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Food Service Industry Updates

Which Personality Type Are You? And What Can You do About it?


How do people choose a restaurant when every option is pretty good?

Like, what if my wife says she feels like a burger? “Where you wanna go?” I reply. She goes, “Uhhh.” So many restaurants make great burgers — how could she ever pick one? 

Well, we carnivores have a decision-making process. And what do we go by? Not patty thickness, method of preparation or even price — though we might weigh those things.

We go by personality. 

Just like in high school. 

Basically, as consumers, we’re used to every brand having a personality — and most personalities conform to one of the groups in that old movie The Breakfast Club

So, which do you most identify with?

The Smart, Not-Afraid-to-be-a-Little-Nerdy Restaurant

Oh look, there’s newspaper clippings of how great you are all over the restaurant, including the restrooms. Yes, we know, you’re doing your absolute best, all the time. Five Guys is a fun, loose atmosphere, but also very proud of their credentials. 

Does the label fit you? Do you feel like you’ve got methods, processes and passions that people will find persuasive, if they just knew about them? Panera’s “clean food,” as a non-burger example, or Arby’s obsession with various meats? Are you the something-est restaurant with reviews or ratings or citations that assert your wonderfulness? May we call you Poindexter?

Li’l advice, nerd: Generally, you can make this personality-type attractive if you can figure out how to combine overachiever tendencies with a lovable, funny persona or a recognizably human, approachable side.

The Cool, Hip, Slightly Odd Restaurant

Here’s a fun position: outsider. In-n-Out plays its faux-outsider status really well, making it seem like the in-the-know choice for with-it hipster connoisseurs, even though they’re a giant regional chain. They even secretly make their “secret menu” completely not a secret.

This is where arty-types hang together, too. Red Robin might fit here, with its wacky decor and mishmash architecture. And ol’ ping-pong-ball-headed outsider Jack in the Box. Wendy’s may be headed here, looking at their Twitter. Like a lot of outsiders, they might be pretending to be rebels, perhaps, throwing bombs at McDonald’s and delightfully insulting anyone who asks them to. In the end, I think Wendy’s is trying to make at-least-we’re-not-McDonald’s seem outsider-cool. Seems to work in social media, at least.

Does the label fit you? Do you deliberately zag? Worried you’re becoming typical — whether that’s the food you serve, how you serve it or where you’re sourcing it? Do you often say, “Well, ya know, we’re not for everyone.”

Li’l advice, hipster: This works when you deliver. Quirky restaurants with sub-par food stand like ghosts along the highways of America, their nonconformist architecture (it’s a Tudor steakhouse, a mechanical rainforest, a glass-front-walled family joint) waiting to be repurposed.

The Rebel Restaurant

Many years ago, Burger King pioneered edgy interactive websites and ran TV ads with a creepy, sexy King. They veered away from that aggressively rebellious attitude, though now it seems like they might want it back.

Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. had an effective though degrading rebel stance, but now they’ve become both more respectful of women and, unfortunately, less clearly branded. Marketing ain’t easy, is it, Carl? Some heritage chains — Whataburger, Steak ‘n Shake — cling to the mid-century Drive-In memory of leather-jacketed tough guys in jacked-up cars. Since they were there when it was happening, that buys them an authenticity ticket. 
Does the label fit you? Do you honestly take the hard way — not the hipster way, but the full-in, uncompromising, up-before-dawn, watch-the-guy-with-the-tattoo-make-the-food-behind-the-glass way? Are you willing to continue your edgy behavior even after complaints roll in? Try it. Let’s see what you’re made of.

Li’l advice, rebel: Unlike “hipster,” a broad and somewhat forgiving label, rebellion takes commitment. BK may never reclaim the title. Hardee’s couldn’t sustain their act (because they based it on juvenile sexism). Johnny Rockets and friends are trying to borrow the rebel vibe — but it’s all just an act, and we know it. Honestly? Nobody gets thrills from a faker.

The Straight-Ahead Restaurant, Suspicious of Anything too Weird

Time to deliver that great food. Keep it clean. Stay disciplined. Nobody’s straighter than Culver’s: so square and family-friendly, like a trip to the in-laws. Food’s great, though. Ubiquitous McDonald’s suffers from a “popular equals uncool” position, even if they score their commercials with hip-hop. Yet they consistently deliver America the quick meals it wants. Why fight it? Applebee’s and other casual dining spots fit this personality type, too, serving enormous, mainstream burgers. Nothing too surprising.  

Does the label fit you? Do you shake your head at how hard some places try to be this or that, when all they’d have to do is execute? In the end, is your atmosphere less important than the final, well-proven product — one location could be wood-paneled and brass, the next sunny and modern, but people would accept it because they’re there to eat? 

Li’l advice, football hero who’s also on student council: Yeah, you’re popular now. Just focus on your performance. Protect your reputation. Keep an eye on your stats. Trouble starts when you relax and assume you’ll always be on top. Chi-Chi’s ruled. Howard Johnson’s used to be the number one restaurant chain in America. Watch it.

The Beautiful Restaurant

Really, it’s as much attitude as anything. A lot of what makes this personality type attractive is superficial: an urbane logo, on-trend colors, slick design. There’s often a word-of-mouth legend attached — “Did you know Shake Shack began as a one-off concept thrown together for a friend of one of NYC’s great restaurateurs, who had affection for those old tumble-down burger joints by the beach?” And it’s not just about the look. Another cue that customers pick up on is location — hanging out with the right company. “There’s a Smashburger near the Starbucks outside the upscale suburban mall. Let’s go.”

Does the label fit you? Do you look soooooo good — from the outside, on the inside, on the way to the restroom? Your graphics package kills. Your servers are wearing the uniform well. The advertising reflects the sensibilities of the experience? Nice.

Li’l advice, prom king/queen: Marketing often starts with visuals, and brand story, but it shoots through every facet of an experience, from the way a customer is treated the moment they step inside to whatever gets brought to the table. It’s basic restaurant wisdom, but you’ve got to deliver on the details. Brand concept and graphics package are merely a great start. 

So that’s the archetypes. Once you discover your true personality, you’ve learned a valuable lesson — that’s all anyone cares about, in the end, right? Your customers want to get to know the real you. [Cue music, Simple Minds remix, “Don’t You Forget About Me (When It’s Time To Eat).”]

Charlie Hopper, principal/writer of ad agency Young & Laramore, shares views on restaurant marketing at SellingEating.com, as well as in recently published books “Nuggets, Nibbles, Morsels, Crumbs: Selected Restaurant Marketing Columns from Food & Drink International,” and “Selling Eating: Restaurant Marketing Beyond the Word Delicious.”

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