America loves lists. America loves to eat. America loves mistakes…

What could be more promising than this list of “Common Restaurant Mistakes” from Restaurant Management magazine?

Most of the entries are things like “cluttered hostess station” or “bathroom doors that pull in rather than push out.” But number 3 caught my eye:

“3. Clunky, dirty/dusty, or irrelevant decorations that don’t help tell the brand story

To tell the brand story, first write the brand story, then make sure every thing in your restaurant tells the brand promise, its personality, its positioning and the story.

Every single item—even the quality of a fork—tells customers something so ask yourself if your art or decorations are there just to fill a space.”

Story? What story?

The Bubble Room on Sanibel Island believes its brand story naturally includes a row of monkeys, along with year-round Christmas lights. In their very specific case, this is not a mistake.

Every brand has a story, whether they’re in charge of it or not. TGI Friday’s and maybe Applebee’s currently sort of own the “curiosity shoppe” motif. Ruby Tuesday used to, but gave that up–and even made fun of the sameness of that by pretending to blow up a competitor called “Cheeky’s”.

Should you have table tents, or is that too downscale? Should you have cloth napkins, or is that too upscale (and impractical)? Apart from the actual decorations, where can you put your marketing?

God, don’t you hate a table crowded with tents and flippy gizmos with specials and a promotional menu on top of the regular menu which has a bunch of violaters sticking out the top?

Everything adds to the “story,” whether it’s meant to or not.

A poorly written promotional placemat can be as weirdly out of place as a monkey with cymbals.