Aug. 30, 2016 | by Shelly Whitehead

Graphics and signage can make a significant difference to a restaurant’s connection with its customers as we describedin Part 1 of this series. To that end then, the following advice — culled from experts at Speedpro Imaging and researchers at the University of Cincinnati in their report for the Signage Foundation — can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a restaurant's use of graphics and then ascertain what works, as well as what might need improvement.

The first step, according to Speedpro graphics experts, is determining what a business needs its signage to accomplish. This starts by evaluating nearby and in-store signs and graphic usage, paying special attention to whether your business is situated amidst the kind of clutter that distracts from your message. 

Next, restaurateurs should ask themselves and their staffs some key questions to determine whether the signage in place is working and what message it’s sending. Using this as a jumping-off point, here are six essential things to consider before even beginning to talk to the companies who can help solve your signage problems:

  • What’s the message and who is the intended audience?

 Motorists, nearby foot traffic and waiting customers all are specific audiences with specific needs when it comes to messaging. 

  • How should that message be best conveyed? Dabba in San Francisco

If you’re trying to create an atmosphere or make a particular connection with customers, as was the case for Dabbarestaurant in San Francisco, written messaging would have had less impact than a purely visual message. Speedpro Imaging Marketing Specialist Jamie Eardley said the importance of this form of communication is only growing among its food service industry clients. 

"By far, we have seen wall murals lead the way in restaurant signage," Eardley said. "We are seeing less conventional messaging and more design elements being used in restaurants. Creative or abstract designs create an ambiance in the restaurant that reinforces the brand the restaurant wants to establish."

Eardley also recommended that restaurateurs give new consideration to things like window clings, because new materials have eliminated many of the old problems with sign adherence to windows in cold weather. Also, don’t forget about signage on delivery automobiles, particularly if a restaurant offers services like catering.  

  • Consider the surroundings.

Surrounding clutter or even dominant messaging can kill a nicely wrought sign that contains great information by drowning it out.

"Most clients, regardless of their business, don’t take into account all aspects of signage type and optimal placement where the graphics stand out," said Eardley. "There is nothing worse than to place signage in a cluttered environment, losing its impact."

  • Think really big and really simple: 

Dabba’s gigantic graphic is a good example of making a statement more strongly with size, scale and color. Eardley said many businesses want to cram so much information on their signage that it loses its ability to attract attention or communicate the message. 

"We find that less is more, given that the food service areas can create a visual overload," Eardley said. "Big, eye-catching graphics of food that grab a customer’s attention in the split-second that they are looking, draws people in. Or if it is a price-conscious consumer (a restaurant is trying to attract) a simple message about a value meal can do the trick."

  • Do not forget contact information and make it big and bold:

Whether it’s delivery vehicles, LTO signage or a solicitation for new employees, do not forget that the very most important information is contact information. So make big, bold, plainly readable phone numbers, online ordering information, websites and everything else the intended audience needs to make that final important step.  

  • Do not skimp on photography: 

If you are using food photos, in particular, don’t cut corners with your photography-hobbyist nephew. Find the best food photographer you can afford and make those menu items look absolutely irresistible, whether being used for a vehicle wrap sign, a window cling or a pamphlet.

"High quality, large-format food pictures on vehicles will generate a lot of customer interest," Eardley said. "If it’s pizza, you should have the best-looking pizza in the world glistening off the side of your vehicle so that people will get your product in seconds. … Invest in a … photographer who knows what they are doing. … Bad food photos turn people off and can drive customers away."

Though Dabba didn’t dabble much in food photos for its solution, its still hit the target squarely with the graphics developed for its San Francisco location. After all, the mission for this California-based chain is to transport customers and create a warm, connected feeling for the brand. In that respect, mission accomplished. 

"Be original. Reflect your brand and its values," said Andy Mercy, owner of Dabba. "Get three bids and … come try Dabba … so you can be transported, too!"


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Communications, Marketing, Marketing / Branding / Promotion


Shelly Whitehead / Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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