One of the most important decisions that restaurateurs must make when opening a new eatery is the name. A restaurant’s name plays a key role in branding, as well as in the ultimate success of the business. Without an appealing name, your restaurant will most likely struggle to attract customers.
For example, suppose that the developers of a Japanese restaurant choose an obscure Japanese word for a name, because they believe that it speaks to the brand they hope to create. In a large, multicultural city like New York, this decision could be a smart one, as some people may recognize the word and others will be attracted to trying something new. But if the same name is used in a small, more homogenous town where there’s no real exposure to Japanese culture, people may dismiss the restaurant quickly because they cannot pronounce its name or figure out what kind of food it serves.
With so much riding on a restaurant’s name, developers need to consider a number of factors before making a final decision. Below are some of the most important elements to keep in mind.
A restaurant’s name must be memorable. If people cannot think of your restaurant’s name when speaking to their friends, then you’re missing out on important organic marketing opportunities. Foreign words can prove particularly difficult to remember. When the name confuses diners or makes them uncertain about the pronunciation, it is less likely that they will remember it down the line. Of course, a certain element of unfamiliarity and uniqueness can make the name more memorable. Fun and playful names can prove especially memorable, but restaurateurs need to ensure that diners will still take the place seriously. For example, a restaurant called Bonzo’s may certainly be memorable, but many diners may dismiss it as a place for children.
When thinking about whether a name is appropriate, restaurant developers need to think about both their target market and their physical location. If you want to appeal to an upscale clientele, then you should avoid choosing a name that is overly playful and instead focus on finding something that sounds elegant. At the same time, a restaurant that endeavors to be an inexpensive local hangout will do better with a quirky name than something overly refined, which will come across as stuffy. Location also plays a role. In some ways, location dictates the types of diners that you’ll attract. The target markets in New York or Washington, D.C. can be much more diverse than those in smaller cities or rural areas, for example.
Some restaurateurs want to ride on the success of other establishments and thus choose to adopt a similar name and concept, so that the restaurants become conflated in diners’ minds. For example, it is not uncommon for Mexican restaurants to use a common Mexican name such as Jose’s, but this doesn’t do anything to distinguish the restaurant from competitors. An undistinguished name may make the first months of operation a little easier, but ultimately it will hinder the growth of your brand.
To distinguish your restaurant from competitors, the name you select should reflect the brand. If your restaurant stands out because you serve Mexican food with organic, local ingredients, this fact should be reflected in the name. Linking the brand with the name makes the restaurant stand out in diners’ minds. Note that this doesn’t mean that the name has to spell out the brand and mission—this could result in some very boring, wordy names. Rather, the name should suggest and hint at it.
Restaurant developers frequently overlook the importance of adaptability when it comes to a name. The name should have room to grow with the business as the brand expands and its scope widens. For chains, this sort of name rebranding is incredibly expensive. For an independent restaurant, the costs may also be prohibitive, and the disconnect between the eatery’s changing brand and name could hurt business moving forward. By adopting a more flexible name to begin with, restaurant developers can avoid this unnecessary expense.
When it comes to a name’s functionality, restaurant developers need to consider social media and online marketing. If the name is too common, it may be difficult to brand the restaurant online. For example, trying to secure a URL for a restaurant called La Cucina could prove very difficult and may require putting the neighborhood or city name in the web address. Visibility in online searches is another concern—something as generic as “Good Eats” could be a nightmare in a large market like New York. A Google search for “Good Eats New York” would return an incredible amount of results. Before finalizing the name, restaurant developers should take the time to secure social media handles and URLs to ensure that the name is searchable and unique. If the handles are already taken, it may be time to think of a different name.