July 21, 2020

Bridging the Gap from Your Restaurant’s Brand Promise to Brand Experience

Much of business, and life for that matter, is figuring out how to close the gap. Whether it’s how to narrow the space between you and your closest competitor or strategizing about the best way to get from where you are to where you want to be. Building a great restaurant brand is no different. It’s all about bridging the gap between brand promise and brand experience.

Brand Promise vs. Brand Experience: How They Work and How They Work Together

Because marketing professionals like to complicate pretty much everything, let’s pause for a moment to define exactly what we mean by brand promise and brand experience.

Brand Promise: Why you exist; your purpose; your “cause”

Brand Experience: What you do; how you bring your “cause” to life

Simple. Trite. Maybe overly so? Possibly, but don’t let that deceive you. Unfortunately, the number of companies that misalign brand promises with brand experiences is huge. The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Brand Experience Survey outlines what a pervasive problem this is for companies. Here are some of their disappointing findings:

  • 45% of respondents believe that their internal brand culture is not aligned with external brand values.
  • Half of respondents say their leadership team does not use the company’s brand promise when making decisions.
  • Only 37% believe all their employees truly understand how to leverage the brand promise into a brand experience for the customer.

For many, bridging the gap from brand promise to brand experience seems confusing and out of reach. To successfully transition words into actions, we need to understand why so many fall short of delivering in the first place.


1. Failing to Define a Meaningful Restaurant Brand Promise

A brand promise should be bold, clear, and unwaveringly earnest. Everyone – from employees, vendors, media, the community, and your customers – should know what you stand for, and equally as important, what you won’t stand for.

A brand promise can sometimes be confused with a mission statement. Although they share similarities, the difference lies with their intended audience. A mission statement describes your company’s purpose from an internal perspective and generally inspires and motivates your employees. A brand promise, however, focuses externally. Its purpose is to introduce your brand to the world and hold it accountable to customers and the experience your company delivers.

A strong, meaningful brand promise is rooted in differentiating values. What makes you different? How are you unique compared with the rest of the industry? Once you determine that, write it down and use it to make key decisions. How you hire and train your employees, the way you treat your customers, your communications strategy should all point back to this promise. A brand promise is not who you want to be; it’s not aspirational or wishful thinking. It is who you are; it’s your brand’s DNA.

Here is what great restaurant branding looks like

Of all the restaurants that have a great brand promise that is seen and felt at every touchpoint, Chipotle rises above the rest. Building off the brand promise “Food with Integrity,” the quick-service restaurant (QSR) has stock valued at more than $31 Billion. Even more impressive, the company’s value has risen 34% this year – one that saw the largest financial hit to the restaurant industry in history.

“Food with Integrity” is clear, concise, and so compelling that the company is profiting financially as well as becoming an industry thought leader. In 2019, Chipotle targeted customers who adhere to trendy lifestyle diets like Paleo and Whole30. Riding that same wave of success, the company just announced the addition of cauliflower rice in some markets, all in an effort to continually deliver on its cause of serving food with integrity.

2. Not Integrating Your Brand Promise with Employee Training

Your employees are your brand’s best ambassadors. They are the people who interact with your customers most, and those interactions can make or break you. It is imperative that employees know and understand what the company values. When done properly, the onboarding process for new hires should be dripping with your brand promise. One study found that the onboarding process not only helps brand management but also can lead to a 91% retention of employees.

Allow the brand promise to seep through to the very basic levels of training, and you will see it in action. By encouraging employees to make decisions and behave in a manner aligned with the company values, you are on the way to building a culture of excellence.

Chick-fil-A: A case study in employee training

This article would be misguided without mentioning Chick-fil-A. The nation’s fifth-largest fast-food chain had $10 billion in sales in 2019 and touts the title of America’s “most polite” restaurant.

At the heart of that success is the chain’s commitment to customer service. Employees are trained in everything from how to clean the coffee pot, to managing customer complaints, to building the perfect sandwich. Chick-fil-A lives out its brand promise of “to glorify God” by ensuring that each employee knows how to deliver an experience that points back to that value. The company puts its money behind its belief in excellent customer service too – spending more money than any other company on employee training.

3. A Brand Experience That’s Inconsistent with the Brand Promise

The brand promise can easily turn into a vapid set of words if it is not followed by action. The disparity between the brand promise and customer experience was the subject of a groundbreaking study by management consulting company, Bain & Company. After researching 362 companies, they found that 80% believed they delivered a “superior” consumer experience. Only 8% of customers agreed.

If you think restaurants are any different, think again. A recent American Customer Satisfaction Index found that customer satisfaction decreased in the 12 months from April 2019 to March 2020. The dissatisfaction arose in nearly every aspect of the dining experience – from the accuracy of food ordered to the helpfulness of the staff.

To reverse this trend, restaurants need to avoid three oversights:

  1. Misidentifying Customer Needs. It’s common for businesses to think that customers want one thing only to discover they want something entirely different. In the restaurant space, misunderstanding customer desires can happen a lot with food trends. This is where a strong brand promise shows its utility. Measure every decision against what you value, and if it does not align with your promise and fulfill a tangible customer need, there is no need to entertain it.
  2. Measuring Part of the Customer Experience. This pitfall occurs when departments work in silos. In order to understand how to deliver an excellent experience, a wholesale view of everything the customer sees, touches, and smells needs to be measured. You can then see where problem spots are and strategize how to address them effectively.
  3. Overcommitment to Best Practices and Undervaluing Context. What customers want out of the dining experience is changing, which means the dining experience needs to change too. Survey what you consider “best practices” and determine if they are still relevant to your target customer. In the same breath, what works for some restaurants will not work for others. Depending on where in the country you are located, offering beer from local breweries might be seen as a positive addition to the consumer experience. In other areas, it might not move the needle at all. Take a step back and look at the context of each decision you make for your business.

The gap between brand promise and brand experience can a treacherous journey. It is not easy, but it is necessary. Aligning the two starts with a strong commitment to a consequential set of values that permeates your organization. Onboarding employees in a way that allows them to learn, understand, and execute these values pushes your brand out to the frontlines where your customers experience it. How your company presents itself at every touchpoint – from the greeting at the door, to the way the server delivers the check – should feed into and point back to what you value. The strongest brands do not miss an opportunity to live out their brand promises. They are the companies who tirelessly seek to do more than talk about their values – they showcase them by giving customers not only an experience, but a memory.


  • Bridging the gap from brand promise to brand experience can largely affect your company’s ability to succeed.
  • The key first step in translating what your brand stands for into what customers can expect lies in determining your brand’s cause.
  • Training employees and putting action behind your values are hallmarks of bringing a strong value system to life for customers.