Branding and Duplicating Food & Beverage Concepts

By Peter Karpinski Partner, Sage Hospitality | August 06, 2017

In an age where new restaurants are popping up on every corner and shuttering just as fast, the idea of developing an original concept and growing it to a multi-unit business seems next to impossible. In my experience, the most original concepts begin with a blank canvas and a group of passionate individuals. A continued focus on: distinctive consumer experiences, unmatched food and beverage offerings, superior service, consistency, an approachable atmosphere, and constant competitive innovation is what paves the way to success.

Forming Brand Identity: Ingenuity with Integrity

Developing a brand identity, and molding one that stands out from the crowd, can seem like a daunting task at first. Where do you start? Brainstorming the name; designing the logo; creating the website? There are many winding roads to achieve your vision, and for some it comes easier than others.

In order to set the tone and formulate core messaging, it helps to first envision a background story. What sort of experience do you hope a guest will have when walking into the restaurant or bar for the first time? When SRG (Sage Restaurant Group) opened the first location of Urban Farmer, a modern farm-to-table steakhouse with locations in Portland, OR; Cleveland, OH; Philadelphia, PA; and Denver, CO, we envisioned a rural rancher and a well-traveled woman meeting, getting married, and transforming a run-down farm into a self-sustaining restaurant. Thus, the concept of Urban Farmer Portland was born; we wanted to provide guests with a bespoke experience as if they were dining at that re-imagined farmhouse.

In other instances, perhaps the concept is built from time spent abroad, touring and tasting the regional cuisine and having the desire to share that culture. In that case, you would want the ambiance, food, and drink to transport guests to another land without ever having to step foot on a plane. Whatever the setting or background story, the most novel ideas are born from creative spaces constructed with added-value experiences.

Once the vision is established, and the brand promise created, it is time to field the team. Most developers will build the team piecemeal and will begin by gathering a chef and a beverage director to create the menu or an architect to design the space. While this may work for some, it is not necessarily the best model. Ingenious concepts originate when everyone is brought to the table while the canvas is still blank. When everyone is able to collaborate and work towards the same goal, the creative process thrives. If I'm developing a new concept and walking into the first meeting, I imagine my team as an army, but the titles and egos are dropped and each member of the team is of the same rank. This is crucial to maintain integrity and allow the prophecy of the concept to shine through.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.