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All impressions count

All those running successful catering businesses – from high-end restaurants to friendly burger vans and everything in between – will agree that offering the food their customers want is only part of the equation and that the devil resides firmly in the details. Dan Einzig, founder of award-winning brand design agency Mystery, explains why creating your own particular brand does not have to be costly and why ongoing awareness of the image you portray is crucial both to attracting customers and keeping them

Dan EinzigFirst, let’s get rid of the common misconception that a brand is nothing more than a logo and the colour you choose to paint the outside of your building. In reality a brand is the way your business is perceived – both by yourself and your team, as well as by your customers. You could define ‘brand’ as a business’s ‘identity’ so long as this identity embodies the very core of what the business is and its values, not just what it looks and sounds like.

GiraffeBranding is much more than just a logo

Brands build businesses

Many restaurant, pub, café and hotel owners I talk to already understand that branding is essential to their business, but a surprisingly high number of them don’t really know why. They recognise the link between successful businesses and strong branding and aspire to build a brand that emulates similar success for themselves. They understand that branding is not just a logo or how their business is perceived externally, but too few realise that successful brands have this branding at the heart of everything they do, from the service they provide to the food they produce. Remember, today’s customers are a savvy bunch that can see straight through attempts by businesses to gloss, spin or charm their way to sales on looks alone.

The benefits that a strategically defined brand can bring are immeasurable. Such a brand enables the target customers to connect on an emotional level with the business because they share the same values and beliefs. In turn, this leads to higher sales, better brand differentiation, loyalty, advocacy and can even protect an establishment’s price at times when competitors are relying on promotional discounts to drive sales.

Customer loyalty

Once customers are emotionally connected with a brand, it creates the ideal platform from which to extend the offering – with the sky as the limit. Just take a look at today’s plethora of celebrity chefs. Their distinctive identities – or brands – have helped to set them apart from others in the industry to such an extent that millions now buy into the brand by watching them on television, going to their restaurants, and purchasing their recipe books and cookware.

GiraffeFor the majority, however, a successful brand will mean customers choose your establishment over others because, quite simply, they like what they get there; from service to surroundings, food and overall value for money – which of course does not mean cheap, but rather that customers’ expectations are not only fulfilled but preferably exceeded.

Many businesses engage an agency for help with building a brand that has the credibility and roots to help develop the business as it grows and expands. However, in spite of the fact that speculating to accumulate certainly holds true, there are many businesses that will have neither the budget nor the inclination to buy in brand-building services. Nevertheless, there is much that such businesses can do to create a strong identity for their venue, which is crucial in an industry where competition is rife.

Brand basics

Start by defining the brand – review the food and service your establishment offers, pinpoint the space in the market it occupies and research the emotional and rational needs and concerns of your diners. The brand character should promote your restaurant, connect with the customer base and differentiate the business in the market.

In short, in addition to what you and your establishment look like, your brand needs to be evident in everything you do and everything your customer experiences as follows:

  • How you greet your customer
  • How you take their order
  • How and what you feed them
  • How you take their payment
  • How you say goodbye to them.

Clear communication

Consider what the driving forces are behind your business, be it a restaurant, café, takeaway or mobile van. What does your business believe in, what is its purpose and, even, which are its brand heroes? Addressing these factors can help establish the emotive brand positioning and inform the identity and character for brand communications.

One of your branding goals should be to build long-term relationships with customers. A good business will not dress up its offering and raise expectations that result in broken promises, but rather it will create trust with honest branding that makes it clear both what the business is all about and its values.

The brand should always speak to your customers with a consistent tone of voice. This will help reinforce your business’s character and clarify its offering so customers are aware of exactly what to expect. However, don’t become so obsessed with consistency that you do little more than repeat the same message in the same way over and over again. Rather, several key messages should work together to build a coherent identity.

Independents are in

Customer serviceIf you are giving customers what they want and they keep returning, your branding is working

As an independent establishment, whatever you do, don’t try and mimic the look of chains or big brands – carve out your own distinctive identity. Be aware that there is a big consumer trend towards independent establishments, so much so that several chains are trying to mimic an independent feel to capture some of that market.

Truly independent operators have the advantage that they can leverage their status to attract customers who are looking for something more original and authentic that aligns with how they feel about themselves. Big brands, on the other hand, are denied this flexibility as they are encumbered by layer upon layer of bureaucracy.

However you approach the branding issue, try and make it innovative, bold and daring and – at the very least – ensure that it clearly stands for what you and your team believe in.

Gino GelatoMystery is an award-winning agency that has been working in food and drink branding for the last 13 years. The company’s restaurant clients include Giraffe – with whom they have been working since their first site and are currently working towards their 50th, Caffé Italia, Ponti’s Italian Kitchen and Caffé Ritazza, as well as launching cult establishments including London-based Gino Gelato, Monkeynuts, Bubbleology and Bristol-based Za Za Bazaar, billed as the UK’s largest restaurant.

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