It was a Tuesday afternoon, and every table at the restaurant was full—which was strange considering the restaurant didn’t open until 5 p.m. “And when our guests ask why we don’t open until 5 p.m.,” a man dressed in all black with a white apron tied around his waist said to the crowd, “we tell them the story of our chefs who arrive early each morning, who turn the music in the kitchen on loud, and who spend all day cutting each and every vegetable by hand. We tell them about the specials that are created and tested each morning. We tell them that we couldn’t possibly serve them any earlier in the day because, though our front doors don’t open until 5 p.m., the door to our kitchen opens at dawn.”

The room nodded, a few even took notes. Why? Because they were the newest class of servers, bartenders, and front of house staff at the hottest restaurant in an up-and-coming foodie town. It was day two of their training—the day set aside for learning the stories behind the business. Why story training? Why not more information about the menu or wines? Because the man in the apron, the owner and renowned restaurateur, knew that a restaurant is only as good as the stories it tells and the stories others tell about it. If this restaurant was going to stay the hottest spot in town, it was going to take more than quality food and service, because in a highly competitive market, whoever tells the best story, wins.

So how do restaurants use stories to their advantage? Here are four easy ways to make your way to the top of the list in your neighborhood and, more importantly, how to stay there.

1. Listen to Your Consumers

The basic premise of any business is to fill a need or solve a problem. The messaging you use to tell your brand story should reflect the solution you’re providing, including how it sets you apart from the other solutions out there that your consumers could turn to instead. Listen to what guests are saying and build a story that fills their needs. Your readers or listeners will respond better to a story that reflects their desires than a general story about how your food is locally sourced. The one caveat to this is that it must be truthful. Whether you exaggerate a little or downright lie, consumers are unforgiving of brands that simply tell them what they want to hear with little to no truth behind it.

2. Be Unique

To craft your story sincerely, find what makes your restaurant unique and broadcast it. Unfortunate as it is, the phrase “locally sourced” has become a cliché. While the influx of more natural ingredients is certainly a good thing, the story of organic, fresh ingredients has been beaten to death by the industry, and it’s no longer a characteristic that will set your restaurant apart from the rest. If your ingredients really are locally sourced and pure, include that in descriptions of your brand, but don’t let it be the only thing you use to draw in consumers.

3. Live Your Story

Your website shouldn’t be the only place visitors can find your story. Your restaurant should be a living, breathing manifestation of it at every corner customers turn. From the decor to the menu items, each part of the guest’s experience should in some way showcase your brand story. Employees should be trained on specific messaging to use when talking to customers and be capable of adding their personalization to it. Your signature dishes will be much more memorable if servers are prepared and excited to share the stories behind them.

Living your story also includes cultivating it when any changes occur. New menu items or new locations are significant changes that should be reflected in your brand story throughout the passing of time. Keeping your story up to date allows customers to see that it’s not just empty words, but a true depiction of your business; showing your patrons who you are is just as important as telling them when it comes to being authentic.

4. Let Your Stories Shape Your Brand

The truth is, a good portion of your brand story won’t even be told by you, but by customers who have experienced it in action. You can promote it as much as you want, but the story that most people will deem as more credible and trustworthy is the one that your guests are telling. If your story is prominent throughout the restaurant and employees are well versed in recounting it, customers will be provided with the means to share your story for you. Word of mouth has the power to either boost or damage your brand, making it so important that your story is told consistently. When employees talk about certain dishes or explain the reason you do things a certain way, they’re providing guests with the information they will use to tell others about your restaurant.

On the eve of day three of training, the newest class of servers at the hottest spot in town were allowed their first interactions with guests. Their sole job? To answer questions with stories; stories of the food, stories of the team, stories of other guest experiences, and finally stories of their own passion for the restaurant. Competitors in the area have tried to identify what it is that makes the restaurant so special but the subtle power of story is often lost on them and may have been lost on you too—until now.


SOURCE: Full-Service, November 2016