STOP THE MADNESS: You Need To Build A Brand Not Open A Restaurant

Most restaurants come on the scene with a recipe and a dream. They have a burning desire to feed the masses. It doesn’t matter if they operate from a brick and mortar, food truck or pop up. All they want is for everyone to experience the love they plate and serve. I know this second hand. See, my husband is that FOOD DIVA who wants everyone to swoon with every bite. It gives him bragging rights and a sense of value.

Turning something like that from a restaurant to a brand is what I did and it’s what all restaurant owners need to do. Our second restaurant, Bigmista’s Morning Wood, is still talked about even though we closed in July 2018. The name alone on the backdrop of our bright red building stopped traffic.

When customers actually visited they experienced a family vibe, got to listen to R&B music and chow down on creations they couldn’t get anywhere else. When they returned they always thought it was worth the wait and the price.

Potential customers will pass up a great food place because they don’t know it’s a great food place. They will instead go to a mediocre fast, cheap, and easy fast food joint next door because they recognize the brand. It is literally a no brainer.

Building a brand is more than a notion. It takes time, patience and work. When customers pass up a fast, cheap and easy spot for a place that actually prepares their food and cost more, that is branding. To brand is to be at the forefront of someone’s mind when they have a fist full of cash.


How a restaurant wants a potential customer to perceive them is brand identity. Most of them miss the mark because they begin and end with brand identity. This is an external factor that shows up the menu, the building and maybe some merch. It includes things like aesthetics, tag lines and logos. That’s not a brand, that’s brand lite.

At this level, the brand is nothing more than a facade. When potential customers encounter brand identity only, they may not acknowledge the brand existence. It’s missing that element that connects to them to potential customers. Think about it. How often will someone take a sample without missing a step? Free nosh anyone, yes please!


Potential customer on the other hand have a perception of the restaurant. This is the brand image. It’s that magical place reserved in the mind of the masses and it’s not open to everyone. At this level a potential customer relies on their impression, beliefs, and emotional connection to the restaurant. This perception happens with barely a glance.

There’s an old saying that you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Consider a restaurant in a food court. The right brand would be impressive as impressive as hell. Instead they ALL blend into the backdrop of mall life. If they want to be the bell of the mall, their brand image has to be fire. Customers can’t make an emotional connection from a picture of a plate of food.


Where brand image and brand identity overlap is the sweet spot. This is where the money resides. Brand positioning is an internal matter that has an outward affect. It nurtures the brand image and supports the brand identity.

Developing your internal brand gives life to everything else about your brand. It’s where the values, purpose, vision and mission take root to grow a brand. Knowing your roots keeps you focused on how you want to show up as a brand, not a restaurant. It creates the personality customers fall in love with. It gives them something to believe in.

Yes, a small restaurant can have BIG brand. And yes, showing up as a culinary bad ass in the industry is every chef’s goal. They don’t open a restaurant with the dream of being the hole in the wall. If they do then they should name the place “Hole In The Wall” then work that brand like a boss.