Concepts Hooks & Visibility

Building your BRAND to STAND OUT!


Your concept defines your BRAND.  It is the core element that lays your marketing foundation and as your restaurant evolves, your success depends on sustaining and enhancing all the individual elements of your restaurant’s image.  Image defined is what your target customer thinks, believes and associates (can be positive and negative) with your restaurant’s theme, menu, atmosphere and fun factor.  Your image either resonates with your target customer or Not.

Your restaurant’s name is vitally important to your Image and may be the very first impression a guest has of your place.  Make sure you have a “catchy” and memorable name that reinforces your concept and captures the imagination of your target customer.

Creating a strong concept should be JOB 1 before you even think about opening your doors.  Your business plan should identify all the unique Attributes that will set your restaurant (your BRAND) apart from your competitors.  Anyone can be a “me too”, but the truly successful restaurants have a “COOL FACTOR”, a Vibe that creates awe and excitement whenever a new customer walks in the door.  That cool factor is also a huge influencer in word of mouth and “BUZZ” that drives new traffic in the door.  I will say it many times that word of mouth will always be your most powerful and most cost-effective form of advertising.  Internal Marketing is all the ways you can communicate with your existing customer (and first-timers) within the walls of your restaurant including training your staff to make friends with your customers.  Although there is a place for traditional marketing (and I’ll cover some key-areas in this Module), know that is is far less expensive to market to your existing customer than to try to attract new ones.  Every restaurant simply cannot put too much effort into “Internal Marketing”.  It pays huge dividends.


Its fact that consistency and repetition are what make the “Magic” happen.

Those restaurants that try “this for a short time, then try that” are just spinning wheels.  From the start, you must communicate a clear, strong and consistent BRAND MESSAGE through all aspects of your business to attract and convince your customer to become a frequent guest and “Evangelist” for your BRAND.  It’s the “COOL FACTOR” that will make this happen.


Hooks are those unique “Nuggets” that set you apart from your competition.. they’re out of box ideas, ways of doing business, funky décor items and props that provide the cool factor. You CAN’T have too many hooks and you can’t get too creative.  This is the power of Branding!

When I was starting my Ski Bar in Maine, it was named for the “Matterhorn”, an iconic mountain in Switzerland that I one day hoped to climb.  From the start, everything about my BRAND had a Swiss Theme… the furniture had heart-shaped cutouts, European flags and vintage Swiss posters decorated the walls, the staff wore traditional and colorful red vests with silver buttons and Swiss embroidery…  and then there was the food:  traditional “Fondue”, Swiss Chocolates at the end of the meal and big steins of beer.   Our Wood-Burning Brick Oven was the biggest of all – right in the middle of the restaurant with a 900 degree blazing fire cooking all our pizzas.  All of these unique and different elements, (our HOOKS) were consistent and “On Brand” all supporting the theme.  We were at a ski resort, so this theme really captured the skier’s imagination and resonated with our customer.  It was incredible that once we were open just a few weeks, the BUZZ quickly created lines out the door every night.

Once we expanded and built our own building, we created more hooks. We covered every inch of the place with the world’s greatest collection of ski memorabilia… it was like the Hard Rock Café of skiing. We had a bar top made of vintage skis, we installed a snowmaking machine that put powder on the dancefloor, kids roasted marshmallows in a blazing firepit in the middle of the dining room, we had a stuffed moosehead over the bar that would produce smoke out its nostrils at the press of a button. We sold ceramic “Chicken” pitchers of wine that poured out the beak.  One of coolest things were birthday candles that threw a shower of sparks three feet in the air from one of our desserts.  We sold the candles for $5 each on top of the dessert and the entire restaurant would erupt in applause at every birthday.  We had a light projector on our front lawn that illuminated giant “Snowflakes” drifting down our building.  It was all about being funky, creative, different and fun… we started a concert series with the best rock bands, created “Big Theme Events” such as a “Studio 54 Party”, Mardi Gras, “80’s Nite” where the staff would don their funkiest clothes and cover themselves with glitter and face paint.  Our bartenders would bang an authentic “Tom Tom” drum everytime they got a great tip! We created a famous “Skier Hall of Fame” with regular induction ceremonies where the famous Olympic athlete or ski champion would donate significant memorabilia to the bar.  An artist painted a 6 foot tall diorama of the Matterhorn mountain with two face cutouts for a photo op.  One caricature was a climber scaling the mountain.. the other, a skier schussing down the side.  With all these fun hooks, great service and great food, no other restaurant in the area could touch us and we dominated our market for 20 years.. the place still Rocks!


In my travels, I have come across other really exciting hooks at other establishments.  The Hard Rock Café is perhaps one of the coolest if you are a fan of classic Rock and Roll.  The Cheesecake Factory restaurants are known for their incredible cheesecakes… when you walk into any of their locations, there’s a huge glass display case filled with probably 100 different varieties all for sale.  The Papparazzi chain has a “Hollywood” theme and their walls are filled with photos of movie stars.  In all of these locations, one thing is absolutely certain… the Guest Experience is consistently the same no matter what location and where you visit!  One of the coolest hooks of all is at a bar in Killington, Vermont.  They have a moving conveyor belt of pint glasses that actually goes outside into the winter night through a hole in the wall, travels along the back of the building and then comes back in the other side, the pints perfectly “Frosty & Cold”.  The bartenders take a freshly chilled pint off the belt, pour a draft beer and set it down in front of you all frothy and refreshing…  What Hooks can you come up with to dazzle your patrons?


Calling visual attention to your restaurant is vitally important.  There’s a sea of competition right out your door, so if you can’t make your place “stand out” – Strike 1!

Do you have the maximum number of signs allowed by your ordinance?  Are they professionally and attractively designed, the maximum size, well-lit and able to be easily read from cars driving by?

Take a good Hard look at the exterior of your building.  Can you cover it with white or colored lights – maybe spelling out the name of your restaurant over the front door… can you put colorful lanterns in trees out front?  Can you decorate the windows with flickering candles?  There are different ideas that will work with different concepts, but go outside and see what the guest sees (or doesn’t see), visualize what could be and make a splash!

We had a 13 foot tall Grizzly Bear carved by an artist from a huge log.  Once the bear was standing, we attached a propane-burning torch from his upraised claw that threw flames three feet in the air.  Cars could see the flame and the bear for almost ¼ mile in both directions.  Our bear drove a lot of traffic into the restaurant and was a huge photo-op for the tourists and skiers.