Front of the House / Rebranding
Follow these tips to re-introduce yourself to your customers
By DeAnn Owens
Photos by Josh Keown

Operators know that reinvention is critical in the restaurant industry because there’s always a new trend to chase or create. Colors and décor go out of style before the paint dries. Customer service can up its game with a new gadget or technology tweak. And food allergies and the “hot” new dish can dictate a menu.

To stay competitive and fresh, operators must rebrand or remodel. But both are complicated and involved.

“Brand is more than just a logo; it’s the totality of everything you do, every touch point to customers. It’s a combination of service and performance, along with communication,” says Karen Post, speaker, author and branding expert with

The first step in rebranding or remodeling is actually a step back. Operators need to discover who they are and what makes them special in order to create a clear picture of who they want to be in the future.

“My best advice is whenever one is considering a remodel or a branding change, is to really examine why you’re making the change –– ask what went wrong and what went right. Are you making the changes for the right reasons?” says Joel Cohen of The Cohen Restaurant Marketing Group.

Post agrees that taking time to reflect is essential before making any changes. “I encourage all businesses to take a step backward, cover up the logo and ask, ‘would you know it’s me?’ and if the answer is no, then you have a lot of work to do,” Post says. “Everyone has something unique to bring to the marketplace. It’s more than cosmetic changes –– it’s about things that you can own like pricing or how things are done in the restaurant.”

Warren Ellish, president and CEO of Ellish Marketing Group in Colorado, says a rebrand or remodel is not the eradication of the past but an update of what exists in the present.

When looking to refresh or enhance a business, Ellish advises looking at three elements: the business audience, the words beneath your logo that explain to people what you do and your point of difference –– what do you do that is different than people who are relative to you?

“A refresh that includes changing the logo shows people you are updating who you are, not changing who you were,” Ellish says. “Don’t make a remodel about decorating because it gets old quickly. If you can add an element that adds to your point of difference, go in and invest in that. If you remodel a facility around your strengths it will stay in style a long time. Look at what’s going on in other industries and see the good and the bad and learn from it.”

Brigette Breitenbach, principal of Company B Brand Marketing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says any rebranding effort should identify what works about your brand now and supports an overall business plan with an established budget for everything from space upgrades to a relaunched brand.

“Don’t spend money on things that won’t ultimately affect the bottom line. Trendy, but expensive ingredients might improve your menu, but are they negatively affecting net income? Are new light fixtures or even different bulbs that make the space and the food look better more cost-effective than new furniture?” Breitenbach says.

Connect every change to a greater goal.

“Any remodeling effort should be about environmental branding. Whether you are a romantic date place, a college hangout or a familyfriendly establishment, everything you select should support that from the furniture and signage to music and ultimately food and beverage presentation. Marketing even a ‘new and improved’ business is only as good as the customers’ actual experience,” Breitenbach says.

Because the key to any rebranding or remodeling efforts is to retain and gain customers, keeping their comfort in mind will serve you well.

“Schedule construction activities during off hours and make sure that all construction materials are on-site prior to the project beginning. Create a written timeline for the contractor listing high-volume days and evenings, as well as opening and closing times for the restaurant and days that you are off. Having this timeline will enable the contractor team to schedule the work during times where it is not disruptive to your customers or employees,” says Sam Cicero, Sr., founder of Cicero’s Development Corp. in Plainfield, Illinois. “Just remember that contractors do not perform work well during very late or early hours, say before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m. Finally, allow for at least one hour prior to opening for clean-up of any construction debris.”

It’s easy to get caught up with impressing your guests with a new look, but forgetting to properly train your staff to handle the changes will not impress anyone.

“Give your customers something to talk about; the more stimulus or cues you can give them at once to wow them, the better. Go all in and make an impression on that customer. But you can’t be naïve either. If you throw 20 changes on them, you have to be aware of the impact on the heart of the house. Are they overloaded trying to learn new recipes and service?” says Will Powers, Director of Brand Marketing of Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom. “There has to be a balance between enough impact on guests and the thorough training of instruction so staff can successfully implement them. Don’t go overboard to get the pop from guests that you are not getting success from the staff.”

Once the new look is ready, introducing it to your customers should be nothing short of a grand opening. “Make it more of a celebration with an attraction like a discount — more than just we have a new owner. Everyone wants to feel like they are wanted and part of something; send hand-written letters or invitations to customers,” says designer and creative consultant Reilly Newman.

Cicero advises issuing a press release with before-and-after photos to your local press and advertising your grand opening online and in the local paper.

“In the case of a true renovation involving updated equipment, finishes, furnishings and exterior upgrade, a celebration is always appropriate.” Cicero says.

DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.

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