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A guide to getting your restaurant’s unique vibe online

A Guide to Getting Your Restaurant’s Unique Vibe Online

When Kristin Chan talks about Fancy Nancy, the restaurant she has owned and operated with her husband since 2015, it’s obvious that she has a genuine passion for hospitality. Serving quality food and drinks is always at the forefront of her mind, but she worked hard to create a friendly, laid-back environment that offers a similar sensation to that of walking into a house party. Kristin wanted to fill it with regulars so that returning customers could recognize others when they walked through the doors. Basically, she wanted to create a space where she would want to hang out on her day off.

After the pandemic forced Kristin to shift her operations to delivery and takeout, she needed to find new ways to recreate that convivial atmosphere outside of her restaurant. She started by renovating her restaurant website. “The purpose of our website in the past was really just to introduce ourselves and give a vibe of who we are, and once you step in the door is really when the experience began,” she explained. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of us being able to give you that experience, so that experience now has to be translated solely through our website.”

Kristin doesn’t rely on subtlety to get her point across—the Fancy Nancy website’s tagline is “a neighborhood joint” in all caps—but the less obvious branding elements come together to form a more holistic picture. With an assorted color scheme that spans from neon blue and hot pink to chalky yellow and evergreen, the site has a cheery, easygoing quality that promises visitors a good time, whether they’re visiting the restaurant or eating Fancy Nancy’s creative cuisine in the comfort of their homes.

Outside of the online ordering menu, the site is light on text. The “Who Dis” page shows nothing but tagged pictures of Kristin, her husband and co-owner, and their dog, Butters. The lack of information is intentional and emphasizes the restaurant’s laid-back vibe. “We’ve never taken ourselves too seriously,” she said. “We just wanted to create a really approachable atmosphere.”

The fake Jimmy Burger restaurant decorates its delivery packaging with a playful logo & bright shades of blue & peach.

Although Emily Carlson, the vice president of Fridge (a full-service agency that specializes in the food and beverage industry) would typically encourage restaurants to include more information rather than less, she appreciated that the website captures the essence of Fancy Nancy. “I think, ultimately, you just have to be true to who you are,” she explained.

When developing a restaurant brand, the Fridge team works to make the connection between the restaurant website and the physical establishment as seamless as possible. To establish that connection, the agency first sets up a brand boot camp with their new clients in order to help them determine and solidify their story, their core beliefs, their mission, and who they are. “We are not just buying into the plate of food, we’re buying into the brand and who they are and what they represent and their values,” said Carlson.

The process involves asking dozens of questions that help restaurateurs tease out their brand personality and make it feel more alive. While questions like “What car does your brand drive?” or “If your brand was an animal, what animal would it be?” help to tap into an imaginary, creative mindset, others work to uncover the personalities of those who populate the restaurant: What does your favorite regular say when they walk through the door? How would you describe your best server? What brands (food-related or not) are most inspiring to you when you think about how you hope to see your restaurant evolve?

Fridge synthesizes all of that information into a brand positioning statement, which they feed into a restaurant name generator to get creative ideas, use to build a restaurant website, create a new piece of restaurant marketing content, or draft talking points for an interview. The goal of this document is to ensure that every single element of a restaurant—from the color scheme of the website to the food delivery packaging—comes together to form a cohesive entity that consumers will perceive as authentic.

Designing a restaurant website atmosphere with color, an ice cream cone photo, & the text “life is sweet.”

Consistency is especially important to institutions like Vanderwende’s, a multi-location shop in Delaware that serves small-batch ice cream made on a generations-old family farm. When the Fridge team started working on updating their Wix website, they knew they had to tread carefully to avoid alienating the loyal customers who stop for a cone on their way to the beach. So, instead of deviating from the brand, they worked on deepening the existing identity.

The Vanderwende family puts immense effort into caring for their cows (all 475 of them), and they positioned them front and center when they opened the ice cream shop: The logo features a smiling, turquoise-and-cream cow holding an ice cream cone and casually hanging over the “Vanderwende’s” sign. Fridge’s designers tapped into that playful vibe to create the background of the homepage: a turquoise-and-cream cow print with blue and pink flecks. To maintain visual consistency, they adorned the ice cream cups with the same pattern.

The cow print is adorable, but the designers only used it on the homepage in order to communicate site hierarchy. Because the homepage is the central hub of a website, it should not only have the most flair, but it should also function as a North Star that puts customers on the right path. Vanderwende’s homepage uses a flashy call-to-action button and a few gorgeous ice cream cone cutouts to steer customers to the “Flavors” page. Each flavor is photographed and mounted against differently colored circles to make them pop.

The Vanderwende’s brand identity and brand voice are both as friendly and inviting as the logo. Puns like “Home is where the herd is” and “The legen-dairy Vanderwende family” ooze dad energy, and the “Our story” page further underscores the wholesomeness of the brand. “Committed to quality and consistency, our family works hard every day to create small-batch, homemade ice cream that’s farm fresh and full of flavor,” it reads. In one sentence, it’s clear that Vanderwende’s cares deeply about family, remaining loyal to their roots, and striving for excellence. Through that expression, they can connect with guests who share similar values in a deeper way than they could by simply selling really good ice cream.

The takeaway here is simple: When building a restaurant website, the goal isn’t to make everything seem flawless but to clearly and accurately represent the essence of your business. Interesting designs and pretty pictures do attract attention, but the only way to maintain it is to make sure that your restaurant branding is consistent and authentic. Finding and expressing the thing that makes your restaurant unique is the key to creating a lasting impression.

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