An interview about restaurant branding with Mexican creative studio Anagrama.
No design studio has more projects included than Anagrama in our new book Knife and Fork: New Visual Identities for Restaurants, Food and Beverage. Based in Mexico City and Monterrey, the creative agency develops branding and communication strategies for a broad range of businesses, but food remains their specialty. We have asked Anagrama's top creatives Gustavo Muñoz, Mike Herrera, Danie Garza, and Roberto Treviño about what sets restaurant branding apart.
Does food really always need a story?
Yes. Food is all about stories, memories and flavours. When you go to a branded restaurant, the dining experience changes in a positive way when there is a story behind the concept or the menu.
When did having a strong visual identity become so important for restaurants and other food businesses?
When people started caring about the places they go, the quality of the food, service and experience. People don’t want to go to a restaurant to eat only, they expect a complete experience.
Does restaurant branding differ from branding other types of businesses?
Every branding we do is a direct response to the project's particular needs. The most important things are to understand what we're trying to communicate and to what target audience, and finally create each project's own personality. What's interesting about restaurant branding is that restaurants and eateries tend to have a wider range of graphic applications, which lets us further explore and expand the brand's behavior. Also, restaurants allow us to create special sensorial experiences that people will enjoy, share, and remember.
What are the most important components of restaurant branding?
It's difficult to separate components and say, "this is the most important thing," because in reality what makes a restaurant experience unforgettable is a combination of many things: location, the quality of the food, how comfortable the place is, the sensorial experience of colors and forms, the photographic quality of the place. Color plays a very important role in this kind of projects, but in the end the most important thing is that they all match perfectly and coherently, and that includes the food.
Talk us through your steps when creating a visual identity for restaurants or food businesses.
The first thing to do is to know the project like the back of your hand. We do pre-brief meetings where we listen to the clients about every aspect of their project, what they want, what they don't want, what's essential to communicate, etc. It's very important to know their product, to try their food and to see how they make it, and why they make it that way. With all that information we prepare mood boards where we synthesize our best ideas, working as a team. The naming is also vital —sometimes it's what dictates the place's concept. Once we have the concept, we get to work on the design until we have something unique, functional and with a great aesthetic. It's great when we have an “à la carte” project where we start completely from scratch and delve into the naming, branding concept and even suggest menu items to tie everything up together nicely. Sometimes we also get rebranding projects for already well-positioned restaurants where we simply fine-tune everything a little bit.
How closely should the architecture, the interior design and the visual identity go hand in hand?
Completely. Branding is about providing a complete experience where everything makes sense and matches with all the other elements around it. It's about consistency. It's not always like that in the real world, but for Anagrama it is very very important.
How important is humor?
At the studio, there's something we call the fifth element. It's that unexpected element that is pleasantly surprising in the brand experience. More than humor or irreverence, it's something that wins people over, and it's as unexpected as it is unique.
How many people work at Anagrama?
We're a team of about 35 people working out of two offices, one in Monterrey and one in Mexico City.
How many projects do you usually work on at a time?
Quite a lot. Since we have such a talented and numerous team of designers, architects and developers it's quite common to be working on ten projects per week.
How closely do you work with the business owners or founders when it comes to branding?
It depends on the type of project and the company's size. Sometimes owners want to be involved in every part of the decision process, while other times that responsibility is released to us in combination with their internal marketing team. When working closely with owners or founders, we like to talk about the history of their companies, their inspiration, their vision. We strive to get the most information possible so we can consistently encode the most important elements of their vision and strategy into a successful brand.
Do you ever advise on the menu, too?
Yes. We have recently integrated a very talented team of people that help us with the development of menus for some specific local projects. We create menus that work with the restaurant operation and agrees with the spot mood.
What are the main trends you’ve seen in restaurant branding since you’ve been working in the field? And where are things going now?
All the time we're looking at what's new in the world. Blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr — the internet in general is a great tool that helps us know what's out there. One of our core beliefs at Anagrama is that what we design must be timeless. We strive to create brands that won't easily go out of fashion but that will maintain an emblematic status and survive the test of time for at least 100 years. Of course, we do follow trends, but we try to be wise in how much is appropriate to use them so our design doesn't fall into the temporal spectrum.
What are some of your favourite examples of great restaurant branding, internationally?
The Ace Hotel in NYC is pretty great.
Do you think Mexico differs from other markets when it comes to restaurant branding?
Yes. Like in every culture, restaurants respond to the people around them. But, everyday it's more and more common to see "international" restaurants in every corner of the world. Here in Mexico, people love to eat, from big juicy steaks to street tacos on the side of the road, and what people here appreciate is the food's honesty.
Do you take social sharing — for example, the likeliness of something being popular on Instagram — into account when creating a visual identity?
Definitely. People are more and more connected every day. They want to see what their friends and peers are doing and it's so easy to create curiosity for a place if it's everywhere in social media. They want to experience what their peers are experiencing, and even more if the place looks like it will offer a great and unique experience.
Do you see a correlation between a restaurant’s quality in food and service and the quality of their branding?
Yes, absolutely. It doesn't matter if the branding is perfect when the food is bad. Like we said before, it's about consistency.
Relatedly, is there a danger of a focus on branding coming at the detriment of actual quality, especially in cities with a lot of competition? Or of “good” branding becoming so ubiquitous that it simply doesn’t work to denominate quality anymore?
Branding is about the whole experience. We must get to know the company and its products thoroughly before designing something. We work very hard to make the brand honest about the products, services, or people it represents. Through time, businesses will make changes and make decisions that will affect the brand perception and brand promise with the real brand experience. During our work process we make it very clear to our clients how important it is to differentiate and behave consistently with the promise and the experience, adding a little bit of “not everything that is good for your business is good for your brand and not everything good for your brand is good for your business, just find the perfect balance.” If you can differentiate and be consistent, there should be no problem at all. But of course, that's easier said than done.
You can see more of Anagrama's work and other great examples of restaurant branding in our new book Knife and Fork: Visual Identities for Restaurants, Food and Beverage.