Each profile in The Art of the
Restaurateur is followed by a relevant
rumination on one aspect of the restaurant business. In the book, Maguy Le Coze’s
profile is followed by this consideration of ‘Restaurants and their names'.
Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze (pictured here by Nigel Parry) may have been young
and naïve when they first opened for business 40 years ago but their restaurant
began life with one great advantage – its unforgettable name, Le Bernardin.
This is a name that fits all the criteria any restaurateur could possibly want.
It is short; easy to pronounce in either French or English; it has an
intriguing air to it; it is rooted in something more than just a restaurant,
the monastic order in this case, as well as having the very personal overtone
of the connection to a song their father sang to them as children. As a result,
this name has worked equally successfully on both sides of the Atlantic, a
phenomenon that does not necessarily always apply to French names.
And in two respects, the name Le Bernardin is even more fashionable today than
it was originally. Names incorporating the definite article, such as The Modern
in New York or The Wolseley in London, have become increasingly common after a
couple of decades during which this style has been neglected. And secondly,
over the past decade the use of the word restaurant in the title has tended to
disappear as it tends to convey expense.
Restaurateurs, I know, spend a great deal of time thinking about the names for
the businesses to which they intend to devote so much time, energy and care.
The restaurant I took over had been called L’Escargot Bienvenu since it first
opened in 1927 and I knew I had to change this name. It was too much of a mouthful.
As ‘the welcome snail’ meant nothing to me, I reckoned it would mean even less
to my customers; and I wanted something that would convey that this long-established
restaurant was now under new, and much younger management. A great deal of
thought was put into lists of possible names, all of which were unsatisfactory.
Then, as so often, my mother came good. I had gone home for Friday night dinner
during which she suddenly said, “Why don’t you just shorten it to L’Escargot?”
It took a few months for the brilliance of what she said to become obvious. Not
just was this word much shorter and easier to pronounce but I also realised
that by reopening an establishment with a history I was tapping into an
enormous well of goodwill that still existed in London for L’Escargot Bienvenu.
Equally important was the fact that the snail symbol was such a striking motif
for my designer, Tom Brent, to make a feature of. Not just on the carpets but
also on the bills; the match boxes (no longer an issue for restaurateurs, but I
do recall having to order 10,000 at a time as they were manufactured in Japan);
the business cards; and even on the neck and main labels of our bottles of
house red, white and champagne.
But the importance of my mother’s advice only really struck home once we opened
for business. L’Escargot was short; easy to pronounce even for anyone without
any knowledge of French; and followed a rule that I have since learnt is
incredibly important for anyone answering the phone. A restaurant’s name must
not sound ridiculous or make the person answering the phone self-conscious as
they do so.
The right name has to be snappy, relatively easy to remember and distinctive,
and a name, of course that is not used by anyone else.
Many of the restaurateurs in this book have managed to find such names: the
words Blue Smoke definitely convey barbecue; Eataly could only be about one
particular country’s food and wine; the capital letter, M, has proved the
unmissable, striking and successful logo for restaurants in Hong Kong, Shanghai
and Beijing; Nobu is the equally memorable abbreviation of the chef’s name as
well as, subsequently, coming to represent a country’s style of cooking; St
John is a street with its historic association to a nearby Smithfield Market
renowned for its meat; while Zuni, once originally an Amerindian tribe, is
today a corner building into which the bright California sun always seems to shine.
The other increasingly important factor for the most successful names is that
they stand alone, that they don’t need the addition of words such as bar, café
or restaurant to explain what they are. This is partly because to manage
increasingly high fixed costs, most notably rents and business rates, these
different roles are being absorbed within the same building, as breakfast gives
way to a café, on either side of lunch, then a bar and finally a place for
But it is also because today’s customers want so much more from their favourite
restaurants: a place to rest, to work and to play as well as to eat and drink
well and to be recognised and to be made welcome.
One short, easy-to-remember name that will do all this will never be that easy
to find. But while choosing a restaurant name it is definitely well worth
listening to what your mother has to say as well, perhaps, as trying to recall
some of the songs your father sang to you as a child.