The Definitive Guide to Creating a Compelling Visual Brand for Your Restaurant in 2020

If you’re opening or operating a restaurant, then you’re probably pretty passionate about food.

But, are you passionate about your brand?

If you want to succeed, you’re going to have to be.

A restaurant’s brand identity is the cumulative effect of what your guests see, taste, smell, feel and hear at your restaurant, online, and in the world at large. And, as we’ve previously explained:

Every company has a brand identity.

This is true for your company whether you’ve made a single conscious branding decision or not.

And that’s why it’s vitally important to make conscious, consistent branding choices. The decisions left unmade, and a brand left untended, may hurt your business.

Restaurateurs put great passion into their food, their concept, and their decor. But, a restaurant’s brand identity – and visual brand design – is equally important and not to be forgotten.

The best restaurant branding evolves from clearly defined core values, personality traits, and a unique value proposition. We recommend you start your branding journey with the brand audit process we’ve outlined here.

And, once you have a thorough understanding of your restaurant’s brand, you can begin to plan how you’ll communicate that brand visually.

What is a visual brand?

A visual brand is the sum total of all the branding your customers can see. This manifests in many forms – and we’ll explore the most important ones for your restaurant below.

Visual Brand Assets

There are fundamental visual branding assets that every business must have, regardless of industry.

At their most basic, these include a logo, fonts, and brand colors.

These assets are then used to construct larger and more complex elements of your visual brand – like your website, outdoor signage, menu, and more. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Your Logo

Your logo is the visual symbol that will represent your restaurant to the world.

Your customers will recognize your business (or not) by your logo. To that end, it’s essential that your logo be easy to recognize.

And, to achieve this lofty goal, a logo must be unique, relatively simple, and memorable. But, in today’s crowded marketplace, this is becoming harder and harder to accomplish.

Your brand is the secret ingredient that will guide your logo into that sweet spot of specific, unique, and memorable. In fact, it’s the most important ingredient in any successful logo. As we explained previously:

In art for art’s sake, it’s okay to make choices based on aesthetics alone. However, a logo’s primary function is to communicate brand identity. Arbitrary design choices just won’t do. So, all aesthetic considerations – from line weight to color, to form – must serve the brand.

So, don’t rush the logo design process – or, even worse, use a logo generator that spits out generic logos that will fail to deliver a unique visual brand identity. Even if you have a unique business name, a generic logo design will quickly get lost.

Your logo is the cornerstone of your visual brand – impacting every other visual branding decision you make. So, give it the consideration it deserves.

We may be a bit biased, but we recommend a crowdsourced design platform like crowdspring. Crowdsourced design provides new restaurateurs with many logo options to choose from at an affordable price.

If you’re not a branding expert, this variety of custom options will help you find a logo that speaks to you and embodies your new brand.

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Your Fonts

Choosing the right typography to represent your brand can be a tall order with so many fonts available to choose from.

The most important factors to consider when selecting your brand fonts are legibility and brand-appropriateness.

Any font you choose must be easy to read or it will fail at its primary job – communication.

But, the font must aesthetically jive with your brand personality, too. For a comprehensive look into choosing the best fonts for your brand, click here.

Finally, we recommend choosing at least two fonts – one for headlines and one for body copy. You can get a bit more creative with your headline font, but prioritize legibility for your body font.

Your Brand Colors

Torafuku brand colors – Image courtesy of BPandO.org

Choosing the right colors to represent your brand will communicate a great deal about your restaurant.

People are deeply influenced by color on a subconscious level. So, it’s important to make wise choices that are in alignment with your brand’s personality and values.

When used consistently, these brand colors will become a visual identification shorthand for your restaurant.

Check out How 21 Brands Use Color to Influence Customers and Small Business Branding: What Color Says About Your Business to learn more.

We recommend choosing a palette of colors that support and complement your logo. This will contribute to a visually unified brand identity.

And, also, remember that your brand colors will be used on your interior and exterior decor, signage, menu, and website. So, choose colors that will be versatile enough to work in all of these contexts. More on those below…

Mascots

Simon Camaron – Image courtesy of Grits and Grids

A mascot is not a required branding element by any means. But, mascots are powerful branding tools that restaurants have embraced for years.

From classic mascots like Ronald McDonald and Bob’s Big Boy to exciting newcomers like Simon Camaron, these brand-influenced characters can connect with your audience in a more direct way than your logo or brand colors.

If a mascot doesn’t resonate with your restaurant’s brand, then don’t have one. But, if you have a playful style that could be embodied by a mascot character, consider developing a fun mascot figurehead to speak directly to your customers from your social media posts, signage, menu, website, and maybe even merchandise.

Your Website

Olivia Website

Olivia Website – Image courtesy of Grits and Grids

Your online presence is almost as important as your restaurant itself.

You may think that’s overstating, but… According to Restaurant Insider, 90% of guests research a restaurant online before dining there. And, of those researchers, 57% visit the restaurant’s website.

So, if you have a poorly branded or badly designed website, you stand to turn away 57% of your prospective diners. That’s staggering.

Custom-branded website design will communicate to visitors exactly what they can expect when they visit your restaurant. And, for many, your website will deliver your brand’s first impression. So, make sure it’s a good one.

Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

  • Feature your brand colors in your website design.
  • Place your logo prominently so it’s easy to see.
  • Make it easy to find important things like your menu, location, phone number and hours of operation.
  • Use similar language on your website that you use in any advertisements.

We recommend working with professional web designers to develop your web design and launch your site. But, if you choose to use a website template instead, be sure to customize that template with custom illustrations or original photos to visually link it to your brand.

Your Signage

Signage is an important practical element of a restaurant’s visual brand design.

When guests seek you out, your outdoor signage will signal that they’ve found you. Outdoor signs also act as a sort of bait for potential clients seeking a place to eat. So, if your sign is unappetizing, people will assume your restaurant is, too.

Here are some tips to help you develop an enticing and functional sign to welcome your guests…

  • Choose a font that is both brand-appropriate and legible. Ideally, this should be one of your chosen brand fonts.
  • Feature your brand colors and logo in your sign’s design to help reinforce your visual brand identity.
  • Choose background and typography colors that stand out for good visibility and legibility from a distance.

An easy-to-read, on-brand sign will always welcome the right customers to your door. That’s why it’s a vital part of every restaurant’s visual brand.

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Your Menu

Every restaurant must have a menu.

And, it’s a prime opportunity wasted if you don’t use that menu to communicate your brand in a meaningful way. Successful restaurant branding touches every aspect of the diner experience.

A unique, on-brand menu is an excellent tool for reinforcing your brand in guests’ minds. And, a smart menu layout will create a pleasant reading experience and can prime diners to want to order more.

And, don’t forget your online menus, either. Just as your in-restaurant guests need physical menus, your online visitors should be able to easily find a digital version to peruse.

It’s common practice for people to read restaurant menus online before visiting a restaurant. So, your online menu acts as an advertisement or preview of what they can expect.

It’s in your best interest to make your online menu easy to view on mobile devices as well as larger screens.

For both your in-house menu and your online menu, plan to incorporate your brand colors, logo, mascot (if you have one), and brand fonts. The consistent use of these visual assets across all of your customer touchpoints will strengthen brand awareness and build trust.

Pro Tip: Avoid the recent trend of requiring online visitors to download a PDF in order to see your menu! It’s a hassle and many users just won’t bother – they’ll go to another restaurant instead.

Your Interior Decor

El Sapo Bar Interior

El Sapo Bar – Image courtesy of Grits and Grids

When it comes to visual branding, consistency is key.

When guests walk into your restaurant, they want the reassurance of seeing a space that’s consistent with the brand they’ve seen so far. If they find a space that doesn’t meet those expectations, they will feel mislead.

That’s not a good first impression. And first impressions can be hard to overcome.

Here are some guidelines you can follow to create a positive and cohesively branded interior design…

Color Palette

Your brand colors should feature prominently in your decor. But, don’t be afraid to supplement your brand colors with some neutral shades to create visual balance in your restaurant.

Colors that may look amazing on a smaller scale (like a computer screen, sign or menu) could become overwhelming if you paint or carpet your entire space in that shade.

More intense colors should be reserved for accents throughout the decor.

Using neutrals colors like black, white, grey, beige or taupe; or neutral textures like natural woods, stone or fabricated metals generously can help to offset more vibrant shades. This leads to a more open and relaxing feeling in your space.

Atmosphere

branded glassware

Yellowbelly Glassware – Image courtesy of Grits and Grids

Selecting the right color palette is only a part of the larger puzzle of designing branded decor.

To get the atmosphere right choose furniture that reflects your brand’s personality. Is your brand quirky and casual? Then choose playful furniture to reflect that. Is your restaurant earthy and organic? Serve up furniture made from sustainable materials along with your seasonal fare.

Think about the impact you can make with lighting fixtures. The design of the fixtures – as well as the quality of light they spread – can create many different moods. What mood is best for your brand?

Once you’ve got the essentials like paint, carpet, furniture, and lighting covered, consider additional decorative elements like draperies, wall murals, or other unique brand-specific tableware.

Remember – in the age of Instagram, no detail is too small to be celebrated on social media.

When deciding what to include in your restaurant decor, no decision should be arbitrary. Make selections that will communicate your brand essence and deliver the kind of experience that will make your restaurant memorable and worth sharing.

Your Staff Uniforms

Poco Blu Apron – Image courtesy of Kaizen Brand Evolution

Your staff is the living embodiment of your brand.

They must walk and talk about your brand values and personality. And, they must also look the part.

Staff uniforms don’t need to be complicated. Not every restaurant brand requires 15 pieces of flair. But, it is important to think about your brand and make uniform choices that support your brand personality.

Here are some options for you to consider:

  • Ask staff to wear neutral pants and a polo, tee, or button-down in one of your brand colors.
  • Provide servers with  custom t-shirts featuring your logo and perhaps a tagline.
  • Incorporate themed garments like Hawaiian shirts, poodle skirts, or cowboy boots, if appropriate.
  • Opt for all black for a simple and elegant attire solution.
  • Provide a uniform apron to be worn over neutral clothing of the server’s choosing.

There is no right or wrong answer here. But, whatever your staff wears, make sure it makes sense for your brand.

Consistency

The key to modern restaurant branding is consistency.

Your guests want a reliable experience that they can trust – and consistent visual branding is reassuring.

If you want customers to remember you and keep coming back, develop a consistent and cohesive visual brand everywhere your customers look.

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