It's never too early to register your restaurant's name and trademark, even if you don't expect to branch out anytime in the foreseeable future. "Even a mom-and-pop restaurant owner should file a trademark application right away," says Richard Frazer, a partner with Pryor Cashman LLP. "You might swear that you only want one restaurant, but you never know what might happen later. Also, if you're successful, someone else might replicate your concept. And while the law gives you certain rights of use in commerce, you have greater rights if you observe the appropriate legal formalities from the start."
You can file for a trademark on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. But since navigating the form can be tricky, you might want to hire an attorney to help you protect your rights. Because there's no such thing as "restaurant law," an attorney experienced in intellectual property and/or real estate law is usually a good choice for overseeing the application process.