Great food and service are no longer enough to help your food business stand out from the crowd. In today’s hospitality landscape, crafting and communicating the story behind your brand is critical to success. Millennial and Generation Z consumers demand transparency and authenticity to a degree not expected of businesses until recently. Crucially, these generations tend to view and value experiences as a form of self-expression, much as fashion has long been utilised. If the tale you tell is compelling and honest, it can attract new customers and create loyalty. 

Innova Market Insights ranked storytelling as the No. 1 trend for 2020, and it hasn’t diminished in importance since. Presented at Food Ingredients Europe in Paris, the study reported that 56% of global consumers say that stories about a brand influence their purchase decisions. 

Storytelling:

  • gives people a reason to engage with your brand,
  • forges an emotional connection with customers,
  • makes you stand out from competitors, and
  • makes you memorable in the minds of your customers.

What's the story?

Before you can promote your brand, you need to craft your story. What is your restaurant’s raison d’être — the passion that lies at its core? Storytelling can be built on one or more of several pillars. It can: 

  • create an ‘origin story’ type narrative from the owner’s point of view, 
  • communicate your brand’s mission, purpose or passion,
  • focus on ingredients and their provenance,
  • explain the special ways in which your dishes are prepared,
  • celebrate the heritage and culture(s) that inspired your recipes, or
  • explain unique signature serving styles or consumption rituals. 

Winning themes

While it’s important to focus on the areas that ring true for your restaurant, it’s also smart to take into account two major themes that matter to today’s customer.

1. Tell a sustainable tale 

Sustainability is a theme that consumers want to see reflected in their choice of restaurant — a story they actively seek to be told, provided it’s truthful. ‘Greenwashing,’ or presenting empty claims of being environmentally-friendly, won’t get you anywhere; you have to walk the walk. 

“Sustainability becomes more important to consumers, and they are willing to make changes to their lifestyle to become more sustainable,” states Bord Bia. “Brands that help consumers be more sustainable will win.” Bord Bia’s Global Sustainability Insights Report (2021) lists packaging, waste and animal welfare as key consumer topics worth shouting about. 

2022 study by Deliverect found that:

  • 43% of diners are willing to pay more for takeaways that prioritise sustainability.
  • 56% want restaurants to be more transparent about their eco-friendly efforts.
  • 47% would consider changing what they order from the menu to be more sustainable.
  • 68% believe restaurants should have processes in place to avoid waste. 

2. Highlight provenance 

Consumers want to understand where their food comes from and how it is produced, so a story offering insights into these elements can impact consumer trust and boost sales. Provide transparency around your suppliers and producers. If you use local ingredients, be sure to highlight this; while the ‘locavore’ trend was already growing pre-2020, the pandemic only increased the push for locally sourced food. 

The right story for you

Offering consumers a glimpse into the how — and why — your menu items have been created builds trust. Here are some examples of questions to ask when trying to find the most suitable themes for your establishment:

  • Think consumer trends: is everything on your menu sustainable, organic or locally-sourced? Do you make a point of creating outstanding, mouth-watering plant-based dishes?
  • Think local: are you growing your own herbs, or getting your dairy from your cousin’s farm down the road?
  • Think heritage and culture: are you using heritage recipes passed down through your family? Does your menu celebrate the food traditions of your country or locality?
  • Think sustainability: do you offset all your carbon emissions, or use a carbon footprint calculator?
  • Think waste: are you committed to zero food waste? Do you use solely compostable packaging? Is your kitchen using every part of the animal — offal, marrow and all?
  • Think specialities: do you have one ‘signature dish’ that is always on the menu and has a compelling story of its own? 

You’re aiming to build an emotional connection to your consumers, so focus on what makes your establishment special. To make it work, remember:

  • Be honest and realistic. Authenticity and transparency are paramount. Don’t make promises you can’t keep; your customers will feel as though you have deliberately lied to them, and this will have catastrophic results.
  • Be consistent. This is not a short-term project. Ensure that every part of your brand story is something you’re proud to stand behind for years to come.
  • Be clear. Make sure your messaging is easy to understand, focusing on just 2-3 key points of differentiation. Including too many themes will only muddy the message.
  • Be relevant. At the end of the day, your story should matter to your customers. Be sure to explain how the story behind your food ultimately translates into a quality dining experience.
  • Use emotion. Use language that is still professional but also warm and friendly — you’re aiming to engage with customers on an emotional level. 

It's storytime

Once you’ve done the work on your brand story, make sure it’s consistent and reflected across all of your messaging, consumer-facing and otherwise: on your menu, signage, marketing materials, social media, public relations, in discussions with investors and when training your staff. 

Think outside the box when it comes to marketing efforts that match your brand. If a big part of your brand is the sourdough you make from a 35-year-old starter culture, consider offering bakery classes on Monday or Tuesday evenings when the restaurant would otherwise be closed. If you use a lot of foraged foods on your menu, why not sell tickets for a foraging walk once a month, where customers can learn what they can find in the wild? If farm-to-fork is your thing, forge links with local or community farms and see how you can work together. 

For more helpful advice on communicating your story, visit www.tenkites.com.