September 30, 2022

Branding you can taste – why good restaurant branding encourages the use of all five senses

Your dining experience is more than the food you're eating or the service you're receiving. Good branding plays a vital role in a restaurant's success and Klyxx's senior designer and self-proclaimed foodie, Nikki, aims to break it down for restaurant owners and restaurant-goers alike.

Branding isn’t some ‘buzzword’ when it comes to restaurants. 

It’s the sign outside your door. It’s the menu presenting your food. It’s the ambience customers feel when they walk in. Branding touches every part of a restaurant goers experience and stays with them long after they sign the check.

Good branding is so powerful that it can even take a mediocre restaurant and make it into a viral sensation. We’ve all seen how lines could form around a whole block for Instagram-famous pastries that have nothing on our favorite corner bakery. 

“If you build it, they will come” works in the movies, but in the real world, you have to do the work to get the customer through the door and then let the food do the talking. 

Here’s a few examples of how some of the best in the game not only attract restaurant goers but also leave a lasting impression and how you can too. 

COTE: Menu Design That Tells a Story

Image via Michelin Guide

Cote is a Michelin star NYC Korean steakhouse that marries the classic Korean barbecue setup with an American chophouse. 

As you walk in, Cote makes it clear what kind of place it is. Friendly hosts, an impressive bar right in the middle of the room, and dimmed lighting hit by a splash of neon signs to set the tone. 

An oversized menu is handed to you at your table, reminiscent of those large brasserie or steakhouse menus and you can’t help but notice the design of it all. 

Menus are usually the first thing that customers interact with when deciding on a restaurant to eat in. It’s so prevalent in every restaurant to the point that it’s often overlooked. Sometimes you forget just how important a menu’s design is in showing what a restaurant has to offer and guiding you in your own choices. 

Image via Pentagram

Cote’s brand identity was designed by none other than Pentagram, one of the largest and most reputable design consultancies in the world. 

The oversized menu is one example of how Pentagram was able to perfectly visualize the intersection of Korean and American styles, with the hyper-realistic food illustrations that bring to mind vintage American menus and the decorative borders inspired by Korean design. 

Having such a large format and eye-catching menu that not only looks beautiful but is able to tell a story has the power to immediately draw people in and set the tone for the meal they’re about to experience. 

When considering menu design in your own restaurant’s branding, you have to decide what story you’re trying to tell and how you plan on telling it. 

Are you a mom and pop shop with affordable pricing and classic favorites? Or are you more like Cote and have a luxury offering with higher priced fare with a more guided menu? 

Do you want your design to lean on photography and compelling visuals to tell a story? Or do you want to keep it simple through an easily skimmable one pager?

The questions above are all important when considering menu design, and once you answer these questions successfully you’ll be able to translate your branding into a tangible menu that is both informative and beautifully designed. 

Rule of Thirds: Building Signage & Environmental Design That’s Hard to Ignore 

Image via EaterNY

Restaurant branding isn’t just the logo, color palette, and typography of a restaurant – signage and environmental design play a huge role in all of this as well. 

By bringing branding to life through environmental graphics, restaurants are able to hook customers in even before they make the decision to walk through the door. Rule of Thirds is a Brooklyn-based all-day izakaya and bento restaurant that does this exceptionally well.

Rule of Thirds is the brainchild of some of Okonomi and Sunday in Brooklyn’s former employees, and it’s no surprise that the restaurant has quickly risen up to the ranks as one of North Brooklyn’s most well-known restaurants next to Okonomi and Sunday in Brooklyn.

Right when you round the corner to Rule of Thirds, you’re greeted by a larger-than-life mural on the building’s facade. The mural is a splash of peach semi-circles with quirky illustrations of what could be the people behind the curtains at the restaurant, and you’ll soon find that this brand style is consistent throughout Rule of Thirds’ interior as well.


Image via Isometric Studio

Isometric Studio is an independent design studio that creates impactful visual identities and spatial experiences. Their expertise in both graphic design and architecture made them the perfect fit for tackling Rule of Thirds’ brand identity, and they did not disappoint. 

Isometric Studio designed the brand identity for the restaurant with an expansive set of characters that are sprinkled throughout menus and walls, as well as a ⅔ circle shape that fits any format. This brand identity spills out across all touchpoints of Rule of Thirds’ brand, from murals to signage, packaging, and digital collateral. 

With such a large dining space that still felt intimate and casual, Isometric Studio’s work did a great job of using every square inch of space to bring the brand elements into the signage and environmental design. Because of the effective spatial design, restaurant goers’ meals are turned into immersive experiences. 

This drives home the point that Rule of Thirds is a modern Japanese restaurant in a hip Brooklyn neighborhood, and is a perfect example of how environmental design and signage is able to take cues not only from the cuisine that the restaurant serves but also from the neighborhood it’s in.

When thinking about your own restaurant’s signage and environmental design, start by thinking about what kind of feeling you want to evoke in your customers. 

Do you want them to feel relaxed? Romantic? Sophisticated? 

From there, you can then start thinking about how you want to present your restaurant to passersby – should you have more than just your restaurant logo on your exterior? Would a mural be relevant to your brand? Or maybe even some plants or flowers?

Having good environmental design even from your restaurant’s exterior can intrigue potential customers, and when that same good design is consistent throughout the interior of the restaurant, then your customers will know that they’re in for a great meal.

Shake Shack: Iconography as a Universal Language

Shake Shack’s rise to a global $1B+ fast food brand wasn’t planned. The burger joint was meant to have just one temporary cart in Madison Square Park to support the Conservancy's first art installation but its success led to the opening of a permanent location right in the park and eventually more than 200 locations nationwide.

Pentagram’s Paula Scher was already leading the pro bono redesign of Madison Square Park’s visual identity, so it only made sense for her to extend her services to branding Shake Shack’s first ever location

Today’s fast food joints are getting a more premium-looking treatment as they start to steer away from red-dominated color palettes and move into a more minimal, clean, and fresh aesthetic. Shake Shack is just one of the players in this game with its signature dark gray and neon green hues that you can spot from blocks away.

Image via Pentagram

As Shake Shack grew in popularity and expanded across the globe, its identity design grew with it too. Pentagram created a comprehensive set of curvy, neon-like icons that could be used like a universal language that makes Shake Shack both memorable and recognizable to a wide range of people. 

These icons are used in almost every aspect of Shake Shack’s branding – from their menu design to merchandise, to signage and interiors. It has meshed so seamlessly with the brand that it’s as synonymous to Shake Shack’s identity as McDonald’s golden arches are to theirs. 

When deciding on an icon style, consider what would be the most relevant for the branding of your restaurant. Because Shake Shack evokes nostalgia, the Pentagram team designed icons that remind one of neon signs with its continuous strokes and curves.

No matter what language one may speak, these icons will always be able to resonate with customers and show them what Shake Shack has to offer whether it be burgers, milkshakes, or fries. Iconography also ties into the wayfinding of Shake Shack’s stores by using that same treatment for handicap or restroom symbols. 

Iconography is a great element to have in any brand identity, more so for restaurant branding – this design element is so modular and flexible that you can use it almost anywhere. You can use it to describe your menu, as wayfinding symbols, promotional material, and even as environmental design like murals and window displays. 

You can think of iconography as an avenue for your customers to visualize content in a high-level, straightforward way. With a great icon set, you’ll be able to bring many aspects of your restaurant to life and ultimately reach wider audiences.

Good restaurant branding is for both restaurant owners and restaurant goers alike

Though a restaurant is first and foremost judged on its food, it’s the before and after of a customer’s experience that is knee-deep in branding. 

A good brand identity is one that prepares your restaurant for growth and is able to grow along with you and maybe even take it global. Branding isn’t just a one-dimensional asset, it’s something tangible that your customers can see and touch, it’s the playlist that’s streamed through the restaurant speakers and sets the mood, and maybe it could even enhance the smell and taste of your food.

It’s what takes the temporary Shake Shack cart from it’s corner in Madison Square to a $1B+ fast food chain, it’s what transports you from the heart of North Brooklyn to a trendy Japanese restaurant, and it’s the story your menu is able to tell your customers with just 1 page of cardstock.

All of these things work hand in hand with your food, your service, and your restaurant’s atmosphere in order to keep your customers coming back. 

Now, it’s your turn to get going on your branding journey. Here’s a cheat sheet to get started. 

  1. Let your restaurant’s branding tell a story. Stories captivate audiences and when your potential customers are looking not only for good food but also a great dining experience, you can be the place that offers them just that.
  2. Take advantage of your restaurant’s surroundings. Environmental design and signage is part of your branding just as much as logo design, typography, and color palettes are. Because dining out is such an immersive experience, environmental design and signage is the key to creating an unforgettable ambience.
  3. Set yourself up for growth. You’ll never know where your success can take you and if it happens to take you global, then your brand identity has to be timeless and flexible enough to grow with your restaurant. Branding is a universal way for customers to remember you – you don’t have to write your menu items in the sky, you just have to give your customers enough to recognize your brand and keep coming back.

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