Rebranding your Restaurant

Rebranding. To a restaurateur, that one word can instill a sense of true excitement. It’s the gift of something new and endless possibilities. On the other hand, change can be scary and risky, and rebranding can be costly and labor intensive. Loyal customers may feel betrayed. In the end, it’s a decision that owners take very seriously, at least most of them. Let’s take a look at what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what companies are taking the rebranding plunge in 2017.

Restaurants choose to rebrand for a number of reasons:

  • Sales are down—consistently.
  • Current market trends have left you in the dust. If you haven’t rebranded in decades, chances are your image is a little outdated. This usually coincides with rebranding reason #1.
  • You’ve outgrown your tiny brand image and are ready to explode. Good job.
  • Your guest profile has changed and you need to become more relevant to your target audience.


2017 Rebrands

Dunkin’ Donuts

August is bringing us Dunkin’ without the donuts—at least in their name. One of DNKN’s stores in Pasadena, California is set to “test” the new name that coincides with a new image. While donuts will still be a mainstay, the company is looking to increase its coffee-market share. According to an article in CNN Money, Dunkin’ Donuts has a 62.1 percent share of the $14.6 billion doughnut shop industry. Not bad. Their foray into the world of coffee seems to be working as well. Drinks made up 60 percent of their overall sales in 2016.    



This isn’t Subway’s first ride on the rebranding rodeo. Jared Fogle became a national Subway spokesperson and household name in 2000 when he shared his weight loss story. He started exercising and eating two Subway sandwiches a day and went from weighing 425 to 180 pounds. He shared his Subway story for 15 years and the first decade saw Subway sales rising from $3 billion to $11 billion. The problem arose when Fogle plead guilty and was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison for child pornography and paying to have sex with minors. In 2015, Subway’s sales dropped by 3.4 percent.

Subway’s attempt to clear the slate started with a new logo in 2016. This followed in the wake of their Subway-digital division. Now they’re rolling out a “Subway Fresh Forward” design. This includes self-order kiosks with digital menu boards, and a pre-order pick-up location for customers that placed their orders from a kiosk, mobile app, or the chat bot on Facebook Messenger. Their new décor will be “inspired by fresh vegetables” and they’ll be adding USB charging ports and complimentary Wi-Fi.


Tender Greens

This 24-chain, Los Angeles-based fast casual restaurant is going in for a big overhaul. Everything from their menu to their logo and restaurant design is going to be revamped. The changes are in response to the chain’s national outreach with their first unit opening this year in New York. The restaurant design will include an open kitchen and walls graced with local artwork. They are looking to be the modern, seasonal and healthy, fine-casual dining experience.

The focus on their transformation will be what sets them apart from their competitors: Chef-driven kitchens who offer new innovative seasonal dishes that are responsibly sourced twice a day. At the same time, they’re rolling out a mobile app that incorporates placing an order, making a payment, and a rewards program. If done correctly, it’s hard to imagine this rebranding not doing well.


Rebranding Failure

To keep you from jumping on the rebranding bandwagon prematurely, keep in mind this rebranding strategy that failed in record time.

  • In 2009, Pizza Hut decided to become a cooler version of its self by changing its name to “The Hut.” Pretty cool, but odd. What does “The Hut” sell? For some, The Hut reminds them of a place you get a hot chocolate or an Irish coffee at the top of a lift at an upscale ski resort. Pizza Hut declared that they needed a shorter name for the new generation that is in to speed and texting. Really? In the UK, the pizza chain decided to go by Pasta Hut in order to role with a more health-conscious consumer. Needless to say, Pizza Hut is now Pizza Hut in either country with some natural-ingredient pizzas and additional pasta dishes on the menu.

Rebranding is often an expensive venture. Rebranding by changing your name while not changing much else about your establishment can leave some consumers feeling a little cheated. Your brand is, after all, a promise that you are making to your customers. It’s how they relate to you and how they see themselves in relation to your brand and product or service. Your brand shows itself in every aspect of your business, not just the name.

It tells your story. It illustrates what you stand for and what consumers can expect from you. It’s your voice and your vision. And it let’s potential guests know what makes you different from the similar venue just down the street. If you rebrand without considering your loyal customer’s opinions, you’re branding for all the wrong reasons.


Rebranding Success

It’s always good to end on a positive note. For this reason, we’re sharing one rebranding effort that hit it out of the ballpark. In 1993, Au Bon Pain, a well-known café bakery chain, acquired the Saint Louis Bread Company and rebranded it as Panera. It was one of the first upscale fast-casual dining experiences. They have since branded themselves as the leader in healthier food choices. They’ve also stepped up their game digitally. In 2014, they put in place self-ordering kiosks and delivery. Their digital mobile, web and kiosk sales have surpassed $1 billion. JAB Holdings Company recently purchased it for $7.5 billion.



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