Rebranding a Restaurant: Rethinking the Brand

Published on November 10, 2011 under Marketing, Business


A man in the ad industry that I highly respect once told me that branding is not just a logo. It's the recognition, feeling, and opinion the consumer carries when they hear of your company, product, or service. Think about when one says "Coca-Cola". Of course you'll recognize the name, and you might have a positive or negative opinion.

Branding is the often-misunderstood factor many small businesses overlook. They think a simple name and an "Open" sign is all they need. My own father even understood long ago that how consumers view your business is what will drive them to patronize you. It's why he used "Jason's" as the name of his business, because it sounded more "American" than his native-Greek name.

Branding is what most big banks and oil companies are trying to get control of, as consumers generally look down on their industries right now. Dow Chemicals is a great example of good branding with their "Human Element" campaign. They want people to have a positive opinion of their company. To have consumers picture scientific innovation and a better planet, as opposed to "suits" and "environmental disasters".

Rethinking Illusion Café

Interior of Illusion Cafe 

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, many of the residents of the Des Plaines region either didn't even know Illusion Café existed, or they held an opinion that it was a shady bar full of Polish and Russians. In all actuality, branding has not been even a heavy factor in how the owners have run their business. I'd see the vibe variate from "sports bar" to "hip lounge". I'd see several graphics floating all over pretending to be logos of the venue. It's obvious things need to be lassoed into one solid brand.

Currently, most of the competition for Illusion has been American sports bars. They typically cater to college students and middle-class adults who enjoy inexpensive food and beer while watching sports. On weekend evenings, some of these same venues open up for DJs or live bands playing party favorites and rock anthems.

Now it would be easy to simply get rid of the espresso machine, toss loads of knick-knacks on the walls, and put in a beer tub, but then you end up with one more similar business saturating the market. It would be like opening a burger joint on a block that already has a McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. The smarter move is to think about what markets are not being served.

The New Brand

In my opinion, I can see two untapped markets for Illusion. The first would be the yuppie set that generally cares deeply about personal fashion, conspicuous consumption, and even at times being in the "cool spots" over the typical ones. The other is women in general. Most of these sports bars claim to be all about everyone, but peel back the layers and they're a very masculine-focused atmosphere. I'll hear of a "ladies night" but it doesn't really mean anything other than a name.

To go after both markets, the owners have done some remodeling of the venue to give it a more "loft" kind of look with brick and wood all over. More booths have been installed to replace tables and chairs simply because of how many in those markets like to lounge in them. I have also suggested the owners reach out to local artists and invite them to hang their works on the walls. It won't make the venue seem "snobby", but more contemporary and thus stand out over the typical walls of knick-knacks the competition does.

The menu itself has been revised to carry a delicate balance of their typical café cuisine combined with bar room favorites. I think especially if you're trying to attract women to come in, then you can't have the menu contain only high-fat/high-calorie food. The alcohol list should also contain some decent wines and martinis as well.

I've also suggested a change in the atmosphere at Illusion. Normally you walk in and you'll hear dance music playing in low volume all day. Not bad if you're a clothing store or hair salon, but not good if you're an eatery. You go into restaurants and you'll either hear pop favorites or even a variety of music that fits the atmosphere. I advised the owners to change up the music and perhaps put it on "shuffle" so you could hear current pop contemporary hits one moment, lounge classics the next, and even some light rock. I think in doing this, you'll remove some of the "negative European" opinion some residents carry and make things more inviting.

Another idea is to play more European sports on those screens. All over Chicagoland there are a handful of venues that will play soccer and rugby from the UK, formula 1 racing, and international hockey as well as American baseball, football, and basketball. These lovers of European sports are a cult, and they have no real venue out in the suburbs to enjoy their love. With the Euro Cup happening next year, Illusion could stand out greatly as being a venue willing to cater directly to those fans.

Finally, I suggested a true ladies night to attract more women out. Rather than just a name, or a small special, go further. See if any local nail salons would want to come set up in a booth and sell inexpensive manicures. Have a DJ play music that women would mainly like. Perhaps see if any local clothing and jewelry stores would want to sell a few things in a small section. On top of that, give a special on martinis, light appetizers, and show "chick flicks" on the screens.

The end result is to make the place look and feel interesting. To make it welcoming, but different from the rest. The ladies night idea alone is well suited to truly give female consumers something they would love, as opposed to a watered-down ideology the competition plays.

Next time

We have our branding idea, but now we need to make a solid logo to exemplify this branding as well as be the synonymous image that will appear on advertisements, menus, etc. Join me next time as I design the logo, explain my logic behind those designs, and reveal what the client selected.

Tags: business, rebrand, marketing, restaurant, illusion bar grill cafe

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