Why is it dangerous to name your restaurant after your most popular dish?
Here are a few of the top reasons:
(1) It’s harder to get your mark registered with the USPTO.
(2) It’s harder to enforce your mark.
(3) It’s harder for loyal and potential customers to find you.
(4) It can generate negative publicity for your business.
And yet, it’s a really common practice.
Can I try to talk any of you restaurateurs out of it?
First, let’s start with why it’s harder to get your mark registered. The USPTO often refuses applications to register such marks because they are generic. What’s the whole job of a mark? To tell me the source of products/services. When I see the Starbucks logo on your cup or the golden arches logo on your bag, I know where your coffee or your lunch came from. If I want some of that, I know where to go get it.
A generic mark just tells me what the product/service is. Like if your cup just had the word COFFEE scrawled across it or your bag just said CHEESEBURGERS. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s inside, but no idea where it came from. That’s why generic terms aren’t trademarks. They cannot be registered. That’s why the USPTO has refused applications to register CHURRASCOS and CRAB HOUSE as marks for use with restaurants.
Second, what about enforcement? If your mark is generic wording, guess what: you won’t be able to prevent/stop other businesses from using it. Because it does not function as a trademark. If you sell cheeseburgers, your competitors need access to the word “cheeseburgers” to explain what they offer, and it would not be fair to give you a monopoly on the use of that word with restaurant services.
Third, can anyone even find you? If you name your restaurant after your most popular dish, there are probably lots of other restaurants that serve that same dish. So, when potential customers search your name in Google, they could end up on any number of websites – maybe your competitors’ sites, maybe sites that just explain what that food item is or provide recipes for it. To a certain extent, you can address this from the SEO angle, but why create that avoidable problem for yourself?
Fourth, on top of everything else, if you try to stop other restaurant/bakery/café owners from using this generic wording, they may become rather upset and slam you in the (social) media. Their argument will be that you’re not really trying to enforce your trademark, you’re trying to prevent them from cooking the same food item as you. If they can’t even call their product what it is without you calling that trademark infringement, then they can’t really cook and advertise that product, can they? So, you’re stretching your monopoly over that wording into a monopoly over that food item. Guess who doesn’t like that? Not just chefs, bakers, etc. but also the customers who love to eat that thing! If they join the pile-on, you’re in trouble.
All that to say, why create a headache for yourself? Dig deep, get creative, and come up with wording that suggests to customers all of the positive associations you want them to have with eating your food.
This information was posted on March 20, 2023 and was accurate as of the date of writing. However, the law changes frequently, and readers should not rely solely on general online information but instead should consult a licensed attorney by asking questions about their specific issues when they need legal advice.