What to Know About Branding Your Bar

Branding your bar is crucial as it directly influences how guests will view your establishment. In fact, according to the 2019 State of Brand Consistency by Lucidpress, consistent presentation of a brand has been seen to increase revenue by 33%.

We spoke with Megan Kranzler, owner and visual brand designer for Olive Ridley Studios, LLC, to learn what bars and restaurants need to know about building their best branding.


Bar & Restaurant (B&R): What is the importance of having a cohesive and memorable brand experience for a bar?

Megan Kranzler (MK): If you’ve ever heard the expression, “people don’t remember you for what you said, but how you made them feel,” that’s the goal behind creating a memorable brand experience. It creates a connection between your brand and your customers. It makes your bar an enjoyable place to be for your ideal customer, which means they’ll spend more time in your establishment. It also means they’ll be more likely to become a brand ambassador, spreading the word about your business on your behalf. They’ll post about it on social media, they’ll tell people they know how much they love your bar, and recommend it to everyone they can. They’ll buy your merch and wear it proudly, providing free advertising to everyone who crosses their path that day.

Creating a meaningful brand experience allows you to create impactful moments that make your brand more memorable. According to a study by XM Catalyst, an improvement in emotion provides the biggest benefit to brand loyalty. While their study was on customer experience and not brand experience, they really go hand-in-hand. Brand experience will help you make positive emotional connections with your customers, and that’s what they’ll remember.


B&R: How can branding benefit a bar?

MK: There are so many benefits that come from building a better brand experience, some of which may surprise you. I’ll start with the benefit that’s top of mind for every business owner, increased sales and revenue. This comes from authentically connecting with your target audience. You’ll attract more of the right people into your bar which means they’ll stay longer, spend more money, and become brand ambassadors. Plus, if they’re local, they’ll become repeat customers and maybe even regulars.

The most obvious benefit is the ability to stand out from your competition. Creating a bar with a unique brand experience will set you apart and make your marketing efforts that much easier because there’s no other place like yours. Another benefit is the ability to establish credibility faster. This is especially important if your business is new, moving into a new market, or opening in a new location. Having a solid brand experience makes you look more professional, which builds trust. It will also help you compete with more established bars in your area. It can help you be competitive with chains and conglomerates because you look the part.

As someone who works with small business owners, my favorite benefit is the increased confidence I see in business owners after they’ve improved their brand experience. When you know you’ve created something special you can’t wait to show it off the world, and brand experience is often the extra boost business owners need to feel confident that they have something unique to offer.

Lastly, a benefit that may surprise you is that brand experience can actually help your bar hire and retain employees who are the best fit for your business. In the same way it helps you attract the right customers, it will also help you attract the right employees. That means you’ll spend less time and money on employee turnover and your customer experience will improve because of it.


B&R: When it comes to physical brand experience, what assets do bars need? 

bar branding and signage
(Photo courtesy of Olive Ridley Studios)

MK: Physical brand experience for bars is comprised of your physical location, inside and out. That includes signage, window graphics, and interior graphics and decor (where branding meets interior design). It also includes printed menus and employee attire. If you sell merch, that adds to your physical brand experience too. It even includes the small details like the type of glassware you serve drinks in and the napkins you have out for customers.

The biggest thing you want to focus on is consistency. You want every part of a customer’s interaction to feel connected to your brand. You want the outside of the bar to reflect what customers can expect when they come inside. Once they’re inside, it’s all in the details. You want the experience to feel cohesive, and focusing on the details will help you achieve that. It doesn’t matter if you're creating a new bar, rebranding an existing bar, or building on what you already have. The principles are the same. People recognize and appreciate a thoughtful and cohesive physical brand experience, even if it’s only in their subconscious.

Every customer-facing part of your business contributes to your brand experience, and when it comes to physical brand experience, you need to consider all of the senses. Take control of what your customers see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. You obviously can’t control what they order to drink, but you can offer specialty drinks that align with your brand.

I have a free resource on my website specifically about physical brand experience: https://oliveridleystudios.com/physical-brand-experience-checklist

B&R: When creating branding for a bar, what do you start with? What’s the most important piece?

MK: I think the answer to both of those questions is one and the same. Start with brand strategy. You need to determine your brand’s look and feel, tone of voice, behavior, culture, and values and beliefs. Then you need to decide on your target audience, who you’re trying to connect with. It can be scary to niche down in order to attract a specific market, but as the saying goes, if you’re trying to talk to everyone you end up talking to no one. You don’t necessarily need to hire a separate brand strategist to achieve this. Most small businesses don’t have the budget for that. But if you hire the right person or company to help you develop your brand identity, there will be brand strategy included as part of that process, so start there. Once you’ve figured out your identity, all of the other pieces will fall into place much easier. Especially if you have a brand guide that can be supplied to all of the other vendors you work with like a web designer and an interior designer.


B&R: What are some common branding mistakes you see?

MK: One of the most common mistakes I see is a lack of consistency. As a visual brand designer, I notice more than the average person, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when exterior signage doesn’t match the rest of a business’s branding. Besides it being a pet peeve of mine, inconsistencies like that are detrimental to brand recognition. You know the old adage - you have to see something seven times before you remember it. Well, if you’re not using the same visual branding inside and outside of your bar and across your online presence, it’s going to make it a lot harder for people to remember and recognize your brand.

Along that same vein, another common mistake is not incorporating enough of your brand into your space. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to a bar, fallen in love with it, but then couldn’t remember the name of it when I got home. And I know exactly why that happens. The bar spent the time, money, and energy to create a unique environment, but didn’t include enough of their visual branding throughout the space. So, while the environment itself was cohesive, it wasn’t branded. It’s caused by a disconnect between interior design and brand design, and it goes back to that seven times mantra. You want to put your brand in front of people as often as you can so they’ll remember who you are when they leave.

The other mistake I see all too often is making budget-based decisions without considering your brand. As a small business owner, it’s always tempting to go with the cheapest option, but the cheapest option isn’t necessarily the best option. The merchandise you choose to sell or give away as promotional items is where I see a lot of businesses make this mistake. If you’ve positioned yourself as high-end or luxury, you definitely don’t want to choose the cheapest options. Giving away a foam can cooler instead of a neoprene option is going to cheapen your brand. Selling the cheapest cotton T-shirt instead of a soft-touch ring-spun cotton T-shirt is going to cheapen your brand. The details really matter when it comes to brand experience.


B&R: What should a bar look for when searching for a partner to help them with branding?

bar signage bar branding
(Photo courtesy of Olive Ridley Studios)

MK: It’s really important to look at their previous work and find someone who works within the aesthetic you’re looking for. You’re not going to know exactly what that means until you’ve done some brand strategy, but there are still parameters you can search within. For example, if you’re opening a biker bar, you likely need to find a design partner who can create masculine and grungy graphics. If you’re opening a luxury bar, you need to find a partner who can create branding that is elevated and elegant.

Another factor that can tell you whether or not a design partner will be a good fit for your needs is price. If someone is offering identity design for a few hundred dollars, know that all you’re going to get is a logo. There’s not going to be any brand strategy included at that price point, and you won’t end up with a brand identity. You’ll just have a logo, which is only one piece of the brand puzzle. You should expect to spend a few thousand dollars on a brand identity, which is also why it’s so important to find someone who can design within the style you’re after.

It’s also important to look at their background and the type of work they do. One of the reasons businesses end up with different branding on their exterior signage is because their logo isn’t suitable for that specific application. This happens when the designer doesn’t take into consideration all of the possible applications the logo will be used for. My advice is to find a design partner who has experience designing for real world applications and not just digital designs.

The last thing I’ll mention is that the branding process should be collaborative, so make sure you choose a partner that you can see yourself working closely with to get the best results.


Plan to Attend or Participate in Bar & Restaurant Expo, March 27-29, 2023

To learn about the latest trends, issues and hot topics, and to experience and taste the best products within the bar, restaurant and hospitality industry, plan to attend Bar & Restaurant Expo, March 27-29, 2023 in Las Vegas. Visit BarandRestaurantExpo.com.

To book your sponsorship or exhibit space at Bar & Restaurant Expo, contact:

Veronica Gonnello​ (for companies A to G) ​e: [email protected]​ p: 212-895-8244

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