Rebranding a Restaurant: Introduction
In our line of work, there are many directions one can take their career. Some get into the more technical side, growing in their knowledge of coding languages and techniques. Some go into specializations like social media or search engine optimization. Some simply push on design, and work to make cutting-edge layouts that win awards. In any case, staying stagnant is not an option. Those few end up with pink slips.
For me, working in an ad agency has given me much experience in seeing all the elements of making a business grow, and I know that anyone who ever wants to see "Creative Director" or "Executive" as their title will need to grow beyond just Photoshop and writing code. You need to know more about marketing, about determining the opportunities, and implementing the right executions to bring results to your client.
For the next month or so, I'm going to be journaling the process of a rebranding of a local restaurant/cafe. My goal is to help their business grow by taking what I've learned in an ad agency and bringing that to a small business that normally cannot afford such services.
Located out in Des Plaines, Illinois, Illusion Cafe has been in business for over ten years. Originally opened as a European-style bar and cafe, it saw much success until the last few years with the Great Recession clobbering the economy. Most of their clientele had been immigrants of the Eastern Bloc region looking for a "little slice of home" in their neck of the woods. With manual labor and construction work drying up all over the country, many of these folks are now moving back to Europe, believing America is no longer the land of opportunity.
A look at Des Plaines, Illinois
Des Plaines is a suburb located just to the Northwest of Chicago. With O'Hare Airport nearby, the area generally contains an even mix of young and old, male and female. Most of the current residents right now are working in professional fields with roughly 85% of the residents being Caucasian.
With the migration of the Eastern Bloc residents out, many of those who remain were born and grew up in the United States, thus their tastes do not follow those of their possible European elders. Most will select the typical "TGI Fridays" type of places when they go out for drinks, and choose franchises like Starbucks for coffee over a privately owned cafe. In the area are several "corporate-run" bar/restaurant establishments that all seemingly follow a cookie-cutter pattern of a sports-bar decor, cheap food, plenty of beer, and loads of screens to watch sports.
Upon some research, many residents either did not know Illusion Cafe even existed, or they thought it was some shady bar full of Polish and Russians. When I compare Illusion Cafe to one of the more favored venues, it's clear you can see differences. Walk into Illusion Cafe and the food is more "cafe" with paninis, salads, and such, there is dance music playing, and only a few TV screens barely ever showing sports. Maybe that will appeal to a young twenty-something from Poland looking for coffee and a light lunch, but not to American-born folk wanting hot wings, beer, and football (or baseball) on TV.
So the challenge is to try to tap into the demographic that remains in Des Plaines and to look for new opportunities in the region. This will be accomplished with a rename and rebranding of the venue, a new logo, new website, some advertising and promotional guidance given to the owners, and a better utilization of social media.
The owners already decided to change the name from "Illusion Café" to "Illusion Bar • Grill • Café". The decision was mainly about trying to show the area their venue is more than just a place for coffee and light food, but it could also be the place to catch a Bears game with a cold beer. They have also altered their menu to offer a mixture of bar favorites with some of the usual fare they are known for.
I personally think going the route as a "copycat" of the competition would be a bad move. While much of that Eastern Bloc immigrant clientele did move away, there is still a substantial amount of them left in the area to not overlook. One other advantage is they have an 18 and up license, so they're not limited to the 21 and up age limits their competition is, despite that they have a full bar.
I believe the ideal route would be to play off the European vibe, but more in the direction of the "authentic" pubs you see out there. The kinds that serve to the ethnically curious, and will cater to those who want European culture (and can't get it from the competition). Sort of combining what Illusion Cafe was with one of those typical sports bars...thus finding a happy medium.
In Chicago, there is a great cafe I love to frequent called Iguana Café. It seems to have the right balance of "cafe" and "bar". My hope is to carry some of these ideas to Illusion Cafe.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of this adventure as I'll explore a new branding for the venue, and where the true opportunities for Illusion are.