RAY is a boutique branding, graphic design, strategy, and storytelling agency based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We specialize in building hospitality, lifestyle, and consumer brands; taking the process from the earliest moments of creative direction, to comprehensive visual identity; complete with a variety of visual and experiential cues, brand language, web development, and marketing and operational pieces.

RAY believes that creating a distinct and successful brand means treating it as more than a means to an end. Our process is collaborative and pragmatic, with an approach to creative that harnesses the true essence of our client’s mission, aesthetic, and energy.

Ray Studio’s Approach:

noissue - It feels like there’s never been an easier time to start a business, yet a significant number fail within the first year. Can you tell us a bit about what services your agency provides, to help increase founders chances of success?

RAY is a full-service creative agency dedicated to crafting compelling, timeless brands with purpose. Whether working with first-time restaurant owners or seasoned real estate developers, our diverse experience gives us unique insight into the risks, rewards, and realities of building and launching a brand.

At RAY, we take pride in supporting our clients throughout the entire brand development process, crafting results that satisfy key stakeholder goals and captivate their target audience.

We believe our success stems from fostering meaningful relationships with our clients, along with consistently tapping into our team’s verified experience in the hospitality industry. We offer our clients a thoughtful range of collaboration options, guaranteeing that our work is always practical and actionable. Our steadfast service offering includes detailed bundled pricing programs, diverse visual identities, creative websites and innovative brand strategies.

noissue - How critical is branding to the establishment of a new business, and how much time and resources should be allocated to branding during the initial phases?

Establishing a brand prior to launching a new business is crucial to the long term success of any venture. Integrating brand work in the form of visual language, branded vocabulary, and standardized colors and graphics acts as a form of insurance; it guarantees that the business will be accurately represented visually and verbally, both on internal and external channels.

Branding is a key ingredient to some of the most vital components of a business’ inception; a website, social media channels, internal documents and presentations: it all benefits from a clear brand identity at the helm.

A brand represents a powerful opportunity to forge emotional connections and build trust with your target audience. Through a thoughtful and consistent brand, you can convey your values, mission, and personality in a way that resonates with your consumers, ultimately fostering loyalty and encouraging loyal brand advocates.

noissue - What’s your approach to brand development? And can you share some key principles or 'rules' to follow?

Ray Studio’s approach to brand development is simultaneously structured and flexible. We begin each project with a kickoff and brand positioning meeting. This step is crucial to developing a roadmap for the project – it helps synthesize our client’s goals and hone in on their brand vision. We ask questions about their competitive set, long term goals, and visual and brand associations, which illuminate the comprehensive scope of the project.

From there, a cornerstone of our approach is providing variety for our clients. We want to push the boundaries of design and our client’s comfort zone; striking a balance between honoring classic aesthetics and philosophies, while encouraging new and imaginative perspectives. One way we accomplish this is by providing a “wild card” visual direction during our first round of identity presentations. This ensures that we’re always encouraging our clients to consider the unexpected. Even if this direction isn’t chosen, presenting a wide range of creative possibilities opens up a gateway for more inventive ideas later in the process.

Overall, we hope the brand development process will feel engaging and fun for our clients. Branding is the culmination of something that has likely been just a dream for them for a long time, so it’s our pleasure as a creative agency to bring their vision to life.

noissue - When people hear the term ‘branding’ they often think of logos, websites or marketing campaigns. How does packaging and printed collateral contribute to building a strong hospitality brand?

Branding should always be viewed as holistic, meaning it encompasses every aspect of a business. Having a completed brand doesn’t end at the digital realm. Now more than ever, printed collateral and packaging serve as tangible representatives of a company’s identity.

Translating a brand from the digital realm to physical products such as collateral adds layered dimensions to its identity. Choices such as the type of stock used for printing, the texture of materials, and innovative packaging solutions all contribute to defining and enhancing a brand's presence.

Beyond these small details, RAY continues to champion printed materials simply for the romance of it all. While digital ecosystems have a different type of permanence in our modern landscape, printed pieces can spark an intriguing conversation and connection with their three dimensional form: A vibrant matchbook rises to the top of someone’s coffee table collection, reminding a dinner party guest that they’ve been meaning to scope out the restaurant it belongs to. An inventively designed postcard earns a coveted spot on a young couple’s refrigerator, acting as a meaningful souvenir from one of their first dates.

While important, online assets don’t always carry the same personal nuance.

noissue - As operators prepare for peak hospitality season, what are some of the trends you are seeing across the industry?

Many of our clients are beginning to view brand collateral as a ‘sub-brand’, or extension of their brand. We are crafting new brand elements and touchpoints to incorporate into many of their printed pieces, from shirts and hats to matchboxes and coasters. These range from catchy taglines to custom illustrations – anything to catch the customer’s eye.

On the business side, we’re seeing a push for renovations over new builds. It can be costly to build from the ground up, so many restaurateurs and hoteliers are looking to make old buildings new again, using old bones to create something contemporary and fresh. As creatives and designers, there is so much inspiration to be found in this trend. We love looking into a space’s history and including small nods to it throughout the brand when we can.

noissue - In a crowded restaurant scene, how can F&B businesses develop a unique brand identity that attracts their ideal customers?

Our biggest advice would be to stay authentic! A brand does best when it is a genuine representation of the minds behind it. Any ties that a brand can have to its founders gives it an extra dose of meaning and legitimacy. Ultimately, that is what will shine through to customers and bring them to your establishment.

noissue - Many restaurants offer similar cuisines. How can branding help a restaurant stand out from its local competitors?

Modern diners are choosing where to eat by the ever elusive vibe. If two restaurants have the same menu, the one with a meaningful visual identity and personality will ultimately win out.

noissue - Storytelling through menus, packaging, signage and décor can enhance the dining experience. How can restaurants leverage storytelling in their branding?

We believe that storytelling and branding are inseparable. Branding serves as the foundation for crafting a visual language across all mediums, building a cohesive story for customers. By integrating storytelling into a business's branding, the end result becomes more thoughtful and sequential. Each element builds upon the previous one, working in harmony to positively impact customer perception and create a memorable, meaningful brand identity.

noissue - Customer experience is paramount in the F&B industry. How can branding play a role in creating a positive and memorable experience for diners?

Branding can take a good dining experience and make it great. Yes, it takes culinary acumen, attention to detail, and a passion for hospitality to make for a wonderful dining experience. What branding adds is the extra je ne sais quoi that rounds out a diner’s journey through a restaurant. It gives the establishment an opportunity to define itself beyond the flavors they serve; it’s a defined moment for the minds behind the operation to show a bit of personality, and make the experience of their restaurant truly unforgettable.

Visit Ray Studio's website and Instagram to learn more.