In my last column, I introduced the concept of “touch points”—seven critical moments every customer experiences in a restaurant. Pay attention to these touch points, I wrote, and you can capture the “it” factor that so often distinguishes successful restaurants.
Now I’d like to examine these touch points from a different perspective—the contributions they make to building and maintaining your brand.
I still encounter operators who think their brand consists entirely of their name and logo. Or that branding is for “the big guys,” not independents. Thankfully, that number is much smaller than it was in years past. But so we’ll be on the same page, let me reiterate my favorite branding definition, courtesy of Gordon Food Service® Commercial Customer Success Manager Doug Owens:
“Your brand is your promise to your guest that is unique and readily identifiable, supported by demonstrated behavior and executed by your team.”
Social entrepreneur Dan Pallotta put it even more succinctly in The Harvard Business Review: “Brand is everything, and everything is brand.”
That brings me back to my seven touch points, which encompass the entirety of your customers’ experience. Thinking in terms of touch points requires you to think about everything you do to satisfy a customer. The way you deliver on it gives your customers an impression about your business.
How does this play out in the real world? Let’s consider two retail brands, the Dollar Store and Macy’s. Both are retailers. Both are after customers. Both try to build their business. Yet, because of their branding and how they control it, no one will ever confuse the two.
Logos are an essential part of both brands. But their brands are also defined by the products they offer, the way their employees approach customers, their store designs and their target demographics. These are all touch points.
Here’s the funny thing about branding: You’re engaged in it even if you don’t realize it. Whether you’ve deliberately worked on it or not, your business has established a brand that makes an impression on customers and potential customers.
You may be lucky; customers may have a good impression of your business even though you haven’t given branding a second thought. But it’s just luck; the brand has developed haphazardly without any direction from you. That may reflect well on your ability to run a restaurant, but it is not an intentionally crafted strategic asset.
It’s far better to manage your brand actively and to control, as much as possible, the impression people have of you.
Start taking active control of your brand by identifying:
Examine each touch point in light of what you want to achieve. Examples:
1. Curb appeal. Is your exterior bright and cheery to welcome families or reserved and stately to appeal to upscale patrons? Is the business readily identifiable from the outside to invite newcomers in, or is it more subtle, to make regulars feel at home
2. Hello, appetite! Are reservations accepted? Is the host/hostess warm and friendly or professional and no-nonsense? Are waitlist guests notified by pager, mobile app, text message or the hostess’ voice shouted across the lobby?
3. Tease me. Are the décor and ambiance that greet customers classy or flashy, unique or familiar, calming or energizing or minimalist or cluttered?
4. Decision time. Are customers presented with food choices via chalkboard, printed menu or computer screen? Do they make selections at a counter, to a server or on a tablet?
5. Lookin’ good. Does you operation look contemporary or dated? Are the plates china or paper? Plain or colorful? Rustic or modern? Are tables set with candles or flowers, linen tablecloths or kraft paper?
6. Ready, set, eat. Is food presentation simple or elaborate? Are flavors straightforward or complex? Are you upselling or letting customers lead the way?
7. Gotta go. Do you emphasize speed/turnover or leisure/high check averages? Do customers pay at the table or the register? Do you take their credit card away or swipe it at the table?
Evaluate each of these touch points separately. The, consider how your brand touch points work together to create a cohesive, consistent impression that shapes consumer expectations.
Touch points aren’t the be-all and end-all of branding; there other factors to consider, from a well-designed logo to an easy-to-navigate website to social-media communications that have your brand voice. But touch points do provide a roadmap for making the hundreds of individual decisions that add up to a brand.