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  • Writer's pictureDennis Sullivan

What a tiny hole-in-the-wall diner can teach us about branding

Picture of Harolds Diner, Hilton Head, SC
Harold's Diner in Hilton Head, SC has created a unqiue brand with its personality. They harass everyone equally – and patrons keep coming back for more. There is nowhere else you can find that type of diner.

“Here the customer is never right!!!”

I just bought my first coffee mug from a diner. The staff there was rude, obnoxious, and from the outside, I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a Health Department Notice posted on the screen door.

And I loved it!

When I told a local couple that I ate there, they smiled and asked, “Were they rude to you?”


“They’re rude to everyone. We always go there!”

Located on one of the main streets of Hilton Head Island, Harold’s Diner is well-known for its quirky personality and local charm. A friend of mine went back one afternoon for lunch only to find the doors locked and a sign that read, “We’re out drinking!” What else would you expect?

Officially, it’s described as serving “classic comfort food & signature burgers” in a “no-frills setting.” The food is great. They stop serving breakfast at 11 am. Don’t even think about ordering breakfast after they have switched over to lunch. They harass everyone equally – and patrons keep coming back for more. Why? Because it has personality. There is nowhere else you can find that type of diner. Their personality is their brand!

Their slogan? “Eat here or we both starve!”

Once inside, they point you to the rules on the wall, which you better follow or else (the bolding is exactly as it appears on the Diner Rules)…


2. Enter. Seat yourself wherever possible.

Order: Fill out your own menu (include your name).

Eat: Honker down…no sissies allowed.

Pay: Your bill is ready…observe rule #1.

Exit: Your done, leave…this ain’t Starbucks!

3. Always be listening.

4. Ask for help if needed!

5. If something goes wrong…it’s your own damn fault…Here the customer is never right!!!

Of course, it is all in good fun! No one takes themselves too seriously, even the customers. One woman who was yelled at for not seeing the paper towels (no napkins here!) beside her responded, “I can’t pay attention when I’m talking at the same time!” She and everyone else laughed about it.

Harold’s a great lesson for us all. Sometimes, the simplest and best way to differentiate your business is to just be yourself. Many business owners constantly tell me, “I really don’t know what makes us different from our competitors. We have competitive prices, good staff, we treat people well …” The problem is just about every business can say the same things.

Don’t make it complicated. Keep it simple. Your personality and your story of why you got into business in the first place makes you unique. No one else has your personality. Those two things alone can be enough to differentiate your business from everyone else. Ask yourself:

1. Why did you start your business?

2. How is your personality reflected in the ways you do business?

3. How can you leverage your story or your personality to differentiate your brand?

Harold’s Diner is a terrific example that a personality can also be a brand. I have their mug (and lot of good stories about it) to remind me. And I can’t wait to go back!

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