Can a Name Make or Break a Venue?
What You Name Your Establishment Can Help Or Harm Business
Think about how your name would look on a corporate or family event invitation. That will influence how many parties you book.
Would you eat and drink at a place called Poopsies? How about La Du Du? Or what about bellying up to the bar at The Hairy Monk? Yes, these are actual names for establishments, and while they are unconventional, there’s a chance that you’ll never forget them. But when it comes to business, is it worth the risk to choose a name that might cause controversy?
A-List Marketing Solutions founder Tim Borden, who’s been involved in naming more than 40 bars, restaurants and nightclubs in his illustrious career, maintains that a name is not the most important element of an establishment. “A restaurant with great service and food could survive most any name,” says the bar and restaurant profit builder.
“But coming up with a good name is a free way to give yourself a ‘first impression’ advantage when opening,” he adds. “A bad name is like a self-handicap. You can get past it, but why hurt yourself?”
Borden believes, however, that there are two other primary reasons for being conservative and general with the restaurant’s name. For one, most establishments double as private events spaces.
“Owners sometimes forget that almost every bar, restaurant and nightclub will want to host private events,” he says. “They may be corporate, family occasions or even events with children present. Think about how your name would look on a corporate or family event invitation. That will influence how many parties you book.”
Also, he advises, restaurants will need flexibility for the concept’s evolution. “For example,” he says, “the letters in the name of the classic New York punk bar CBGB originally stood for Country, Blue Grass, Blues. Bars and restaurants don't always turn out to be the exact concepts envisioned at the time of opening.
“You have a big sign and a lot of marketing you've paid for. If you have to follow your business around a conceptual left turn or two due to demographic or trend changes, it's best not to have to change the name if you are operating successfully.”
For James Beard winner and Iron Chef champ Jose Garces, it’s important to first have a fully fleshed out concept before a name. His company, Garces Group, currently owns 22 restaurants with three more opening by the end of 2015. Yet he admits that it never gets easy when it comes to the name.
I would recommend paying a professional to do a thorough search to ensure you can use that name.
“When I first started opening restaurants, I could (easily) come up with a name,” he says. “I would produce a 20-name list, send it out to my friends, colleagues and trusted advisors, ask them to give me their top three choices, and usually one would come to the top. It’s been more difficult as of late. We started hiring some outside sources, just to get an outside opinion.”
There was extensive research, for example, concerning Rural Society, his Washington, D.C.-based Argentine steakhouse with a brand-new outpost in Chicago. Garces wanted to best translate the message into a good name, so he and his team traveled to Argentina and started digging around. What they found was an annual agricultural exposition hosted by a group called Rural Society.
“It’s a prized cattle show that has a very lively and social environment that goes with it,” Garces explains. “When I thought of that, it really translated to me this idea of an Argentine steakhouse, something that’s focused on beef and meat as well as having a warm and social environment. It kind of came together for me.”
What also resonated with him was its easy pronunciation for the average person. “Anytime you have an authentic (ethnic) name that’s too hard to pronounce, it loses its luster with the public,” he says. “When folks have to think about that aspect too much, it makes it hard for them to remember — and Google.”
Finally, Garces advises others to conduct a full legal search before settling on a name. “You should run a legal check because the last thing you want is to have to rebrand your restaurant if the name is already in use. I would recommend paying a professional to do a thorough search to ensure you can use that name.”