Trail Blazers.