If you’re a chef or restaurant owner, you have more IP than what’s on the menu. It includes your restaurant brand, the distinctive look and feel of your restaurant, your cooking techniques and recipe formulations.


All your design decisions that create the look, feel – paint scheme, furniture, etc – of your restaurant create the trade dress. Store designs, blueprints, carpeting patterns, textiles, tapestries and other visual designs are your copyright IP. Your recipes (which can also be copyrights), supplier and ingredient lists, training and restaurant operations manuals are your trade secrets.

In recent years, chefs and restaurateurs have started getting serious about protecting their intellectual property assets, including trademarks, patents and trade dress. Restaurant owners are taking action against infringing competition to protect their IP and investment

In Boston, a restaurant owner sued a soon to open restaurant for copying the look and feel of it’s oyster bar, even down to how the placed the oyster crackers.

There was a recent case of an Australian chef whose cuisine was winning awards Down Under until it was discovered he was copying the dishes right down to the details of presentation from American restaurants.

A much-touted South Beach Thai restaurant sued its former celebrity chef, accusing him of stealing its recipes, employees, customers and even publicity photos when he quit the last month to return to his family owned restaurant.

A Texas pizzeria franchise chain sued a former employee, as well as several individual restaurant owners, were conspiring to misappropriate trade secrets for the purposes of creating a competing business.

Managing your IP assets are just as important as running your restaurant. You may have invented things and not even realize it, such as a new lighting system or a unique operating procedure. To manage these IP assets successfully, you must know what you have.

The first step is to do an inventory of all your IP assets. Your restaurant business IP includes your inventions, know-how, ability, etc.,– the things that identify your restaurant and differentiate it from your competitors.

Here are four important steps to protecting your IP rights:

  1. Create an inventory of your IP assets so you know what you have (click here to get the free report, How to Find and Inventory your IP Assets).
  2. Get non-disclosure and non-compete agreements in place with your key employees, such as chefs and managers, to prevent the loss of your trade secrets.
  3. Make sure to register your restaurant name (brand) and store design (trade dress).
  4. Copyright all your menus, advertising and promotional materials.

Your restaurant IP is what drives your revenue and is a large part of your investors’ profits. Depending on your restaurant, your investment in creating your IP can be millions of dollars. It’s what creates your customer loyalty, and builds your brand recognition. It’s your most valuable business asset and you can use it to expand your restaurant brand into new markets and product categories through licensing.

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