The Highs and Lows of Rebranding a Restaurant

When sales start to slow and public opinion begins to sour, many restaurants look to rebranding for revitalization. Beyond that, changes in management, simplifying the business’s identity, and capturing a new audience are other reasons to reinvent an operation’s image. Rebranding a restaurant can be as simple as updating the logo or as complex as changing the entire concept and identity. No matter how big or small your rebrand will be, it’s important that the changes are carefully researched, planned, and executed. To help you avoid critical missteps in your rebranding journey, we’ve highlighted four recent examples from the restaurant industry that you can learn from.

Arby’s Exceled with Advertising

In 2010, Arby’s was a “deeply troubled brand” with consistently falling sales. In 2012, on the heels of a severed finger incident that sparked bad publicity, Arby’s introduced an updated logo. Despite the 3-D effects rendered on the classic top hat, the change fell flat, and the new slogan, “Slicing Up Freshness,” didn’t give the company’s sales a fresh start. The fast food chain was sold to Roark Capital Group in 2011, but was still struggling to recapture its audience.

After the altered logo got roasted by fans and critics alike, Arby’s released another variation of the top hat in 2013 that harkened back to the original logo with two-dimensional appeal and a serif font. The next year, a different tagline and advertising campaign finally connected with customers by reminding them, “We have the meats.” Hyperbolic scripts narrated by actor Ving Rhames were featured in distinctive commercials with simple white backdrops that made viewers focus on the food. That new approach to marketing complemented a friendly feud with Jon Stewart and an accidental partnership with Pharell Williams, whose own oversized hat gained notoriety.

Rebranding with the right marketing plan helped Arby’s experience record growth, including same-store sales growth of 8.1 percent in 2015. The fast food chain’s marketing tactics are keeping customers interested, but it will have to make sure it maintains the food quality – meats and otherwise – that keeps them coming back.

Domino’s Relied on a Redo

In 2009, Domino’s was a company with plenty of reasons to rebrand. It suffered from poor public perception, worsened by a damaging viral video made by two irresponsible employees, and consistently dwindling sales. At the end of the year, the company announced a comprehensive “turnaround” campaign, which began with a four-minute video posted to its YouTube channel that opened with customer complaints, including that the “pizza was cardboard… wet and flavourless” and that “microwave pizza is far superior,” and showed reactions from executives, chefs, and staff. The company’s Pizza Turnaround website claims it “face[d] our critics and reinvent[ed] our pizza from the crust up.” In the two years following the launch of the turnaround campaign, Domino’s stock gained 233 percent.

After reinventing its pizza, Domino’s expanded its menu and updated its branding. In 2012, a new logo debuted alongside a plan to redesign stores to be more welcoming for customers choosing to pick pizzas up. To improve the ease with which customers could order, the company invested in technology-based ordering methods, like a pizza tracker that allows each customer to monitor his or her pizza’s progress after ordering online or via text. In 2015, the company announced that it was officially dropping the “pizza” from its name and attempted to engage its customer base with a logo informant contest that encouraged consumers to Instagram photos of Domino’s locations that had not yet replaced outdated signage.

Admitting that its product was flawed and letting customers know it made improvements helped Domino’s rake in the dough. Although a glance at the highly franchised company’s Facebook page shows some bumps in customer service, its profits are continuing to increase in the first quarter of 2016, with same-store sales growing 6.4 percent over the previous year.

McDonald’s Is Lovin’ Breakfast

For better or worse, McDonald’s has long been married to American culture as a fast food icon. The company hasn’t been without its fair share of scandals, from employee mistreatment to undisclosed ingredients, but it wasn’t until 2002 that the golden arches began a rapid fall from grace with its first reported quarterly loss. A documentary released in 2004, Super Size Me, aimed to highlight the link between obesity and fast food at the expense of McDonald’s. The documentary’s critics pointed out the 5,000-calories-per-day regimen followed in the documentary, accompanied by no exercise, was a bit unrealistic for the average American, but the documentary’s popularity didn’t help the fast food chain’s image. As customers began opting for healthier options, McDonald’s profits, despite the addition of salads and smoothies to the menu, were weighed down by its bad rap.

McDonald’s started updating locations in 2011 to shed its stale image for contemporary designs. That ongoing change supports last year’s announcement that McDonald’s wants to become a “modern, progressive burger company.” The company offered some transparency about its food by answering questions about ingredients, nutrition, and sourcing and sustainability, and vowed to switch to cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free chicken in a move that caters to diners who prefer ethically raised and sourced food. Perhaps most importantly, it also introduced all-day breakfast in response to customer demand.

After implementing menu options they knew customers wanted, the company enjoyed an increase of 0.9 percent in same-restaurant sales during the third quarter of 2015, success that continued in 2016. Customers are buying McMuffins, but it will be interesting to see if America also buys the new image the fast good giant is hatching.

Ruby Tuesday Tossed Tradition

Although Ruby Tuesday was known for being a casual dining establishment, a rebrand effort in 2009 attempted to transform it into an upscale restaurant. The restaurant’s founder seemed optimistic about the decision at the time, but it was executed in the middle of a national recession when restaurants and diners alike struggled financially. Despite spending more than $100 million on the effort, sales didn’t sizzle. The rebrand also came after an advertising ploy where Ruby Tuesday pretended to demolish the wrong building, which failed to create the buzz it wanted.

In 2013, the restaurant chain’s CEO said it was in a “transition period,” but it’s difficult to say when that transition is meant to end. In 2016, the restaurant chain has made headlines for its declining numbers and additional management shake-ups, including its CFO resigning, as well as a wage lawsuit. Those stories might be obscuring its new promotions, including 15 meals under $10, kids eating free on Tuesdays, and the resurgence of the salad bar.

After rebranding during a recession and alienating existing customers, Ruby Tuesday has struggled to reconnect with diners. In addition to offering family-friendly menu options to reclaim its previous reputation, the company is refocusing its advertising to attract women with children.

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's degree in English. She spends her free time playing tabletop and video games and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.