Opening a restaurant is a labor of love that doesn’t come with a clear action plan or easy answers. Finding a location, hiring a team, creating a restaurant website, and developing a menu require you to push your own boundaries and listen to the creative and instinctual voices in your head; the challenging task of naming your establishment is no different. “A restaurant’s name is one of its chief sales tools, and the wrong name can damage business prospects before you even open the door,” said Michael Tulipan, a partner at MST Creative PR. To help with this endeavor, we consulted several restaurant branding consultants and restaurateurs to gather a few guidelines on how to name a restaurant in a way that suits your business and intrigues potential guests.
1. Choose a restaurant name that reflects the dining experience you will provide
A restaurant’s name is an integral part of a restaurant marketing strategy and provides guests with an immediate sense of the experience that they can expect, so it’s essential to come up with a business name that clearly communicates your restaurant’s overall vibe. “Remember that a restaurant name is just as much a sales tool as the place’s identity,” said Tulipan. To determine your restaurant’s concept, allow yourself to step back and take a big-picture look at what you’re creating, how guests will experience your creation, and the impression that you hope to make when a guest’s visit comes to an end. In the best-case scenario, people unfamiliar with your restaurant will be able to determine whether your restaurant will be right for a date, a casual lunch with friends, a celebration, or a rowdy Saturday night just from looking at the storefront sign.
Owner Donald Minerva named his Italian restaurant Scottadito Osteria Toscana in order to honor its Tuscan roots. “As one names their children with love and intention, the name of your business reflects its heart,” said Minerva. “Our chef grew up in Italy and brings his personal experience from cooking school into the restaurant every day, making the Italian [ambiance] even more authentic and bringing his culture into our traditional-style osteria.”
Customers often shorten the restaurant name to Scottadito which translates to ‘burnt fingers’ and is a term used to describe lamb chops (the restaurant’s specialty) that are so delicious, you can’t help but pick them right off the fire to take a bite. Though the food he offers is rather upscale, Minerva wanted to create an environment where families and young professionals alike could come to relax—the term osteria means informal eatery, so it perfectly encapsulates that experience.
Tip: Need help finding a catchy business name? Use a restaurant name generator for ideas and inspiration?
2. Research your restaurant name ideas to cut out those that are already taken
In terms of your restaurant social media and restaurant SEO, a unique name will give your business the best chance at garnering web traffic, which could then lead to higher dining turnout. “A good name should differentiate you from competitors and be memorable enough to help generate top-of-mind awareness,” insists Candace MacDonald, the marketing director and co-founder of the Carbonate creative agency. A few quick searches will tell you whether the domain name and the social media handles are available; if they are, you’ll want to claim them as soon as possible.
Of course, devising a name that’s completely unique may not be possible. In that case, the president and co-founder of the Big Spoon Co. marketing agency, Kevin Clay, recommends that restaurateurs find a name that is distinct from other local spots. “Do your research and make sure there are not similarly named businesses in your area,” said Clay. “Not only does this impact your customer’s ability to find you online, but it can save you time and money.” And he’s not kidding about that last part—the burden of changing your name once you’ve opened is massive, especially if you run into any trademark infringement trouble.
Clay pointed to the notorious example of Barcade that first opened in 2004 when arcade bars were still a rarity. After founder and CEO Paul Kermizian trademarked the term three years later, the concept took off, which meant that his lawyer kept busy sending out cease-and-desist letters to any establishment that used the term in their name. Every time, the bars on the receiving end have to replace all of their signage and rebuild their brand equity from the ground up.
3. Experiment with language to craft a restaurant name that will be easy to find and remember
With over a million restaurants in the United States and millions of other types of businesses fighting for space at the top of a search engine results page (SERP), finding a truly unique name can feel impossible. If you hit a wall, try playing around with spelling, puns, word combinations, and foreign languages to craft a name that will be easy to find in the digital world. Keep in mind that experimentation not only requires creativity but also forethought. Although a name that is too generic won’t stick in a customer’s mind, an even bigger challenge is building brand awareness if the name is difficult to read. It’s a tough needle to thread, but it’s well worth the risk. In order to reduce that risk, you can test out your ideas on people outside of your business to see if they know how to say it, if any mispronunciations sound like inappropriate terms, and if it translates to something negative in another language. “We use the litmus test of a bad critic review,” says MacDonald. “Would someone make fun of the name in a headline?”
When working with a fast-casual restaurant, Vice President and Creative Director Darren Easton of The Cyphers Agency wanted to land on a name that could be easily found on social media and one that would clearly represent the product in question. The restaurant’s unique selling proposition (or the one thing a business has that its competitors don’t) is that customers can either customize one of the seven creative burger options or come up with their own concoction. Darren knew the choose-your-own-adventure format would appeal to millennials, so he wanted to bring that concept to the forefront.
“We landed on ‘URBurger’ because the restaurant specializes in customizing a burger just the way you like it,” said Easton. “We went with a unique, memorable way to spell the name without getting too crazy or creating something that was too hard to pronounce or understand just for the sake of being different.” The name’s particular spelling allowed the restaurant to formulate unique social media tags and to create a clear presence across digital platforms, which proves so necessary to commercial success.
4. Make sure that your restaurant name hints at the story and the inspiration behind your business
Customers are receptive to passion, so it’s important that you bake as much love and care into the name as you do into the food. “The biggest red flag is having a name that doesn’t say anything about who you are and who you are for,” says Darren. “Trying to be all things to all people only dilutes your brand, so the most important factors are being unique and being informational."
Because Michelle Morgan launched her ghost kitchen right after she lost her job as a restaurant manager, she wanted to name it something that truly represented her and the Hong Kong cuisine of her youth. “I wanted a name that reflected the two sides of me,” Morgan explains. “‘Tiger’ for the fighter inside who launched a dream project during the pandemic and ‘lily’, my favorite flower, to represent our vibrant, Asian-inspired cooking.” True to its name, Tiger Lily Kitchen was so successful that Morgan managed to open her first brick-and-mortar location less than a year later!
All that is a lot to think about, but don’t fuss about it too much—even the best brand names aren’t airtight. If you still have no idea where to start, try playing with this restaurant name generator. It may help you get the juices flowing and put you on the path to a unique, inspired restaurant name.