Reviving the Relevance of Restaurant Brands

Reviving the Relevance of Restaurant Brands 491 800 Chute Gerdeman


What it Takes to Rebuild Restaurant Brands

Today’s evolving restaurant landscape requires planning for the future. The category continues to shift with QSR concepts expanding into the fast-casual category. At the same time, fast-casual concepts are looking to pick up the pace with quick-serve concepts, while casual dining is competing with local independents. Chains that wait for customers, the market, and eventually sales to demand change will find it’s too late. 


Key principles to align with customer values and stay competitive in a shifting marketplace


It’s time to move away from a cookie cutter restaurant, roll-out mentality. Consumers desire personalized experiences. For years, grocery stores like Whole Foods have capitalized on what independent restaurants have been capable of doing: providing authentic experiences that embrace the community. The core of the brand exists in every store–values are to be seen in action–but, the local community influences the design aesthetic; no two stores are alike. The name carries the brand and expectations delivered through experience.

Another brand that knows a thing or two about being one of a kind is burger joint, Bareburger. With over a third of its menu catering to a vegetarian and plant-based diet, Barebuger has curated an experience that stands alone in today’s gastropub market; each location is built with recycled and reclaimed materials, making each space exceptionally unique. It’s brightly-painted walls are covered with framed images of sheep, bison, and bears–oh, my!–in one location and explosive splashes of primary colors in another. Its idea of providing unforgettable dining goes beyond the sustainable, organic ingredients Bareburger includes in every meal; the brand has taken to AR features and Snapchat in a new campaign to showcase its product in a way unparalleled by any other burger chain today. The emphasis it has placed on local campaigns has given consumers a new reason to brag about their burger.


Focus beyond just being local. Authenticity is the real key here. Consumers can smell a disingenuous attempt from a mile away. Do your market research to understand the community.


Dining out isn’t just about a meal; it’s about an experience. Open kitchen concepts paved the way for food transparency, but consumers are looking for more contextually-rich experiences that combine education. It’s about creating a place where consumers are not only engaging with your food, but with your brand. They’re looking to learn chefs’ unique point of view and culinary education.

Believe it or not, a winery-restaurant combination is not as commonplace as one might think, even along the west coast in the heart of Napa Valley. In 2005, Tim McEnery paired this approach with house wines to launch Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in Oakland Park, Chicago. Since then, the brand has successfully brought its extensive offer of house wines to an all-inclusive restaurant experience. The brand integrates education through tasting rooms, adding a retail component to augment the overall experience. And often, loyal patrons find themselves becoming wine club members, becoming susceptible to exclusive tastings and special events.

The 63,000 sq. ft. Chicago Italian food market, Eataly, is home to over 5,000 high-quality Italian products. Each item is hand-selected and vetted by a team of Italian culinary experts, of whom understand its origins, how it was grown, and when it was harvested. It’s mission is staunchly rooted in the discovery of great artisanal products and to become educated about the products with the belief that the more you know, the more you will enjoy. The environment positions itself as a laboratory for learning all things Italian. Aside from the shelf-level product information, a skilled team of baristas, bakers, pasta makers, and butchers are there to not only make and prepare fresh food, but to serve their customers with education. They even have a culinary school for guests to experience the Eataly passion firsthand, learning how to make a fresh pasta. With twenty-three different restaurants, there’s a healthy dose of dining options. Each restaurant is also strategically positioned next to an area in the market in which it sources its ingredients, making it convenient for taking some home.


Determine the stories your customers need to know to develop a greater appreciation and connection with your brand. Is it time to dispel a certain brand perception or are you not getting credit for what makes you unique? Identify ways to integrate education into the experience. When you can make it participatory too, it only becomes more memorable.


Over the years, some restaurant chains have fallen victim to losing focus in concept and design. From location selection to menu development and environment design, not all change is good. Focus means understanding your brand offer and not trying to be everything to everyone. 

Finding a unique niche for restaurant brands can be a seriously-challenging endeavor; but in 28 locations nationwide, there’s no better place to turn than the 4,000 sf brunch-spot, Snooze. Based in Denver, CO, Snooze’s mission is simple: “to evolve the A.M. dining experience through culinary innovation, an eclectic and energetic atmosphere and comfortable and friendly service.” It’s exciting offering of espresso flights and breakfast goodness drives its unique stance on the industry forward, providing a one-of-a-kind sense to every location and enticing consumers for more than just one visit. The brand’s focus on sustainability and connection to the community it feeds allows every individual to understand what brand loyalty truly looks like. The space itself is retro, local  meets laid-back dining; the overall energy within is what makes this experience become the place to be any morning of the week.

Shake Shack, which started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, has turned into one of the most desirable fast-casual concepts, serving up all-American classics, burgers, dogs, shakes, and fries. The brand’s vision “Stand for Something Good” is built into all aspects of the business, including the ingredients that make up the menu, the design of the Shacks, and community engagement. What else is good is their average store performance pulling in at $4.3 million, twice that of McDonald’s average store performance in the US. And, while growth can sometimes present challenges to stay true to the foundation of a brand’s beginnings. Shake Shack embraces a mantra of “The Bigger We Get, The Smaller We Need to Act” meaning that they always need to stay true to their guiding principles.


Use your space to communicate your values, and you’ll find not only employees, but also customers will help keep you accountable. After years in an industry of competitor and economic pressures, it’s not a far stretch to say it’s easy to stray from the driving principles of the brand.


Too often, the opportunity for innovation happens on a five-year cycle when brands decide to develop a new restaurant design that checks all the necessary boxes: consumer needs, competitive differentiation, operationally sound, and aesthetically attractive. Check. Prototype complete. Roll it out across the chain and move on. So when does the innovation happen?
How can a restaurant chain find that magic moment of “Eureka!” that will extend their brand into the future of foodservice?

Brands need to embrace the restaurant experience with the same intensity and rigor that they invest into menu development in order to uncover their next-generation offer. Consider this your test kitchen 2.0, a place where every dining detail from seating options and table heights to kitchen placement and hostess stands to lighting and material selections can be tested in a real world environment. It’s an exploratory approach to dining that pushes restaurant brads to continually plan their foodservice future.


We are a team of experts, driven by varied perspectives, collaborating with confidence to create innovative and unparalleled restaurant experiences. We help connect brands to guests in ways that matter: recognition, loyalty, and return visits. As we reflect on our 29 years in the industry, we take pride in meaningful partnerships that allow us to change how brands engage their customers.


Design that connects people to the world’s greatest brands.

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Westerville, Ohio 43081

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