restaurant branding

Restaurant Branding During COVID-19: Developing your brand guide

In Part I of a new three-part look at restaurant branding during the pandemic, we assess how operators can lay solid marketing foundations

By Doug Radkey

Hospitality, since the beginning of time, has been about building connections.

That right there is not going to change, even with a global pandemic thrown our way.

Even though we are seeing the emergence of digitally-forward concepts such as ghost kitchens and other significant technological advancements since the earliest indications of hospitality, memorable and personal hospitality still requires a level of “connection” that can’t be replicated by the implementation of technology.

You can still, in fact, be a digital-forward business while humanizing your brand and by simply building connections. But, over the years, that has become a challenging requirement for many independent bar and restaurant operators out there.

That is because there has been this ongoing pressure for bar and restaurant operators to first deliver short-term or quick financial results. Pairing this with a lack of strategic clarity and poor understanding of what restaurant branding strategy actually is ultimately results in a lack of connection.

Having what is often referred to as a “brand guide”, however, can alleviate those challenges and prepare you for success not only now but as we move forward past COVID-19.

What is a brand guide?

A brand guide takes the heart and soul of your brand — your mission, vision and values — and translates it into visual representation. It also aligns with having strategic clarity: the understanding of who we are, where we are going, how we are going to get there, and why we are doing this.

It drives your identity and your promise.

It also tells everyone exactly how to communicate your brand. It’s the playbook that explains how your business plans to present itself to the world through its story, logo, fonts, colours, images, videos, menu, entertainment, and messaging.

It’s a reference tool that helps maintain consistency in what your brand looks, feels, and sounds like. You simply cannot generate brand loyalty, differentiation, and consumer spending or execute as a consistent business without a brand guide.

Meet the challenge

Here is a challenge or perhaps even an opportunity for you. If you looked at three to five pieces of your brand’s marketing materials right now, paired with your website, your social media channels, and the last five social media posts, what would you see?

More often than not, independent bars and restaurants see different fonts, colours, style, and overall messaging. And, truth be told, this often flows into the four walls of the venue as well; from decor and furniture to plating style, pricing structure, service sequence, and even your culture.

To a targeted guest, this all becomes confusing. That is one thing you simply do not want to happen. This unintended result signals the elements of proper communication, emotions, and connection.

You have to remember that your brand is how your audience perceives your bar or restaurant as a complete entity. It’s the lasting impression you leave on your guests, whether online or offline, and it’s shaped largely by the identity that you end up creating.

Your next steps

You can immediately start to improve your financial outcome both during and following this pandemic by ensuring your brand promise is strong and central to its vision, mission, and values. Make delivery on that restaurant branding promise your main focus. The reality is that the essence of what drives customer experience — people, process, price, and product, whether online or offline— must be shaped by an unbreakable humanized promise.

This can be achieved with the development of a brand guide.

You need to strip back the layers of complexity that have been added and view your business at its core; renew your core values, your purpose, your goals and the expectations of both your team and your targeted guests.

You need to look at every piece of marketing collateral, whether paper-based or digital, and have a plan in place to ensure it is consistent moving forward.

You need to know the details of your target customers and then review the entire customer journey, from the time they find you to the crucial post-experience moments. What are they thinking and doing during each touch-point with your brand? What are the potential pain points and opportunities? This must be mapped out in great detail.

You need to have a restaurant branding strategy created that lays out your story, highlights your intended market, defines your typography, colours, and logos. It must outline your philosophy, intended reputation, interior elements, curb appeal, plating, messaging, and even the use of consumer-engaging technology.

Having this type of plan and guidance is what will differentiate your brand, what will resonate with your customers, and what will inspire your team.

As an industry moving forward, we simply cannot forget that a business is more than just the food or beverage that we sell. A strong brand tells the world why it should choose you over all of the other food and beverage options on the market.

When that happens at a consistently high level, you know you’ve created a profitable and hospitable brand that drives connection.

Stay tuned for Parts II and III of Restaurant Branding During COVID-19.

Doug Radkey is the president of KRG Hospitality Inc., the 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