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Running Your Business:
The Culinary Branding Iron: Co-Branding, Multi-Branding and the Creation of Your Own Brand
By Eric Hahn

What is the largest single trend developing for independent restaurant operators? The emergence of co-branding and multi-branding on a menu. A position that chains have known for many, many years, independent restaurant operators are enhancing their menus with name-brand products at an ever-increasing rate, and they’re finding that it is lifting their bottom lines. Co-branding and multi-branding is a "win, win, win" situation for your establishment, the product supplier, and your customer.

Adding Starbuck’s Coffee to your beverage lineup, M&M’s to your dessert menu, or Kobe Beef to your entree` selection enhances consumer awareness to your menu items by a 6 to 1 margin. Customers will identify with the products more easily, and will certainly remember that your menu has creative variations they can identify with.

But beware of going out of hand with co-branding or taking an overly radical approach to this idea. As Blais in Atlanta recently discovered. Foie Gras milkshakes and Dr. Pepper braised beef was a little out of tune with local demand. Thus, an appropriate strategy should be implemented in the formulation of a winning co-branded menu.

First, identify which menu items that should be co-branded. Concentrate on the menu items that could boost ticket averages or assist in your daypart sales. If you have menu items that are winners already, leave them as winners, and center your attention on those items that need greater sales.

Secondly, refer to your local or regional products to supplement your menu. By this, if you have a popular local food item, experiment with how this product could work on your menu. For instance here in Michigan, most restaurants will use Great Lakes Whitefish, morels, cherries, and other local or regional food items that customers demand.

Lastly, always give credit to the co-branded menu item, as it is! If you use Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce, state on your menu that it’s Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce, not a “secret barbeque” sauce.

Co-branding and multi-branding are the integration of your menu with consumer awareness. Your customers will automatically know what to expect when they see something that is familiar on your menu. It’s not unusual to find Pizza Hut pizza or TCBY Yogurt on a menu in a resort, hotel or in another foodservice establishment. Thus on the micro scale, it should not be unusual for consumers to find creative and exciting name brand items on a restaurant menu.

Sit down with your chef, food and beverage manager, bar manager and put forth a winning co-branded menu for your customers. You and your customers will be glad you did!

Eric Hahn Eric Hahn, Founder and Research Developer of is a 25-year industry veteran, who has an extensive background in operations. A Phi Alpha Theta graduate of Indiana University, Hahn is also a former congressional lobbyist researcher with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in Washington, D.C.

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