Creating new and exciting dishes from scratch is part of the normal flow of a restaurateur’s life. Combining the right ingredients with just the right amount of TLC can develop a delicious and intriguing new menu item for your customers enjoy again and again.
But when it comes time to cook up a restaurant brand identity from scratch, how do you choose what to include? The same concepts in developing a new menu item apply. You have to measure out and combine the right design ingredients if you want to create a powerful brand identity. Fonts, colors, logos, typography treatments — the choices can be endless.
A great brand can also influence other choices you need to make for your restaurant, from chairs to lighting as your visual brand should be in unison with your overall restaurant concept. So whether you’re revamping your current brand identity, or looking to start a completely new restaurant concept, follow these suggested guidelines to save time, money, and frustration down the road as you build an effective and powerful visual brand for your restaurant.
Where do I start?
Initial concepting should begin long before the actual hands-on work of creating a brand identity on paper. Much like deciding what type of restaurant concept to launch, there’s a significant discovery process to help you better understand what your visual brand could look like. Most likely, you’ll need to share your vision with a graphic designer so they can hone in on specific design choices that match the style you’re seeking. Having a clear idea of what you want (with samples of similar things you like or hate) before a designer begins to bill will make for a much more efficient and productive branding process.
Step one in determining your brand is to write down three or four adjectives to describe what you would want your brand (i.e. your restaurant) to express. Draw upon the story or history of your restaurant, its menu, and the actual name of the establishment for inspiration.
These adjectives are ultimately what you would like your customers’ perception of your restaurant to be. They should have a direct influence on every aspect of your brand, including the colors, fonts — even the actual structure of the logo and other brand pieces. For instance, “My restaurant is hip and upbeat, yet modern.”
Here’s some additional questions and tips to get you started on the brand exploration process:
- What do you want your customer to feel when they look at your visual brand?
- Is your brand “evergreen,” meaning can it stand the test of time? Or does it incorporate colors or fonts that are trendy and could quickly become outdated?
- Are you gravitating toward elements that every other restaurant or small business uses? For instance, Papyrus font or the image of a fork and knife? Avoid these at all costs.
- Where do you plan to use your brand identity? Write out a list of all the items and areas where your logo and name will appear — from the welcome floor mat and napkins to your website and outdoor signage. Remember, it’s important to maintain a high level of brand integrity. It has to remain scalable, legible, and cohesive no matter where it lives.
- Take a look at the competition and see how they have chosen to brand themselves. What do you like about their visual brands, what do you feel when you look at them, and does the brand seem to match the restaurant’s concept? Record those answers.
- If you are creating a new brand identity and scrapping your old brand completely, what is it that you liked and didn’t like about it? Did it not hold true to your ultimate vision?
Get in the mood.
After establishing the premise of your brand identity, start working with a designer to bring the concept to life. The first step for your designer is likely to create mood boards, based upon their initial conversation with you and their understanding of your brand vision.
A mood board is essentially a collage of visuals that hopes to capture the essence of a brand. Much like an interior designer will bring swatches of tile and carpet tacked onto a physical board to their client’s home, a graphic designer will create similar boards on their computers. These boards can include a color palette, as well as visuals of other branding items such as fonts, symbols, icons, specific graphic treatments, and possibly branding from other companies similar to what you’re looking for.
Build some brand basics.
After writing out your brand description and approving your designer’s mood boards, your next steps will be to establish a logo, color scheme, and fonts. It’s important to note that not all brands actually have or need a logo. Many companies simply use a “wordmark” or “logotype,” which is simply the company name professionally set in a specific font, color, and/or graphical treatment.
But if you are going to create a logo, be thoughtful about whether it can consistently live across many mediums. A logo should be flexible enough to scale up or down depending on where it appears. An intricate logo with small design details (such as words within the logo) may look fine at a normal or large scale. But when you place the logo onto a much smaller print area, such as a business card or guest receipt template, it can quickly become illegible or skew it to the point of being unrecognizable.
When choosing a color scheme, it’s important to select colors meaningful to your brand, not just to you personally. Because people naturally associate them with emotions, the colors of your brand play as important a role as the other graphic elements.
If your concept is focused on organic offerings, uses a lot of local produce, or has a rooftop garden, colors such as green or brown may play well into your branding. Green denotes nature and freshness, and brown is a traditional earthy color often associated with food — a nod to the type of cuisine you produce. Your color palette can also include secondary color options to use as additional spot colors or to help define different services within your brand identity.
When it comes to fonts, there are millions of fonts to choose from and they come in a variety of styles — cursive, gothic, hand drawn, retro, novelty and many others. A good designer should be able help you narrow down choices and find ones that are in alignment with your brand vision. You can also have a primary and second typographic treatment as well. Like the logo, your font needs to be legible when scaled down to a very small print area.
Let me see your ID.
Once all these decisions are set down, it’s time to create the Brand ID Guide (BIG). This is a document that you can provide any vendor (sign designer, menu printer, interior decorator, uniform supplier) that will explain the rules of the road for your brand identity. This will ensure the integrity of your visual brand over time and across multiple stakeholders.
Included in the BIG are all the elements that make up your visual brand basics, including:
- color palette
- naming conventions
- brand voice
- And the do’s and don’ts of how to use all of them
For example, logos need to be adapted for different uses. The BIG shows vendors multiple “lockups” that clearly show full color, reversed out, grayscale, and solid black variations. You may also need your logo to appear in spaces that won’t fit all the elements of its original design. If you have a horizontal logo — but a square print space — the BIG can help explain to the vendor how much wiggle room they have in skewing the logo’s design to fit the print area.
If you use photography consistently in your branding efforts, the BIG can also outline what type is considered “on brand.” For example, photographs may require a specific lighting, focus, or color overlay applied. Photographs aren’t your only imagery option, of course, as many brand use original illustrations as well. Just make sure you have guidelines established in your BIG for those as you would any other element.
In addition to these basics, go one step further and show how the brand will look in real-life applications. Place these final mock-ups of your menu cover, signage, uniforms, and/or advertising within the BIG. It will help vendors understand how you expect your brand to look across other communication pieces.
Creating a brand identity is not a quick process. There are multiple steps and revisions to get through before arriving at a final product. But with the right design ingredients and time — and a bit of hard work — you’ll be able to build right brand from the ground up, one that compliments your restaurant’s concept and appeals to your audience.
Now that you’ve got your new brand identity, how do you keep it consistent over time?