Consider the lush urban sanctuary in Alexandria, Australia known as The Grounds, where the guests are taken on a food, drink, and social journey in an old warehouse district. Think of Milwaukee’s spy hideout Safe House, or Taipei’s scatological Modern Toilet. Then, there’s Las Vegas’ Heart Attack Grill, which boasts that it’s a proven health hazard.

Differentiate Your Restaurant Brand by Building an Emotional Connection 1

The Grounds of Alexandria outside of Sydney, Australia. Image by: Cavanagh Photography

All of the restaurants I’ve listed have done an excellent job of differentiating themselves. You don’t even need to set foot in these establishments to remember them; their reputations are unforgettable, courtesy of transformational dining experiences, in-your-face themes, gimmicks, and tons of media coverage.

Diners visit these establishments to have an experience—an adventure while on vacation, a unique birthday celebration, or they simply attend on a lark. But some patrons fall in love with these establishments and go back again and again. Why?

Even patrons who are not regulars tell others about these establishments evangelically while reliving the memorable moments, sending their friends and family in to experience the good times and the good food too.

A strong story or theme isn’t appropriate for all restaurants, all diners, and all situations. But that kind of emotional connection is. All restaurants with a desire for longevity should strive to stir their guests’ sentiments in order to be more memorable and to distinguish their eatery from the competition.

One way to do this is by considering the five senses, stimulating these to tap into your customers’ emotions.

I’m a big fan of Brand Sense by my good friend Martin Lindstrom. Martin studied consumers globally and concluded that when sensory stimulation is added to a branded experience, emotions heighten and an imprint is made. This helps to further distinguish one brand from another.

Some examples include:

  • a carefully curated playlist or live music
  • a fragrant tableside hand washing ritual
  • textured walls or unique fabrics for linens
  • a distinctive offering before dinner—not your normal bread
  • offering kitchen tours
  • providing tableside preparation
  • inviting guests to select their own cuts of meat

We go into this in more detail in the RBR Academy module IV on concepts. If you’re not aware of this tool, you can find out more here. It’s an online crash course all about branding that is definitely worth checking out.

For now, think about how you can incorporate all of the senses into your restaurant. Be sure to make choices that fit in with your overall concept. A hand washing ritual may be a bit out of place in a gastro pub playing punk rock. It would certainly be memorable, but not for the right reasons.

You also want to make sure that your choices make for a pleasurable experience for your customers. Otherwise you may indeed be evoking emotion in your guests, but not the kind that will bring them back to dine with you again in the future. As an example, picture a small, cozy bistro, and imagine a server attempting tableside preparation, tossing salads while blocking other diners’ way to the restroom or the exit. Just imagine how much you would roll your eyes if you witnessed this.

You want to tap into you guests’ emotional centers in a positive way. So much of what makes a concept successful is rooted in emotion. Most of your concept—the core of your brand—is all about how you make your customers feel and what sentiment you stir up inside of them.

Here are a few other examples of how to tap into emotions:

Blast from the past.
Memories, nostalgia, history, and even time capsules of famous people can excite a good feeling.

Snob appeal.
Being at the “in place” is a feeling many guests love. You can achieve this by how you treat your guests, what degree of the “you are a VIP” vibe and social status you communicate, and by creating an exclusive, visible wait to get in.

Entertain them.
Whether it’s a musical performer serenading songs of romance or a fire-eating dancer, entertainment provokes many emotions.

For most restaurants, the success of their concept is proven by whether or not their guests truly enjoy the feelings they elicit.

Do you have a question about emotional branding?  We’d like to hear from you! Drop us a comment below and we will try to address it.