brand identity

Restaurant branding during COVID-19: being memorable

The final chapter of our three-part look at restaurant branding during the pandemic looks at how to build a unique brand identity to stand out in a crowded market.

By Doug Radkey

Within this series, we’ve learned the importance of a brand guide along with consistent brand messaging, and come to understand the elements of connection along with the need for a defined target audience. These are the foundations for building a strong brand identity within your market.

The question to ask yourself now is this: Do you want to own and operate an average restaurant or do you want to own and operate a memorable destination – despite the current COVID-19 pandemic?

Creating differentiation

To stand out in the crowd and not be branded as just an average restaurant or bar, you must also have differentiation. Each consumer in the market values factors that differentiate one brand from the next in their own way, so you need a defined target audience. Differentiation gives your bar or restaurant brand greater importance to a defined target audience because they can resonate with it and integrate it directly into their own lives.

Whether you believe it or not, your brand within their lives holds some sort of profound meaning to them. This is where brand connection happens.

For example, Starbucks sells coffee. Starbucks coffee has a premium price tag attached to its brand identity that their target consumers don’t mind paying. They have become a destination for what’s perceived as high-quality coffee. That’s because Starbucks has created a strategic brand differentiator that is meaningful to consumers and not offered by other brands, enabling Starbucks to charge a higher price for its coffee than competitors such as Tim Horton’s.

But don’t think just having quality coffee for a lesser price paired with “impeccable service” is the answer to the question of how to compete. Restaurant and bar brands that rely on differentiators like price and service can lose very quickly for two very important reasons:

  • Any competitor can undercut your prices at any time
  • Every competitor claims to have amazing food and service — consumers expect more than this basic claim

In other words, most independent restaurant brands are relying on pricing promotions to generate short-term sales rather than focusing on strategic differentiators that build brand loyalty, repeat business, and brand ambassadors.

Restaurant Branding During COVID-19, Part I: Developing your brand guide

Focusing on value

Here’s the deal: your ideal customer profile doesn’t (shouldn’t) just buy one drink or meal, and they don’t just order through a third-party delivery company either. They come back again and again and find ways to truly connect with you and your brand. To them, you aren’t just another restaurant or bar. They trust you with their money because you give them value in exchange.

This sets the stage for a customer retention strategy that enables you to form lasting relationships with your ideal customer profile. They might even spread the word within their own circles of influence (friends, family, coworkers, and social media) which can lead them towards becoming brand ambassadors.

That’s the mindset you need to have moving forward if you want a scalable, sustainable, profitable, consistent, and memorable brand identity. In order to achieve success and build repeat business at your restaurant or bar, you must be constantly evaluating ways to make each visit (whether on-premise or off-premise) memorable, leading to the development of a true destination.

While food and drink offerings are indeed a large piece of the puzzle in terms of the overall experience, there are certainly many other factors needed to deliver value and a memorable experience, including efficient design, service sequence, flexible revenue channels, culture, diversity, simplification, and strategic clarity.

Restaurant Branding During COVID-19, Part II: Building connection with your community

Driving the guest experience

Gone are the days of focusing on revenue per square foot or other vanity-type metrics within this industry. We are entering a new era of operations. The previous “normal” wasn’t working.

If you focus on developing a winning brand with the ideas and strategies outlined within this three-part series, and pair that with delivering true value and a memorable experience (whether that’s again on-premise or off-premise), the revenue will follow.

Keep these stats in mind:


While revenue was at an all-time high in this industry pre-pandemic, it doesn’t mean things were perfect — or even near perfect. To survive and now thrive post-pandemic, this industry along with your brand must prepare to dismantle longstanding issues, think in surprising new ways about the guest value and the total guest experience, and take bold and strategic action toward profit optimization.

You can do this and begin to achieve profit margins you never thought possible by first re-engineering your brand guide, your ideal customer profile, your customer journey map, and your perception of value and align it all with a promise that will push your brand forward towards being a differentiated but memorable destination.

Read Part I and Part II of Restaurant Branding During COVID-19.

Doug Radkey is president of KRG Hospitality Inc., author of the book Bar Hacks, and an international keynote speaker on all things restaurants, bars, and boutique hotels. Being in the hospitality industry for over 20 years has allowed him to become a leading voice in the development of detailed feasibility studies, award-winning concepts, strategic business plans, unique menus, memorable guest experiences, and financial management systems. For more information, visit