Effectively building your restaurant's brand

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Executives from Fazoli's and other restaurants shared their expertise

Identifying a brand and communicating that clearly and concisely to consumers helps restaurants build business, panelists said Sunday at the Southwest Foodservice Expo in Dallas.

Executives from Fazoli’s, Pizza Patron, and Quaker Steak and Lube shared their insights on a panel titled “Who Do You Think You Are?: A Branding Reality Check” at the Expo, the annual trade show of the Texas Restaurant Association.

A brand statement focuses efforts and tells consumers what they can expect from a restaurant, said panel moderator Matthew Mabel of Surrender Inc., a hospitality management firm in Dallas. “You can bet your competitors are working on it diligently,” he said, “and they are fighting for guests just like you are.”

He challenged operators to sum up their brand in seven words or less.

Antonio Swad, founder of the 100-unit Pizza Patron of Dallas, said his concept defines the brand in four words: “Mas Pizza, Menos Dinero” or “More Pizza, Less Money.” He added that the branding is targeted toward Latino customers.

When crafting a brand statement, Swad added, it should say who you are, what you do and what you sell. "It should also say, if you can, what is your point of difference between you and your competitor," he noted. "After all, we all got into this business because we could do something better.

Those points of differentiation should extend to branding on collateral material, Swad said. He also emphasized that employees must know and use the brand as ambassadors who interact with consumers.

“The consumers are your true North Star,” said Carl Howard, president and chief executive of the 220-unit Fazoli’s of Lexington, Ky. “They set your menu. They set your pricing. They set how you interact and how you message the brand.”

Howard said the less-than-seven-word brand statement for his company is a “premium Italian quick-service restaurant.”

Howard said among tools Fazoli’s uses to know its consumers is an awareness, attitude and usage, or AAU, study that it performs every two years to get a detailed analysis and breakdown of who patrons are, how they use the brand and how they compare it to others.

John Longstreet of the 49-unit casual-dining Quaker Steak and Lube of Sharon, Pa., said his brand’s six words are: “fun,” “energy,” “unique taste” and “we care.”

“What’s really interesting about our brand is 53 percent of our guests tell us they like coming to The Lube because they like to have fun,” Longstreet said. “Thankfully, 57 percent say they come for the food. The fun part is a huge part of what we do.”

Quaker Steak units, which have a check average of about $16.70 and average unit volumes of $3.7 million, work to create a fun place for employees to work, said Longstreet. “If they aren’t having fun, guests aren’t going to have fun.”

Longstreet said employees aren’t required to wear uniforms, service stations are in the dining room and kitchens don’t have doors. “We want our employees to be close to the guests,” he said.

The company also works to “give guests something to talk about,” Longstreet explained. Some of those talking points include the 10-percent discount for sitting at the “worst table in the house,” free tire air pumps at the restaurants, six-packs of wings served in egg cartons, and a free Twizzlers with each check.

“We want our restaurants to be a part of the community,” he said. “We want them to feel local.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless