The lowdown: restaurant name disputes

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Legal challenges are forcing restaurants to change their names

Related tags Adam Handling Frog by Aam Handling Phil Howard Taqueria Sonora Taqueria

Following a spate of legal challenges over restaurant branding, naming a new business has never been so fraught with difficulties.

There must be a million things you can name a restaurant after. What’s the problem?
Of course there are, but that doesn’t mean that great minds can’t think alike when coming up with a suitable name for their businesses. And it seems that more than ever hospitality players are fighting to protect names they consider rightfully theirs.

Juicy stuff. Of whom are we talking?
Some of the most recently talked about disputes have been between Adam Handling Restaurant Group (AHRG) and a couple of businesses that chose to follow his amphibian approach to restaurant names. Handling, who is chef-patron of Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden, took umbrage at a new bar and restaurant in Harrogate that was called Frog​, as well as at London business Frog Bakery, with his company’s lawyers issuing both businesses with cease-and-desist orders. “Our Frog name is very valuable and important to us, to our existing restaurant group and to our expansion plans,” the group said in a statement. “We have no choice but to protect it from both deliberate and accidental conflicts. If you don’t protect and enforce your trademark against these types of conflicts, you become exposed and could lose your rights.”

OK, so Frog is quite a niche name…
Yes. While getting a business to change its name can be quite an unsavoury business, AHRG argued that people thought he had opened a restaurant in Harrogate so you can see its point. It’s when disputes occur over names that seem unlikely to be able to be trademarked, or that would cause any confusion, that things get messy.

Oooh, do tell…
Taco player Taqueria Sonora ​was recently threatened with legal action by Worldwide Taqueria, the business name of Taqueria, which operates two London ‘taquerias’ alleging that Sonora’s use of the term constitutes a trademark infringement. In a statement to Eater London​, Taqueria said: “As with all UK trademark registrations, the provisions of the Trademarks Act grant the proprietor the exclusive right to the trademark, and those rights are infringed when the trademark is used in the UK by another undertaking without the proprietor’s consent.” This is when things start to get a bit philosophical, with many people disputing whether you can trademark what is a general term to describe a restaurant, food cart, or stall that specialises in serving tacos.

Sounds like a taco war to me
It’s a war over cultural appropriation, too. Such has been the outrage of Worldwide Taquerias’ legal move that more than 125,000 people have signed a petition​ to stop the trademark. ‘Do you know what taqueria means? Simply a place that sells tacos. The same as a pizzeria, bakery, or cevicheria: a place that sells a specific product. A Mexican word that you see absolutely everywhere in Mexico, the USA, and many other places in the world, it is not a trademark, and it doesn’t belong to anyone, it belongs to all,’ reads the petition. ‘The Mexican UK community is outraged, and we won’t stop until we see justice. Stop the cultural appropriation!’

Who is going to win?
It’s hard to say for sure but recent history tells us that the law often falls in favour of the trademark holder. In the case of the aforementioned Harrogate-based Frog the venue has since changed its name to Lilypad, and last year, stating:​ 'FROG is dead, Long live FROG, and a very warm welcome to LILYPAD!' In another case, Worcestershire-based pop-up ramen bar Lucky Cat Noodle​ changed its name to Maneki Ramen following a complaint of trademark infringement from Gordon Ramsay Holdings, which owns the trademark to the name Lucky Cat. After a three-month grace period Frog Bakery has also changed its name. Announcing its new identity on Instagram it said: ‘We’ve evolved. Same shit, brand-new name. Long live TOAD’.

Does it always end in big name change?
Not always. The most recent example of a naming U-turn was only this week when Phil Howard merely added an ‘n’ to the name of his soon-to-open pasta restaurant​ following a legal challenge from another business. What was to be called OTTO is now called NOTTO, with Howard appearing unfazed by the change. “Having no desire or intention to clash with an existing business with a similar name we took the quick decision to evolve our own identity to NOTTO - clearly retaining our root identity whilst eliminating any confusion,” he said. And – rather brilliantly – the new name scans as ‘not Otto’.

Good man. But I suppose the trick is to avoid confusion in the first place?
Too right. And to help any businesses whose creative juices have run dry there are a number of restaurant name generators available on the internet. We’ve run a few through the system and the results include Howling Stallion Kitchen, Vivid Wit Cucina, Supreme Canoe Lounge, and Bittersweet Tractor Tavern. There’s also a blog of ‘50 catchy food restaurant names that aren’t yet taken'​ (as opposed to non-food restaurants?) that includes gems such as Onion Booty Restaurant, Faster than a Quickie, Fat and Hungry, and Big Mouth Bobby.

Bittersweet Tractor Tavern. Onion Booty Restaurant. I think I’d rather go for Tadpole Taqueria
Back off. There’s already a Tadpole Tearoom, and we don’t need any more amphibian or taco-based legal action thank you very much.

Related topics Trends & Reports Casual Dining

Related news

Show more

Follow us

Hospitality Guides

View more