Brand Identity Separates Bars and Restaurants from Successful Destinations

Image: Mikael Damkier

With thousands of bars trying to make a name for themselves, having a strong brand has become crucial for today’s venues to differentiate themselves from their local or regional competitors.

But how many are actually developing a strong brand?

From our perspective, the honest answer seems to be not that many.

There is still today the misconception that it's easy to open a bar, easy to obtain business, easy to generate revenue and profits, and that it's just plain "a lot of fun" to own or operate a bar.

When you go into it with that kind of mindset, you generally lack competitive advantage and brand identity. Your bar's brand identity is, in fact, made up of what your brand says, what your values are, how you communicate your product, and what you want guests to feel when they interact with your brand.

Developing a strong brand instantly drives a competitive advantage.

The infamous Jack Welch once said, "If you don't have a competitive advantage, don't compete. It’s too expensive to learn it the hard way."

Check this out: A Deep Dive into HIDE, Part One: Funding, Opening and Expansion

Let’s look at some similarities found in many bars, many of which are run by operators who may feel they’re offering a competitive advantage. Does any of the following sound familiar?

  • Your beverage program highlights basic drinks such as the classic Cosmopolitan, the Cool Blue, the Gin & Tonic, and Vodka with Dry Vermouth, or any other variance of non-creativity.
  • Your online reviews are below a 4.5 average, or you’re struggling to even generate online reviews for your bar.
  • Your social media consists of standard posts such as photos of your happy hour specials written on a chalkboard, your basic drink menu, and your upcoming event posters.
  • Your bar has only a few regulars and you’re constantly looking for more business during your day and evening dayparts. You're spinning your wheels, frustrated by the lack of ideas and results.
  • Your kitchen (if you have one), only provides basic chicken wings, nachos, garlic bread, pulled pork sliders, or any other variance of, again, non-creativity.
  • Your event "strategy" revolves around a couple of space-wasting pool tables, jukeboxes, and periodic live bands or DJs, while being witness to fights among your guests.
  • Your staff isn't engaged and dread waking up to go to work each day, providing a general sense of service that dulls the energy within the four walls of your venue.

The above is still the cold hard truth found in thousands of bars—maybe yours—trying to make a name for themselves.

The above list lacks competitive advantage. It lacks positive brand identity. The above list means you’re barely breaking even. It means you have what we call an average bar—a bar that will always struggle to make a name for itself.

Check this out: A Deep Dive into HIDE, Part Two: Learning, Hiring and Firing

The question to ask yourself is this: Do you want to own a bar or do you want to own a destination?

That’s the mindset you need to have moving forward if you want a truly competitive bar. Creating a destination means developing a venue that’s known for:

  • kick-ass food and beverage menus that are constantly evolving;
  • guests coming from out of town to drink, to watch the game, and/or party with their friends;
  • promoting positive, safe energy day in and day out through scheduled events and entertainment options that target their ideal guest profile;
  • a staff that excels at their craft and who have become brand ambassadors within the community;
  • exceeding necessary key performance indicators on a consistent basis, and giving back to the community.

When you operate a destination and not just a bar, perhaps you'll find after all that it's easier to obtain business, easier to generate revenue and profits, and that it really is just plain a lot of fun to own or operate a bar.

Check this out: A Deep Dive into HIDE, Part Three: Beverage Ops and Menu Changes

But how can you get there, outside of first changing your own perspective?

1. Develop Your Core Statements. Review or develop—if you haven’t already—your four core statements: your value statements, vision statements, mission statements, and culture statements. These are the foundations that will help deliver the following five tactics. However, these four statements are only going to be successful if your entire team not only knows them but also understands and believes in them, and that rests on you.

2. Develop Staff Experiences. With hiring and on-boarding methods that align with your core statements, you can develop a team that's not only creative but speaks to your "new" brand. You want to promote positive staff experiences just as much as positive guest experiences. Develop in-depth training programs (on-site and off-site), develop team bonding opportunities, and develop methods for staff to have a say in creative food, beverage, and entertainment programs. By providing this style of work environment, you'll quickly notice a reduction in staff turnover costs while instantly promoting brand ambassadors within your community.

3. Know Your Audience. To know your audience today, you must first adapt to the changing demographics and socioeconomics within your market. Your ideal guests two years ago may not be the same as they are today. Know your ideal guest profile through and through: know their wants, needs, and spending habits as they pertain to eating, drinking and entertainment. You also need to know how much of that ideal profile is obtainable within 5 to10 miles of your venue, and then develop an action plan that will align your statements and get your brand in front of the right audience.

4. Re-Energize Your Venue. Once you truly know your staff and audience, it's time to drive much-needed energy back into your bar:

  • Create unique food and beverage programs to not only meet but exceed the needs and wants of your current ideal guests.
  • It's fine to have staple items on your menu if that’s what they want, but how will you make sure you have the most kick-ass chicken wings and nachos in your area?
  • Develop a beverage program that, at the minimum, highlights at least five signature cocktails and zero-proof drinks not found anywhere else in your area that match the spending and flavor profiles of your ideal guests.
  • Develop consistent and interactive music, games, and/or entertainment options a month in advance. This will allow guests to plan ahead and allow your bar to have the required lead time to hype up each event properly within the community.

5. Develop Your Systems. Having the correct systems in place will create consistency, develop operating capital, enhance your team morale, and build business value while positioning your bar for future scalable growth opportunities. It takes effort, honesty, training, reviews, and accountability by the entire team to ensure implemented systems such as HR management, inventory management, team communication, financial reporting, quality control, day-to-day bar setup, and many other elements work and are executed effectively on a daily basis.

6. Monitor Your Brand's Perception. If you execute the above and create winning programs aligned with winning strategies, you'll instantly position yourself to obtain positive word-of-mouth feedback throughout your community (both online and offline). You'll drive the brand identity and competitive advantages needed to differentiate yourself in today’s oversaturated markets. It's up to you to then continue to monitor your brand's perception and pivot or adjust to change whenever needed.

Once you have a desired destination and not just another bar, you'll have a concept or brand that's scalable. You'll have a brand that tells a variety of memorable stories, promotes loyalty among both guests and staff, and drives sustainability, profitability, and consistency.

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