While walking down London’s Charing Cross Road the bright blue-tiled Byron burger restaurant with its distinctive multi-coloured logo came into view. This is no shrinking violet of a place and it got me thinking about how people very much buy with their eyes.

Trust me, in daylight it stands out.

Byron is certainly going all out to fill their eyes. It is building up a chain that makes bold statements through its distinctive visual look and also interestingly seeks to avoid going down that old route of creating a homogenous brand whereby every unit is an exact replica of the one that went before it.

This is the new way to build restaurant and retail chains. The newer operators have recognised that overt branding is off-putting for many consumers and they believe it is more interesting to make each unit visually unique while maintaining strains of the brand within the individual outlets.

These strains are likely to include having the same menu across the chain, the same style of service, and exactly the same drinks’ lists. And for Byron the same condiments will be placed on each table in all its units.

This trend to develop distinct outlets has been taken up by many other operators including Strada, Café Rouge and Costa Coffee, with the latter undertaking lots of experimentation on its looks and operating a couple of trial outlets that have generated plenty of positive feedback.

Another innovative leisure operator is Drake & Morgan that is building up a group of bars (I use the term extremely loosely) that are each massively different in their visual looks. But just as with Byron once you get beyond the visual elements then the trick is to ensure that the rest of the proposition – namely the service and product – is similar across the whole of the business.
Drake & Morgan: Whatever its venues are, they look good.

These various companies are linked by their confidence in being very distinct in the marketplace. But if you are going to make yourself stand-out visually then you’d better make sure you deliver the goods. Delivery is absolutely essential because otherwise you’ve failed to manage customer expectations. If Byron’s burgers and customer service at its Charing Cross Road branch are not as slick and appealing as its tiles and logo then it is dead in the water.

Such has been the impact on the market of this growing move to offer unique and outstanding looking outlets – combined with the ongoing effects of recession – that even the big boys are recognising that they can’t simply stand still with their old established looks. They realise that today it is essential to stand out on the competitive high street – and the most obvious way to do this is through their physical looks.

This is why Whitbread is embarking on an exercise to bring its restaurants into the 20th Century – while maintaining the essence of its brands of course. It is in the planning stage of making changes to its Beefeater, Brewers Fayre and Table Table brands. Expect plenty of change in this division, fuelled by the success of the experiments that have been made at sister organisation Costa.

There is a realisation in this organisation and in others like it that an overhaul is needed. The big question is what exactly will Beefeater look like in two years time? The only thing we say for sure is that it won’t be the same as it is today.

Nigel Sapsed is director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens