All Restaurants Use These 22 Name Stereotypes
What's in a name? And would your favorite restaurant by any other name taste as sweet (or savory)?
There's actually a lot in a restaurant's name -- usually at least one person's entire life's savings and the future college funds of their children. Whether those kids are going to be skipping school altogether like The Bard or studying at... Bard depends at least partially on the restaurateur choosing a likeable, memorable, and relatively pronounceable name. To see what actually makes a name successful, we racked our brains for all the different restaurant-naming conventions and made a list of 22 stereotypes, with a few real-life examples of each. Read on & enjoy the ampersands.
Real examples: qui, ink., mk
Disobeying the laws of proper nouns makes a restaurant stand out from the pack. This is one of the more complex restaurant-naming tricks, because it can either make the place seem more formal or more casual depending on the overall aesthetic.
Real examples: DGS, TBD, KFC (!!)
With an abbreviated name, you're essentially getting a two-for-one deal. People who know what the abbreviation stands for feel cool, and making your customers feel cool is a good way to keep them around. It also sounds smooth to use an abbreviation that your less cool friends don't know, and then they're all, "WTF?".
Real examples: Lazy Bear, Easy Tiger, Beast
Looking through any restaurant guide these days, you could easily be staring at the contents of a zoo. Ducks, Tigers, Bears, and Beasts of all shapes and sizes. People love animals, and choosing a fun one is a good way to stick your spot in a diner's memory. Bonus points if you add an adjective. Double-bonus for adverbs.
Unpronounceable foreign words
Real examples: Trois Mec, Rioja, Olamaie
This can have the opposite effect of the over-the-top ethnic reference. It scares off the riff raff and lets customers know that a restaurant isn't going to dumb down their name to try and attract walk-ups. Also, there's probably a great story behind the name. And it might just be on the back of the menu.
Over-the-top ethnic references
Real examples: Happy Dragon Chinese, Wholly Frijoles, Gringos Locos
You can't go wrong sticking to a classic ethnic signifier. People immediately understand what food is served, and that the place has enough of a sense of humor to know that customers can be a little intimidated by foreign restaurant concepts. Also, who doesn't love dragons? Aside from the people of King's Landing.
The name of your child/Grandmother/dog
Real examples: Osteria Marco, AJ Hudson's, Maude
Honoring one's kin is a timeless move. It lets diners know that this is an intensely personal restaurant and that the chef is thinking about someone other than themselves, even if that someone is financially dependent on them.
Real examples: Eat Pizza, Drink, Go 4 Food
Sometimes being direct is the best policy. Like when you ask someone out on a date. Or when a restaurant tells you to eat pizza. If only asking people out on dates was as easy as telling them to eat pizza!
The catchy phrase
Real examples: Baby's All Right, Leave Rochelle Out Of It
People like saying cool phrases. This is just a given. The vaguer it is, the higher the level of mystique, and it frees you from being pinned down to one idea or concept. Also, just saying the phrase, "I'm going to Baby's All Right" makes you sound like an in-the-know dude who a woman might want to make sex with.
Real examples: Serpico, Daniel, Morimoto
Once a chef reaches a certain superstar status, their name functions as currency. They're seen on TV and in the glossy pages of Internet food blogs. Eaters pay to experience their vision. And a plate of scallops. By this point in a chef's career, their personal brand is also putting food on the plates of hundreds of employees, so you can't fault them for stamping their name on a place in order to keep those families fed.
Real examples: Big, Knife, Bread
Sometimes all you need is a one-word name. Like Rihanna. Or Shrek. When a restaurant makes the bold move of choosing a single-word signifier, they're showing they don't need to hide behind fancy adjectives or the name of the street. In the case of Knife, it also serves the purpose of letting Crocodile Dundee impress the ladies with his very best joke.
Real examples: Rustic House, Jack Allen's Kitchen, Cooks County
Given the proliferation of Southern and comfort foods, this trend is spreading fast. It can take some of the edge off a concept and creates a sense of accessibility. Antonym to the "Urban" naming convention.
Real examples: Uchiko (Uchi), Kuma's Too, Little Goat (Girl & the Goat)
When a restaurant spins off into a new place, insiders know there's an association. But to people less engaged with the food scene, it isn't immediately clear that there's a relation between the two restaurants. Giving this new restaurant a similar name builds the brand, gives immediate name recognition, and also gives someone the rare opportunity to add "Strikes Back" at the end of their name.
Throwback to old tenants
Real examples: Alden & Harlow, Reed & Greenough, Hillside Farmacy
For most of this century, hip restaurants have spent their time paying homage to the last century by naming their spot after the architecture firm, brothel, or horse & carriage repair shop that came before. Bonus points if it also includes ampersands!
Obscure song/literature/film reference
Real examples: Nellcôte (where the Stones recorded Exile on Main St.), Old Major (Animal Farm), The Glass Onion (The Beatles)
Like anyone else, chefs and restaurateurs are influenced by much more than food. Paying homage to a cultural touchstone in their lives gives the restaurant a unique sense of identity that can be much more complex than other naming conventions. It also helps engage the type of clientele who might otherwise be hanging out in libraries or black-lit bedrooms.
Real examples: Mugshots, Wiener’s Circle, Mmmpanadas
A good joke lets your diners know that you're not taking yourself too seriously, and helps them forget that if they didn't eat food they would definitely die. You don't want people in your restaurant thinking about their mortality, you want them focused on the chocolate volcano cake. Which is to die for.
Real examples: Kingsbury Street Cafe, Red River Cafe, Rosewood Tavern
Geography plays a big part of a restaurant's success, so if you're paying for prime real estate, it can't hurt to make it a big part of your concept. It immediately gives context to the diner, helps bolster the neighborhood's rep in general, and means you don't have to use Google Maps as much.
Real examples: The Corner Office, The Library, Bell Book & Candle
This works better for bars, because they're places you might want to lie about going to. And while misdirection is a funny concept, if you tell anyone you're going to The Library, they know what you'll be checking out ain't gonna be books. Amiright? Also, these jokes work best in college towns.
Real examples: The Churchill, Jekyll & Hyde, Lee Harvey's
History is older and way more important than restaurants, as evidenced by the lack of middle school classes on restaurants. Referencing something way bigger than yourself is a sign of humility, automatically helps with design decisions, and also makes you more accessible to old people.
Real examples: Faith & Flower, Juniper & Ivy, Work & Class
The most old-fashioned and difficult to write of all the punctuation marks, the ampersand is a classy way to combine two ideas into something larger. For restaurants, it lets them show the two sides of their personality, one of which is often a type of plant.
Real examples: Urban Curry, Urban an American Grill, Urbanbelly
Especially if you live in a big city, part of the draw of going out to a restaurant is feeling cosmopolitan. Putting the word "urban" in your name implies an air of sophistication, rule-breaking, and overall hipness. Also, that it might be near a subway stop.
Real examples: The Fifty/50, drink.well, Mint/820
Sprinkling a little punctuation into your name is like adding a dash of freshly ground black pepper. It spices things up! In a classy way. And it adds a bit of swagger to your step, because most people would shy away from such an unconventional move. In addition, your restaurant will immediately appeal to fans of e e cummings.
The address number
Real examples: Table Fifty-Two, Eleven Madison Park, 660 Angler's
A close relative of the street name, the address number is a naming convention at the disposal of nearly every restaurateur. Unless your restaurant is on a cruise ship, in which case you should probably just name it International Waters.