Developing a brand strategy that bases itself on a meaningful purpose can lead to a deep, emotional connection with your clientele - one that ultimately counts more than luxury decor and a fancy menu. A sense of purpose that a guest can buy into brings an added and distinctive dimension to the overall customer experience and should not be overlooked.
Experiential marketing goes beyond the five senses
Next, a good restaurant will consider scent: candles, incense, or a natural manifestation of a faint of cooking smells.
Sight, the things you see, from the crockery on the tables to the art on the walls and a hundred things in between.
Sound, through music, or the absence of, equally powerful and quite a statement, the distant clang of pots and pans and hush of fellow diners the only auditory backdrop.
And touch, the fabrics, the table linen and so on. When you think about it, there are countless sensory ways to bring your restaurant brand to life.
Ironically, given the immersive nature of restaurants and the array of tools at a restaurateur’s disposal to create a vivid experience, there’s a complacency within the industry. Many restaurants forego any kind of brand strategy. They maximise each sensory element of the experience, whether it be delicious food, beautiful plateware or elegant design, but together they are disparate, in disharmony. Many fail to create a purpose for their brand, a story that trickles through every experiential element to bring the brand purpose to life, believing a restaurant that looks pretty and serves good food is enough. Whilst that may be true up to a certain point, the longevity of a restaurant depends on the brand and its strength.
The customer experience: Restaurants with a 'transportive' purpose
A restaurant can transport the guest into a different place, time, or a state of mind, offering an emotional sense of escapism. A different place can be as broad a definition as an Indian restaurant offering cuisine that spans the million km² country to as narrow as a restaurant based on Wayanad, a district in north-east Kerala known for its heritage varieties of rice and frog leg curry. In either case, the experience would be completely different. The first showcases the diversity and rich heritage that spans India, where you might have North Indian tandoori ovens in the kitchen, Rajasthani Mughal paintings on the walls or table linen made from silk from West Bengal. The second brings Wayanad to life, using plateware from local artisans and ingredients sourced exclusively from the district.
A different time is another powerful transportive tool. Take Gymkhana, the famed Michelin-starred restaurant in London, taking its diners back to British Raj India, or the countless number of Speakeasy’s transporting you to prohibition-era America. Transportive can also be to a state of mind, less radical in approach but equally effective. Take a small, basement restaurant bar down a flight of stairs in the madness that is Soho in London, an escape from the hustle and bustle, a calm sanctuary to gather yourself. Whatever the form of escapism you offer, it’s a powerful, emotional draw your restaurant can create.
Make the difference: Restaurants with a belonging purpose
These restaurants effectively assume the role of a gathering point and are an anchor in the community. In these restaurants, the concept and menu may take a slight backseat. In fact, some of these restaurants may seem to have quite a disparate, eclectic menu, but that is in fact purposeful, reflecting the tastes of the melting pot of the guests it hosts. These are often intensely personal, the waiters known by first name who notice if, say, Tim has had a new haircut, or offer emotional support to Sara when her nosy mother-in-law is in town. They know that Jack likes to be served tabasco with his oysters because he in fact intensely dislikes them, eating them only to appear sophisticated in front of his guests.
Strengthening that role of community anchor, the best examples will often rely heavily on the local economy. Fish and veg from the local fishmongers and green grocers, linen cleaned at the dry cleaners down the street. Going a step further, art from local artists on the wall, decorative ceramic pots from the little vintage store. In this case, it’s redundant to mention examples, since these are intensely personal. As you read, you may be thinking of your own example and that’s what makes this angle powerful, you develop a certain sense of ownership.
Restaurants with a social agenda purpose
The last angle is perhaps the most under-utilised but will only gain in importance: the restaurant as a vehicle for social change. At the centre of these restaurants is the belief in a cause which permeates the experience. Take Silo, in London’s Hackney neighborhood, their website states that the restaurant is ‘designed from back to front, always with the bin in mind’. To achieve zero waste means taking control over everything. They mill their own flour, churn their own butter, and have a nose-to-tail philosophy making use of the whole animal. In the dining room, furniture is made from up-cycled materials, tables made from reconstituted food packaging. Beyond food waste, a lesser-known example is the restaurant of mistaken orders, created to spread awareness on dementia. Their service team all live with dementia and the restaurant states ‘They may, or may not, get your order right’. This brings to light one of the realities of Japanese society in the 21st century: according to the OECD, Japan has the highest dementia prevalence. Through a restaurant and gathering around delicious food, whether a wrong order or not, awareness and a dialogue around dementia is created. That’s a very powerful thing.
Strive for meaning and purpose
Whether the angle is transportive, belonging or social change, the purpose behind your restaurant matters. If you have delicious food and appealing interiors, yes, people will come, once, perhaps twice, maybe you’ll even have a handful of regulars. But to create an emotional connection with your guests, a story they buy into, one that transports them to a different reality, makes them feel like they belong or advocates for a cause or change you believe in, that’s a relationship that will never go stale.