19 Takeaways from “Brand your business like your favorite restaurant”

This past Wednesday, we partnered with the Arizona Technology Council to present a panel of branding experts to discuss building a brand experience like your favorite restaurant. Our panelists included Kate Unger, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Kahala, a franchising company (owners of Cold Stone Creamery and Blimpie brands, along with 12 others); Deborah Topcik, Director of Marketing for Z’Tejas, Inc. which owns and operates 11 restaurants in six markets; and John Banquil, Regional Manager for Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill. Below, we have have posted 19 takeaways to recap the event.

Cold Stone Creamery is launching with International Delight – ice cream flavored coffee creamer sounds amazing!

Take advantage of product placement opportunities like Cold Stone Creamery did with Ryan Seacrest. Ryan sent out this tweet: On the way to @kimkardashian’s wedding…traffic so bad on the 101 I had to stop at cold stone creamery…coffee lovers in my belly…I will quick change in the car…I always keep a suit in trunk!

“We’re comfortable with our food – we want to make sure our staff is doing the right thing for our brand every time” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill

On social media…

  • “Make it so people can see behind the curtain, give them sneak peeks to upcoming menu items.” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill
  • “Social media doesn’t replace people. If a manager sees someone in 4 times in 2 weeks, do something for them! Don’t just rely on check-ins.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s
  • “Someone sits at the bar tweeting, we can respond right away and make them laugh – that’s a personal experience.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s
  • Talking to your staff about promoting via social media is a fine line – you never know what they’re going to say.

“Our Taco Time stores are individually branded towards their communities. It was difficult to do, but well worth it, and fit in with the original store.” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“The Ling and Louie brand is about relating everything back to Ling and Louie, including the servers we hire and the way we communicate.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

“Make sure there is added value to discounts. Your discounts should not be telling the discount story.” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas

“Always stay ahead.” Kate Unger, Kahala on frozen yogurt in Cold Stone Creamery.

“You have to make sure what you want to do as a corporation is what makes sense for franchises in their markets.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

“When people feel informed, they feel better about decisions.” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“There is a holiday for everything, and it’s a fun way to establish your brand through marketing.” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas

“We want to be out of the box, out of the ‘wok’ if you will.” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

“Cold Stone Creamery started in Tempe, at an ice cream shop that made ice cream creations on a cold stone” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“Blimpies was the first sub shop in the country, that’s where the tagline ‘America’s sub shop’ comes from.” – Kate Unger, Kahala

“Lance Armstrong started Livestrong at Z’Tejas in Austin – the first location, we benefited from it, but it was all chance that the launch happened there!” – Deborah Topcik, Z’Tejas

“It’s all or nothing with discounts – we stick to ‘not boring holidays’ to go along with our brand” – John Banquil, Ling and Louie’s

Special thanks to the Arizona Technology Council for setting up this event!


Where to promote your Skinny/Low-calorie Menus

Social Media:

Restaurants are using skinny and low-calorie menus to attract more women and social media’s largest user population is women so it seems like a match made in heaven to promote using social media. The goal of the social media campaign is to raise awareness to a large population of the new menu options.

It is important that the person managing your social media, whether outsourced or managed in-house, uses language that is consistent with the brand. Thinking of the brand as a character can illustrate this more clearly. For example, a brand that emulates George Clooney will have a completely different voice than a brand that is more in-tune with Bugs Bunny.

Social media can also be used to gain guest testimonials. When Kona Grill debuted the Skinny Cocktail menu, guests posted on their Facebook page things like, “Oh MY GOD thank you thank you thank you for the skinny cosmos! SO freakin’ excited to go to Kona tonight,” and “HEAVEN to a dietitian!”

Traditional Media

Focus on social media is increasing, and it is tempting to let traditional media initiatives decrease. However, the opportunities magazines (online and in print) provide are essential to build trust and reinforce promotions. An ad featuring a promotion is a great occasion to let the potential guest know what they should expect when dining at an establishment. The language, imagery, and layout used in an ad should mirror the experience of the restaurant. For example, referring to a margarita as a “marg” conveys that the restaurant is more casual. Lifestyle photography can be used to target specific age demographics, and subconsciously clues the viewer in to the types of people that a restaurant is targeting.

Getting press is also a great way to communicate new promotions to a target audience. Most magazines provide editorial calendars months before the issue is scheduled to print. Restaurants can use this with skinny or low-calorie promotions by finding topics that relate, like weight loss, healthy living, or women-targeted issues, and contact the magazine to be featured.


Restaurants should focus on selling the skinny and low-calorie menu items to guests in the store. Place the promotions on table tents, train servers and bartenders to suggest the new menu items to guests, and use menu inserts to ensure that the consumer will purchase the new items. For more on how to use table tents, please click here.

Do you need help with promotions for special menus? Please, contact us!

Test stores and limited time offerings

When adding new offerings to the menu, we suggest testing first. Some brands test by adding items in specific stores first, while others engage in a company wide limited-time offering, and then permanently add the most popular and profitable items to the menu.

Many companies test using both of these methods, deciding which to use based on the product being tested. The major difference between the two is that when introducing items into specific stores first, items are usually added to the regular menu and promoted through traditional and new menu outlets. When a restaurant opts to offer a limited-time menu, the menu is actually a promotional item with new items, not a menu.

Using test stores

Some brands use test stores in very rural areas, so word of mouth doesn’t spread too quickly about their new menu offerings. Others use test stores in large markets to gain a larger perspective of new items. When restaurants use test stores, they are usually looking for 4 things:

  • Can the kitchen keep up with demand?
  • Will the new product sell? Are people making special visits just for the new item?
  • How can new items be made utilizing existing ingredients, and minimizing new ingredients necessary?
  • How do new items affect restaurant profitability?

Limited-time offerings

Limited-time offerings (LTOs) are a great option for seasonal products and to react to guest feedback. Use table tents to showcase LTOs when testing out new drinks or desserts, and menu inserts to promote the LTOs that are meal based.

Companies also use LTOs to bring back popular items and gain sales and create hype. McDonald’s offers the McRib as a LTO, and incorporates the offer into a larger marketing strategy. In 2005, McDonald’s started the “McRib Farewell Tour” while simultaneously creating a petition website to “Save the McRib”. McDonald’s made the McRib something special, and engaged their customers to join a cause with the LTO.

It is important to consider the impact of a LTO on the brand. The LTO must be aligned with the menu design, while at the same time serving as a marketing piece, and matching the rest of the marketing collateral. In the end, all print and digital pieces surrounding the LTO should be a hybrid of the brand marketing collateral and the printed menu.

Do you need help planning a limited time offer or test menu? Please let us know, we’d love to help!

Let’s face it, people don’t like blue food

If you’re designing a restaurant there are certain colors to stay away from, and blue is one of them. Blue and purple are associated subconsciously with toxins and spoiled food. Why? Blue foods are not commonly found in nature, with the exception of blueberries and a few other rare foods. Our ancestors regarded blue as a warning color, indicating the food was poisonous.

Sight is the first sense evoked by food. If the color of the food is unappetizing, a food can be immediately rejected. Studies have shown that blue food makes people lose their appetite completely, and in some cases become sick. Just imagine eating a blue steak. Gross!

Quick sensory design tip: using blue in your menu design or restaurant’s interior may not be such a good idea! Restaurants that use blue in their theme may be more focused on the environment their guests are in than the actual quality of food. Modern Steak, which has a blue logo and blue tables is a trendy place to be seen in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s reputation for food however, is not stellar. While many reviews focus on the “great ambiance” and “beautiful décor,” few elaborate on the quality of food. A well-known food blogger in Scottsdale wrote a review complete with pictures of Modern Steak. We have included some of his photos in this post, let us know what you think of how the food looks!

Some diet plans use the reaction to blue to their advantage. Put a blue light in the refrigerator or eating off blue plates.

When was the last time you ate something blue?


Useful Link: Rating Diet Plans

In honor of National Beer Drinking Day…

In honor of National Beer Drinking Day, and just because it’s Friday, we wanted to explore the art of brew making. How do people find inspiration for their popular brews? If an establishment serves food and microbrews, does the beer frame the food, or does the food frame the beer?

Sometimes, like with local brewery Four Peaks, the beer is the main event. While the food at Four Peaks is fabulous, the menu doesn’t change on a seasonal basis. The beer, on the other hand, evolves with the seasons, ranging from Pumpkin Porter and Winter Wobbler, to Blind Date Ale and Fools Gold.

In other cases, the beer is meant to frame the food. David Burke just teamed up again with Sam Adams to create BBQ Peach. Burke is a culinary expert with six restaurants in the New England Area and Chicago. Introducing BBQ Peach is an embellishment on the food, with Burke stating it will be “perfect with Chinese Sausage”.

We want to know, what’s your favorite microbrew? Some favorites around the Miss Details office are Oberon from Bells Brewery in Michigan, and Four Peaks Hefeweizen with a splash of orange juice.