Times change and so must restaurant brands.

Times change, brands need to too

A steady stream of loyal repeat customers…a community gathering place…a great reputation…and profits.

That’s what you really want, but it’s not happening.

Stop and take a good, long look at your restaurant. Is a little tired? Maybe the décor is drab, the menu is old and the dining room is empty. Your restaurant brand is big time bland.

This isn’t how it was supposed to be.

Remember back when the restaurant was started? You served delicious food based on family recipes cooked from scratch. The dining room buzzed with the sound of happy regular customers who became an extended family. The restaurant was the epicenter of the community – people came by to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or to just get together with friends. It was supposed to be like this forever.

But, here you are today and things have changed.

The dining room is empty, the life is gone, your regular customers have left, you can’t pay your bills and you’re stressed.

How did this happen? Why is the restaurant brand taking a dive downward?

You didn’t set out for the restaurant to turn out like this, but things changed and the restaurant didn’t keep up with the times. You saw signs of momentum meltdown, but you didn’t know what to do. Over time:

  • The food wasn’t as tasty
  • restaurant success historyThe regulars stopped coming by
  • The face of the community has changed and residents don’t have a connection your restaurant
  • The menu didn’t change
  • New customers only visited once
  • The restaurant’s history got lost
  • Old employees retired and new ones didn’t stay on very long
  • You no longer enjoyed coming to work

It’s okay – very few brands are able to keep going without making any changes over the years – but you can make business-saving changes now.

A common path, when your brand starts to age.
First, you recognized that business was a fraction of what it used to be. You took a look at the restaurant and decided that you didn’t like the name, the menu was too long, you weren’t cooking the right type of food and you were missing out on the lunch crowd.

Maybe you started changing everything.

You opened for lunch. You fired your cook. You moved from serving southern comfort food to vegetarian fare. You tried coupons to get some customers. You changed the tablecloths. But, it didn’t make any difference and the restaurant had even less customers than before.

When the changes didn’t bring you the results that you wanted, you started looking into every marketing tactic and latest food fad for fixes. But none of those worked either because you didn’t get down to the root of the problem – your brand, the foundation of your restaurant. That’s OK! If you still have the desire to fix your restaurant, you are 90% there. You also have a secret weapon. I’ll bet that you have a lot of brand value in your restaurant’s history that you can use in your relaunch.

things to use from your restaurants history

History gives you stories. Stories build strong brands.
In order to bring your restaurant into the future, you are going to have to update and reboot your brand. A brand refresh is so effective because during this process you will get back to the roots of your business and redefine your vision and your identity. Then, you will work on making all of your brand touchpoints reflect your changes. Next, you get a chance to make a big splash with relaunch events and marketing messaging. Think of this as a second grand opening. Finally, you will monitor the changes and see how people are responding.

A brand reboot is more than some superficial cosmetic changes.
Rebranding works for all types of businesses and can be especially effective for restaurants. You may have seen some companies that you know update their brands or get a new lease on life. In the food category, brands like Lance, Ovaltine, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Gatorade, Altoids mints and Wonder Bread have leveraged their histories and repositioned themselves as 21st Century brands.

You might be thinking that you don’t have the time, money or branding know-how to pull this off. While it is true that a brand overhaul will require you to spend time and money to make changes, staying the course might cause you to close the doors. Yes, hiring a branding specialists can cost five or six-figures and a brand revamp will take several months to complete, but there are things that you can do on your own to make some big changes.

If you are ready to do the work to bring your restaurant into the 21st Century, here are seven things you should do to get started.

seven steps to refresh an old restaurant brand

  1. Clarify your vision – you can probably remember why the restaurant was started fifty plus years ago, but if you and other family members are running the show now, you need to get clear on what you want. Do you want to continue to run the restaurant? If you do, how do you envision the restaurant (type of food, type of service, clientele, décor, ambiance)? What are your measures of success (financial and emotional)? Is everyone involved in the success of the restaurant on the same page? Are you committed to making the new vision a reality?
  2. Find out where you are – before you start building the future, you need to understand where your brand is today. Ask employees, ask customers, ask people in town what comes to mind when they think of your restaurant and if they know about the history. Ask them to be honest and thank them for their feedback. Yes, some of the bad stuff might hurt, but you need to hear the good and the bad. Tell them what you are working on and ask them for ideas. What would they like to see from your restaurant. This will give you your baseline of what perceptions are out there and what you can build upon or correct.
  3. Collect the history – you are sitting on a goldmine! Some companies have to pay branding agencies thousands and thousands of dollars to write stories and fictional histories to build the brand. You already have the raw material. Ask your family. Ask past employees. Ask lifelong customers. Write it down. Use it everywhere – on your menus, on the website, in your brand manual. Do you have any pictures or items that you can use in the décor? Use them. They are all part of the history. The wonderful thing about a restaurants history is that it is unique to that restaurant. It would be pretty tough for another restaurant to take your story and make it their own.
  4. Look at the competitive market space – take a look at all the other dining options in your area. Is there a need that isn’t being met? Look for spaces that you can occupy. Yes, you have your history that makes your restaurant unique, but what else can you do to make your restaurant stand-out? Do a little research here and read restaurant review sites to see what people like and what they think could be done better. Get creative and generate lots of possibilities, then sort through and find some winning concepts.
  5. Look at the physical space – does it still look like it did in 1958? That’s OK! Now that you have your vision (step 1), history (step 3) and point of difference (step 4) start to imagine what your restaurant looks like. Think colors, textures, lighting, furniture and use of space. Is it bright or low-lit, spacious or cozy, modern or rustic? Look to magazines or other spaces that you like for inspiration. When coming up with design ideas, make sure that your ideas align with your brand. If this part gets overwhelming, you might have to call in some professional help from interior designers or decorators. Having your history and vision will cut down on the amount of work they will have to do and it will give them some guidance in their design process.
  6. Tell everyone – once you have come up with your new brand, tell everyone that you will be having an unveiling. Generate buzz and excitement! Have an event at your restaurant to celebrate the grand re-opening. Publish the event on your social media channels and in local papers. Create special on-brand touches to make it memorable. For example, if your restaurant is 65, have special pricing with 65 or create a signature drink with 65 in the name or give something to the first 65 visitors. Create a loyalty card with special rewards called “Club 65” to give to people who attended the launch party.
  7. Monitor it – after your relaunch, check in with your staff and see if they are representing the new brand direction. Ask customers how they like the new changes. Check on all of your touchpoints and make sure that they are on brand. If necessary, make small change. Remember, a brand is not static. You can always tweak and update as you go along.


Living in the past is a dangerous road to stay on. If you want to keep the restaurant brand relevant and moving forward,  a brand refresh may be on the menu.

A brand update can require time, money and some hard work on your part, but the payoff will be worthwhile.

Do you have any questions about updating a brand? Have you been through this process? We’d love to hear about it in the Comments section.

Jocelyn Ring is co-founder of Brain Tattoo Publishing and is a branding and business strategist, entrepreneur and visual facilitator. Learn more about The Ring Effect.