How to rebrand your operation

Published in FSD Update

brand construction illustration

The University of Michigan’s dining program is caught up in a culinary arms race with nearby restaurants in booming Ann Arbor, Mich.—mentioned among Bon Appetit’s Foodiest Small Towns in America. As part of meeting its guests’ increasingly sophisticated palates and competing with the town’s culinary offerings, Michigan Dining refreshed its brand. Here are some of the lessons they learned along the way.

1. Make sure you have backup

Before spending the resources and energy rolling out a sleek new brand, it’s important to install a structure that can make good on that brand’s mission and promises. “You can’t decide you are going to be a new company with the same players and attitude,” says Steve Mangan, Michigan Dining director. Building in the capability and capacity with the right team and processes is essential, Mangan says.

2. Find yourself

Michigan dining spent at least six months determining its mission, principles and the type of organization it wanted to be. Mangan’s team conducted internal interviews with all levels of the dining team to uncover their motivations, frustrations and opportunities for the brand. “You need to talk to your own people,” says Dan Henne, director of marketing for the school’s Student Life Auxiliaries and a central member of the rebranding team. But don’t just toss these insights after the rebrand. Mangan says the input will fuel how the program will evolve in the future.

3. Scout the competition

It’s not enough just to know your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. Take a look at what your competition is missing, says Henne. “Then, look at what you can leverage given your resources,” he says. Michigan Dining has size on its side, feeding around 25,000 meals a day. It can influence local suppliers to acquire certifications to suit their sustainable mission and help mold the regional market.

4. Know your audience

While it's important to think about the demographic you're trying to engage, be authentic in the interactive aspects of your branding, such as social media. "We can't try to pretend like we're them," says Kate Glahn, the marketing communications specialist for Student Life Auxiliaries heading up dining's social presence. "We look to make fun of our own voice. Say, 'Yeah, we're the gooofy grown ups.' Otherwise, it doesn't ring true."

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
smoothie

Nurses often mention that at 2 p.m. they are dragging and just trying to get through their 12-hour shift. This winter I will be implementing a 2 p.m. pick-me-up, which will include a smoothie station where they can create their own smoothie to help get them through their shift. It will be filled with energy-boosting ingredients to personalize their own drink, such as bananas, almonds, spinach and even dark chocolate.

Ideas and Innovation
chili

Winter is when our guests frequently crave something comforting and hearty, and chili is great for that. Our plan is to boost guest engagement this winter by inviting them to design a unique chili experience. The guest chooses the type of chili first, then the vessel: bowl, bread or potato. Next, they customize their dish even further by choosing the toppings, which will be categorized as traditional, creamy, crunch or heat. The wild card, crunch and heat categories, are where my team and I will flex our creativity and highlight different flavors, ingredients or techniques.

Ideas and Innovation
new year party

In search of inspiration for this letter, I turned to the one I wrote for January 2017, in which I griped about some trends I wanted to toss in the new year. Twelve months later, the Sriracha trend has calmed down, food trucks seem slightly less pervasive and, while the definition of “clean” eating continues to evolve, it’s not so laser-focused on GMOs. So it seems my predictions were correct, including the one about where I’d be eating on New Year’s Day (though I had no clue my now-fiance would propose to me that night over duck noodle soup).

However, since this year has been...

Industry News & Opinion

Dining hall workers at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., have been asked to remove stickers worn in protest of working conditions at the school’s dining halls, The Stanford Daily reports.

School officials say that the stickers with the statement “Respect and a Fair Workload” go against a union-university agreement that states union members may not wear “insignia [with] any message that is vulgar, profane, or disparaging of Stanford, or that results in conflict or disruption in the workplace.”

In a conversation with The Daily, Seth Leibson, senior organizer for SEIU...

FSD Resources