Everyone has one, but how many restaurateurs spend time planning their outdoor signage? All of the really smart ones, honestly. More than any other form of media at your disposal —up to, and possibly even including, the Internet — your sign is the most important tool to advertise your business.
Why is great outdoor signage so important? Because it’s advertising that works for you 24/7, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It’s working when you’re open and when you’re closed, so it never stops. It reinforces your brand, and sets the first in-person impression most customers are likely to experience. It can also draw in impulse customers, not just assist determined customers in locating you. If your place isn’t easily found, customers can already be walking in with a bad impression on their first visit.
And despite the price tag, it has long been understood to be the least expensive form of advertising in cost-per-thousand impressions, according to findings from the Small Business Administration. With that in mind, here are four steps to getting the exact sign you need to have the best ROI, represent yourself proudly, bring in customers — and increase your profits along the way.
1. Check the local ordinance.
Unfortunately, there’s a little more to installing a sign than just slapping a cool design on a poster. Long before you consult with a sign maker or conceive of the design, you need to check with your local city or county clerk’s office to see what the law permits. In many communities, there are restrictions on size and lighting, or even color and style for your sign. These restrictions may also vary by zoning area. Are you limited to mounting a sign to an existing physical structure (the building) or can you dig and ground mount a new sign anywhere on your property? Some states prohibit businesses from locating signs of a certain size near highways because they can dominate the landscape.
Even some strip malls or chambers of commerce require uniform signage or printed awnings for every business in their park, so it’s important to check with all parties before laying out the expense of a sign. If you don’t know who to ask, try talking shop with your new neighbors. Not only will you start your presence in the area off with a few friendly colleagues, you’ll undoubtedly get the straight story on business hurdles specific to the area you may never have considered.
2. Think big and bold.
Once you determine what your size limitations are, design decisions can be made in consultation with a sign-making expert. And believe it or not, size isn’t everything. It’s what you do with the space allowed that matters most. Don’t clutter your sign up with unnecessary art, words, or doo-dads. Go simple, but bold. Less is definitely more. You have 2, maybe 3, seconds of readability as someone is driving by your establishment.
So your sign needs to communicate a lot in that short period of time, including:
- your restaurant’s name
- style of food
- a sense of your brand
Even with all of these needs, it’s important to keep it simple. If your brand logo is visually complicated or difficult to read from a distance, you should not include it on the outdoor sign. If it uses script or very thin font, then you want to come up with an alternative option for something that can be easily read from a distance. Your personal style needs to take a back seat to practicality and profit generation.
One useful exercise to test visibility is to draw your sign on a plain 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper. If you can’t read every word on the sign immediately from 30 feet away, your design is too complicated. Modern digital signage can help alleviate these concerns in some instances, although even electronic signs need to be kept simple and in brand.
Also, be sure to spell everything correctly. We’ve seen a number of instances where something like “Casual Dining” becomes “Causal Dining” because no one caught the mistake before the sign was mounted. Have a few friends with a keen attention to detail look it over before you have it made. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Pick your location, location, location.
Where you place your sign is as important as what is written on it. On your building structure, your sign should have a logical relationship to the front entrance. It functions — sometimes literally — as the big flashing sign that says, “Enter here.” If your sign is ground-mounted, make sure its face is unobstructed and angled toward viewing from a distance by drivers on the street. Determine its height to be directly in the eye-line of passersby. Just placing it higher does not necessarily mean it will be seen more often.
The relationship a sign has to the natural elements is also important to consider. Will it catch glare during the day? Will it be lit strongly enough at night? Is there vegetation at risk for overtaking it or blocking it from view?
Then you need to factor in the logistics of traffic near your restaurant. Do you need more than one sign to cover multiple avenues of traffic? Are you removed a distance from the main thoroughfare? If so, you may need to consider additional signage that can draw in drivers some distance from your door.
Place your sign where it naturally directs customers to the entrance. For instance, don’t place it after the driveway you expect customers to turn into. Nothing is more frustrating than missing your turn and having to circle back around. Look at consumer travel pattern and put it in a logical place for their decision process, if possible. You may be catching guests on impulse, rather than pre-disposition. In that case, don’t leave them an opening to choose somewhere else to dine.
4. Keep it clean.
Once you have your sign installed, it’s important to maintain it. Don’t let it get dirty. Replace burnt out bulbs immediately. If it gets defaced, clean it or have it replaced immediately. A shabby sign could signify to a customer that your restaurant’s interior is equally not maintained, even if this isn’t true. Your sign is the first impression (possibly only) many customers have of your establishment. It has to be appealing. It has to be legible. It has to represent YOU.
Unhappy with the effectiveness of your current sign, but don’t have enough capital to replace it? Rewards Network can help.