In the world of foodservice, brand is a word we hear and use everyday. Restaurants have to build their brand, protect their brand and strengthen their brand. But do you always know what you are focusing on when you talk about your brand?

By using the word brand, do you mean the image, as in the colors, design or logo that represents your restaurant? Are referring to brand as the atmosphere and experience provided — young and hip or family style — or your concept — fresh salads, sports bar, pizza joint?

Most restaurateurs would accurately say it’s all of this. Your “brand” is everything that distinguishes your establishment from every other dining option. It is the multi-dimensional ‘personality’ of your business. However, many restaurants forget the part of branding that is focused internally.

To attract top talent, restaurants also need to brand their culture. Having a strong brand that represents your company's mission and values, encourages your staff to act on those values. If employees see your company as being representative of a service-oriented brand, they perform at a higher level. Your “culture brand” makes a difference, not only to your staff but also to your diners.

Scott Bedbury, the man behind Nike’s “Just Do It” and the rebranding of Starbucks, and author of A Brand New World: Eight Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, was quoted saying, "A great brand raises the bar — it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it's the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you're drinking really matters."

The value placed on your “culture brand” sets an expectation and directly affects the way your team performs. Let’s say your new hire, McKenzie, arrives the first day and the manager gives her a pile of paperwork to complete. She is then handed off to a training buddy who seems hassled by the inexperienced new kid. If work continues on this path, it is unlikely McKenzie will feel connected to the restaurant or invested in the service she is providing.

Now, let’s look at the opposite scenario. Imagine McKenzie being greeted by a smiling manager who tells her about the kind of dining experience your restaurant strives to provide to each customer. Hopefully McKenzie has heard how great the service is and read the online reviews. Then her training buddy tells her how supportive the rest of the staff is and walks her through the basics. In this scenario, McKenzie smiles a little more brightly when she puts on her 'black polo with the embroidered logo.’ Why? Because she knows the brand she represents and feels part of team.

To reach that type of brand empowerment, you need to take a look at your culture and reputation. Decide how you want your restaurant to be perceived and make sure your team knows. If you’re Dick’s Last Resort, then your team is allowed to mock customers, cut up and push some limits. If you’re Moe’s Southwest Grill, you greet every customer and smile as you quickly get people through the assembly line.

Making brand ambassadors out of your staff should be an important part of your culture. If your employees aren't “sold” on the restaurant, why should customers be? The more you can engage employees, the more improvement you see in retention, training ROI and most importantly the increased likelihood your diners have an exceptional experience.

From tagline to taste … defining culture around your brand empowers your team, and when it comes down to it, your people really do matter. 

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