Five ways to create a strong first impression with your outdoor signage

By Diane Chiasson
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Your outdoor signage is much more than the name of your restaurant, it’s your customer’s initial encounter with your restaurant. Your restaurant sign is your advertisement! Your signage does much more than just announcing the name of your restaurant; it also promote your brand and identity. It is not just about the use of logos or colours; it’s for your regular customers and potential customers to remember your business, brand, food and service. Your signage should communicate what you have to offer, such as good food in a pleasing atmosphere, and it should also send the right message about your establishment. Don’t forget that a great outdoor sign creates an impression of your restaurant before someone even gets out of the car.  Here are some tips on how to design your outdoor signage:

1.  Design an attention-grabbing sign

An effective, colourful sign is the first step to attracting your customers’ attention while walking by on the street or driving past in their car. Your front signage should be clean, eye-catching, easy-to-read and well-lit, with a message that is clear, concise, precise and installed in the right place. Use bold colours as they are the most visually appealing but check that they complement one another. Make sure that your logo, text or slogan colours are contrasting for proper readability. Keep in mind that the use of a colourful photo not only adds visual interest, but will improve reader retention by 300 per cent over signage without photos. Make sure your restaurant logo is unique and easily recognizable and choose colours that identify with your restaurant theme.

2.  Use an appropriate typeface

Don’t use words that are made up entirely of capital letters as they are more difficult to read. It’s easier to distinguish the shapes and forms of upper and lower case text versus all capital letters. Keep it simple – you don’t want something looking like a book.  Just remember, less really is more.  Keep your fonts legible and uncomplicated. Your customers should understand what type of restaurant you operate at a quick glance. As a general rule, don’t use more than two different letter styles in a single sign design; it will reduce the effectiveness of your message and will confuse your customers.

3. Convey a clear message

What type of restaurant do you have? Make sure that your logo, text or slogan gives a clear indication of the type of restaurant, and the kind of food you offer. If you own a pizzeria and your business name is “Big Dave”, add a descriptive word or phrase to make it clear as to what you do or offer. For example, “Big Dave’s Pizzeria” would certainly attract the attention of customers wanting to eat pizza for lunch. Make sure the message that you send in all of your designs and slogans is consistent and matches the concept of your restaurant.

4. Install your sign in the right place

Next, almost as important as a great design is the size and location of your sign. How much space in front of your building is available? Did you know that passing drivers or motorists only have three to four seconds to view and read your message? Your outdoor signage should be a fairly good size in order to be seen from some distance. Choosing the right location for your signage is another important point. Your sign should not be obstructed by trees, power lines or other buildings; it should be visible at all times, day and night.

5. Sign maintenance

Your signage should be fabricated to resist premature weathering and should be durable and built to last, but regular maintenance is also an important factor to ensure proper appearance and long life. The sign outside your restaurant is the first impression that shows potential customers what type of business person you are and what type of operation you run.  If your sign is dirty, has missing letters or lights that are burned out, it gives the impression that your restaurant does not care about itself, and therefore will not care about its customers. If you see mold appearing on your sign, take care of the situation right away. Always pay attention to the smallest details. A good quality sign is an investment in your restaurant’s future.

About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as the industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338 or [email protected], or visit