Multi-Location Restaurants: Keeping a Consistent Feel across Your Brand
You’ve put in the hard work.
You’ve taken your dream of owning a restaurant and made it a reality. Not only that, but you’ve succeeded. Your restaurant is full. Guests are happy. You’ve reached a point where demand is too high and your space isn’t big enough to meet that demand.
You might be thinking that it’s time to open another location. It’ll come with challenges, sure, but if you’re able to replicate the success of your first restaurant, all the hard work will have paid off.
One of the biggest challenges to opening a second location of your existing restaurant (as opposed to just a second restaurant) is that your guests already have expectations that you’ll have to meet. In both your locations (or more, if you decide to open more than two), you’ll have to keep a consistent feel across your brand, because your guests expect to have that same great experience regardless of the location.
It can be a challenge, but it’s doable. Here are some of the restaurant branding questions you’re likely to face when opening a multi-location restaurant, and how to overcome them.
Branding your restaurant takes a lot of work, and now you have to brand two (or more) restaurants
Since you already did the work once, you know that branding your restaurant takes a ton of time and planning. Save yourself some of that time and planning the second time around.
Revisit your restaurant branding strategy from your first restaurant. If you’re successful enough to be opening a No. 2, it worked, right? But surely you can learn some lessons from your original successes – and failures. Take what’s worked from your original strategy, and try to duplicate it for your second restaurant. Your guests will recognize a cohesive mission and purpose if you stick to it at both locations.
The problem here, though, is that you can’t just make a carbon copy of your first restaurant like copying and pasting on a computer. Even if you decorate the space with the same furniture, lighting and fittings, the layout won’t be exactly the same. The same goes for when you try to duplicate the atmosphere of your first restaurant, a new location with a new crowd of regulars could create a different feel all on its own — and you can’t control that.
So embrace the opportunity to do things a little bit differently. Decorate your new space in the same theme, but branch out a little, too, by offering different seating arrangements. Offer the same favorite dishes from your first restaurant’s menu, but feel free to experiment with new dishes or different specials. Offer promos and specials that introduce a new crowd of guests to your restaurant and make them fall in love with it.
Check out this restaurant branding case study to see how your multi-location restaurant can be unique, but still align with your brand
To illustrate how to perfectly address this challenge, let’s take a look at Tommy’s, a café and brunch spot in Montreal. Tommy Cafe is known in Montreal for serving up high quality coffee, breakfast and brunch, and its reputation didn’t falter when it opened a second location in 2018. Both spots in the heart of Old Montreal, but just far enough from one another that they don’t compete with each other for business. As you’ll see below, they both serve a unique purpose while still aligning well with the Tommy brand.
The Notre Dame location is a smaller café, which focuses on takeaway coffees, snacks and small bites. The decor is a kind of modern farmhouse feel, with wooden detailing on white, and plenty of plants livening up the space throughout.
The new Tommy at Saint Paul, on the other hand, has more seating and focuses on high-end brunch items. While the space is noticeably different, and the second location serves a different type of guest, you can see from the décor and the feel of the space that it’s still distinctly Tommy.
Tommy at Saint Paul keeps it consistent with their signature green in their logo, the fonts on their menus, signage, and throughout the restaurant with plentiful plants. They do a great job of maintaining their unique brand while using the new location to give a fresh take on their style.
Maintaining a consistent brand across locations doesn’t mean copying your original restaurant exactly. You can change up the decor, add new menu items or serve a different type of food or guest. If your mission and purpose stay the same, though, guests will recognize two cohesive parts of the same restaurant.
Guests don’t have great expectations for chain restaurant branding
When guests think of chain restaurants, the examples that come to mind don’t exactly scream quality. We won’t name names here, but chains have a reputation for kitschy decor, mediocre food and a lack of personality.
The classic example is Chotchkies from the film Office Space, the fictional chain restaurant with the funny name that demands its servers wear “flair” (colorful buttons), serves less than appealing cuisine, and exudes enthusiasm without real connections to guests. The running joke in the film is how put off some staff and guests are by the brand.
That’s obviously not the message you want your restaurant to send, especially after you’ve put so much work into branding that likely counteracts all of those stereotypes. So as you open a second location and officially become a multi-unit restaurant, how do you combat that perception? How do you continue to convince your guests that your restaurant isn’t just another chain eatery?
Shift guest expectations with quality and consistency
Before you even open a second location, you should be sure you can deliver on the same level of quality and service that you provide at your first location for the rest too. Otherwise, opening a second location will hurt your brand more than it will help your business.
Operating a chain of restaurants requires some level of standardization. But it doesn’t mean you remove the personality, purpose and brand that made your loyal guests fall in love with you in the first place. Some things you can do include:
Consolidate your inventory and supply chain to ensure consistency in the quality of ingredients you procure
Use standardized recipes, so that two different chefs can create the same dishes
Have a plan for sourcing and training talented staff, so service remains excellent throughout your business
Know the purpose your multi-location restaurant is trying to serve
You know what they say about real estate: Location, location, location. Choosing the right one for you second restaurant is one of the most important steps you’ll take, and the location can make or break your expansion plans.
How do you choose a location that will help your business thrive? How will you decide on a location that will be building a new customer base without taking existing guests away from your first restaurant?
Before you commit to a location, you need to know for sure what you’re trying to accomplish with your second restaurant. For example, if wait times have gotten a little too long at your first location and you want to make them shorter, expanding your existing restaurant is the way to go, if possible. Aim for a space next door or around the corner. If nothing like that is available, you still want to keep your second location close enough that it can still be convenient for your existing customer base. It’s also important to consider the reasoning behind these long wait times. If it’s due to lack of seating, a second location is your best bet. However, if it’s due to an overwhelming number of takeout orders, you may only need to go the dark kitchen route.
On the other hand, if your goal is to get your restaurant concept in front of a whole new set of eyes, you want to consider a second location in another neighborhood, or even another city.
Expanding to a second location is a great way for your restaurant to grow. Following these tips, you can make your second, third, fourth (and so on) locations are just as successful as the first.