6 Brand Extension Opportunities Your Restaurant Is Missing

For increased exposure and new sources of revenue, consider going beyond the walls of your restaurant.
event at restaurant
Hosting events in your restaurant or cafe is an excellent way to build brand awareness. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

For many restaurant owners, the business is all about getting as many people in the door as possible (and perhaps getting them to order the more expensive items). But in making the restaurant their sole focus, owners may be missing out on opportunities to increase awareness of their brand and generate new sources of income.

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“What brand extensions do is they help increase volume potential by selling more to existing customers or reaching new customers.” – Terry Frishman (Photo: Terry Frishman)

Brand extensions — products (including events and experiences) launched in a new category under the same brand name — work to reach new customers, according to Terry Frishman. Frishman is a food business consultant in New York City who has helped restaurants, including Sarabeth’s in Manhattan and Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, transition into new business areas.

Related: What is a mobile POS system and how can it help your small business?

“What brand extensions do is they help increase volume potential by selling more to existing customers or reaching new customers,” said Frishman.

They also serve as subtle advertising, said Steve Zagor, dean of the School of Business and Management Studies Program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. “Having an extended brand outside the four walls really gives the restaurant an opportunity to become more than a restaurant,” he said. Products such as branded T-shirts or coffee mugs or hot sauces are “like having a mini billboard in the customer’s house or office.”

Here, Frishman and Zagor share their ideas for extending your visibility beyond the restaurant.

Cookbooks: Publishing or self-publishing a cookbook is one of the most obvious ways for restaurants sell a product — and stay on customers’ minds at home. Of course, you need to have the time, the home-cook-friendly recipes and the photography and marketing budgets to pull it off.

Merchandise: Clothing items and other goods function as free advertising and potentially a lucrative source of revenue (just ask Hard Rock Cafe), making them one of the most common brand extensions for restaurants. “Stick to the theme and look of restaurant,” Frishman said. “If you’re by the beach, sell sleeveless T-shirts or sun hats. Sell mugs at a coffee shop or bottle openers in your bar.”

Food products: Increasingly, restaurant owners selling edible products in their restaurants or in grocery stores. “A lot of people cook at home, so this gives restaurants the ability to say, ‘I’ve got the market of people who go out to eat, so maybe I can reach the market of people who don’t go out to eat,’” Zagor said. Owners bottle sauces, salad dressings, rubs, mixes and other goods either on site or through co-packers. (Co-packers make, package and distribute products to stores from their own facilities.) Zagor recommends choosing items that are shelf stable.

Food events: Pop-up restaurants and cooking classes, hosted in the restaurant or at other locations, can expose new people to your restaurant and brand, especially if your chef has a following in the community.

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According to Steve Zagor, the dean of the School of Business and Management Studies Program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, extending your restaurants brand is pivotal for success.(Photo: Steve Zagor)

Food trucks and carts: Creating a full-blown food truck is tough for restaurants because they involve permits and considerable expense, but they can be lucrative. Frishman suggests a narrow focus. “Create a cart for one of your bestselling items,” she said. Sell ice pops or baked goods at the farmer’s market, for example.

Local sponsorship: Offer free food or gift certificates at charity events in exchange for advertising in the form of your brand name on a product. For example, sponsor the little league team in exchange for your restaurant’s logo on shirts. “Support them with product, not money,” Zagor said. “In exchange, you should get notoriety.”

To find out what brand extension opportunities might work for your restaurant, Frishman and Zagor recommended starting with your customers. Look at customer requests and ask loyal followers what they would be interested in, whether it’s through email surveys, small focus groups or comment cards on tables.

“You want to expand what you’re doing well, not what you’re not doing well,” Zagor said.

Then, stay true to your brand. “It’s very important to understand your brand voice and your client base,” Frishman said. “Make sure you have a consistent identity and image.”

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