So, you have a killer concept for a new food place; an idea so great that people will drive, bike, take a cab, walk, hitchhike for miles just to experience it. We’ll let you in on a little bit of advice: despite the ubiquitous proverb, people will instinctively judge a book by its cover, and if the presentation’s not there, the people won’t come. It’s a simple evolutionary matter of human psychology – the superficial, surface-value stuff matters: a lot, in fact. At best, without a purposeful visual strategy, you’ll have some local draw at first, but even that will quickly taper off, leaving you confused, bitter, and jaded towards your audience. So, to prevent this entirely avoidable outcome, here are 5 steps to developing a proper brand identity for a restaurant.

1 : Know your market

Before the signage, before the naming, before the post on Craigslist looking for a designer to spit out a logo for $50 (for another article, but if this is your approach, please stop everything and just light all your start-up money on fire – this will be equally as effective, and possibly more enjoyable) – before any designing takes place, put some effort into really knowing your market.

Do some competitive analysis. Make a list of all of the similar restaurants in, say, a 20-mile radius. Then, categorically quantify their characteristics, and rank them. Consider things like:

  • What are the common naming strategies?
  • What types of attitudes are projected?
  • Are there any graphic trends in their materials?

Use tools to help you objectively understand the local climate

Take all of this descriptive info, and make lists and diagrams and [insert favorite visual organization tool here] to help you objectively understand the local climate. Without this important preparation, anything you attempt will really just be a shot in the dark.

2 : Find your angle

Now that you have a bit of insight into your market, concentrate on categorically identifying opportunities that might position your restaurant more advantageously against the majority. For instance, if you notice a pattern of one-word names, maybe consider using multiple words – possibly taking a direct descriptive approach, as in ‘The Batata Shop‘, or something of the more intriguing and abstract Simon & Garfunkel variety, like ‘Longman & Eagle’ or ‘Wright & Company’. In each of the categories you looked at in the first step, try to find one or two approaches that would differentiate your brand from the crowd.

Categorically identify opportunities for positioning against the majority

3 : What’s in a name?

Stop sketching your logo (and get off Craigslist!) – you need a name first, and that name has to fit within the first two steps. To start, while considering the gaps in the market you identified in step 2, compile a list of 20-50 tentative names (it’s harder than you’d think, isn’t it?) – try methods like free association, word mapping, etc. Once you have a sizable list, then, give each name an objective 1-10 (or whatever scale you’d like) score for categories such as:

  • Sight – how will the name look? logo? signage? at distance?
  • Sound – how does the name sound? easy to say in conversation?
  • Novelty – does it stand out from the crowd? memorable?
  • Depth – more than one meaning or association?
  • Tonality – does it seem human (10) or cold and mechanical (1)?
  • Mystery – does it spark intrigue? excite people?
  • Representation – how well does it convey your message?

Methodically brainstorm, rank, refine, repeat

Once you have values for each category, add them up to get an objective score for each of the tentative names, by which they can be ranked and weeded out. This will be a great method for brainstorming and refining your list, until arriving at a name that will most appropriately position your new restaurant.

4 : identity

As with the naming, base your conscious approach to the visual identity on your analysis of the local scene, and the positioning opportunities you identified – don’t just start by conceptualizing out of thin air. Create a list of meanings, associations, and emotions that you want the visual identity to convey – this is your brand message and will be key in tying together the approach to the food and service with the outward presentation. Again, make lists, write a brief, create diagrams and mind maps – use tools to help you hone in on a purposeful visual strategy that will not only set you apart from the rest, but also compellingly tell your story. Consider tone, persona, attitude – all factors of humanity, as this is essentially what your audience will relate to. In addition, include characteristics of your target audience, and of the general local population, in your visual design strategy/brief.

Now – only after you’ve learned about your market, identified positioning strategies, decided on a name, and written a detailed brand message and visual design brief – you can look for a graphic designer. For your own sake, do not just shop around for price. Rather, research a little online. Check out portfolio websites like Behance and Dribbble, look in design groups on LinkedIn, or just ask around (chances are, if you’re starting a restaurant, we’d wager you probably know someone who knows a designer – and this way that designer comes with a personal reference!). If you need a starting place, feel free to check out d+m (*shameless self-promotion).

Distill the conceptual stuff into a polished, tangible, visual identity

Take our word for it, though – all of the work you’ve put in through the previous steps will greatly pay off in the finished design’s accuracy to your vision and goals. A good designer, with a solid understanding of the principles of perception and engagement, and a sufficient technical proficiency, will be able to distill the conceptual products of your ground work into a polished, tangible, visual identity – including a brand mark, complementary font selections, and color and layout guidelines; undoubtedly a much more valuable asset than the $50 you were about to throw at Craigslist for a logo.

5 : materials/execution

An experienced designer or studio will also be able to extend the conceptual and literal aspects of the identity to cohesively cover all your brand materials. And here, cohesion is key. Your audience needs to feel like your restaurant is one purposefully executed experience – conceptually, the kitchen, the dining area, the outside facade, and all the marketing materials have to feel the same, tell the same story, be facets of the same entity. Failure to develop a holistic presentation will leave the experience disjointed, muted, and simply less enjoyable than it could/should have been.

Your restaurant needs to be one cohesive and purposefully executed experience

What you need is to partner with a designer or studio that can not only craft a purposeful and polished design, but also have the conceptual understanding necessary to execute it throughout all of your brand system materials, from business cards to menus, interior design to the online environment.

In summary…

Think for a moment about the amount of conceptualization and preparation you’ve put into your food program. All the details; from the sourcing of ingredients, to the plating and presentation, to the style of service and hospitality. You hold all of these details as the all-important backbone of your program – and rightly so. With all your own personal energy, time, sweat, and blood invested into that side, it would really be a shame to short-change – and possibly jeopardize – the integrity of your creation by not putting the same forethought into the visual presentation. Most restauranteurs will admit – and take pride in the fact – that experience is everything; just make sure that everything in your concept has a cohesive experience.

If you agree or disagree with anything above, or if something in particular resonates with you, we’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter (@dmcreativeco) or Facebook (/dmcreativeco).