Archive for June, 2013

What product is your restaurant really selling?

“We had a great time catching up with each other at dinner, reminiscing and laughing and just enjoying the company.  And oh yeah, the food was good, too.”

Your restaurant sells food, right?  But is that the only product you’re marketing?  Of course not!  Here we take a look at how you can carve out a specific niche in your local market and focus on your real restaurant product.  To be successful in the restaurant industry, most will agree that you need good service and good food.  But what does that mean, exactly?  How do you define the word ‘good’?  It really does differ from restaurant to restaurant based on customer expectations of your specific location.  After all, if every eating place looked like and served food that tasted like and provide the exact same in service as Joe’s Place, there really wouldn’t be much need for market competition, would there?

First, you need to know what category you belong and how people perceive the expected experience of your restaurant.  Here are four examples, but please know there are more than four.  Figure out what it is you’re selling.  It’s not just the food or service; it’s really about the experience you’re giving your guests.  Once you know what your product is, the next step is incorporating little things that will let your customers know you’re willing to exceed their expectations and stand out in your niche market.

Product: Convenience and speed

The quick service restaurant industry sells convenience and speed.  The food doesn’t have to be top-quality, but the price has to be comparable to preparing a meal at home.  The convenience factor is what leads the consumer to make the decision to buy out instead.  The food still has to be “good” and service has to be friendly but on the level that a customer perceives to be acceptable in return for the time-savings they’re really seeking.  A frozen-then-reheated burger? Eh, at least it didn’t come out of the customer’s freezer.

Tips to do it better:

  • Make sure your take-out service is excellent. Environment-friendly to-go containers? Check. Easy to carry bags? Check. Extra napkins and silverware? Check. Lids and straws? Check. Neatly packaged dips, dressings, and sauces? Check. Coupon for next visit? Why not? Don’t forget, the hot foods and cold foods should be kept separated to help maintain safe temperatures in transit. Drink carriers appreciated.  And please double-check the order to make sure it’s all there and all correct.
  • Be clean. It’s okay to serve quick and easy dishes that appeal to the masses, but the masses aren’t going to return if you have a dirty restaurant table, crumbs in your booths, or a germ-infested bathroom.  Make a coffee break / pit stop a quick and clean one for guests traveling through, and they’ll remember you the next time they’re in town.
  • Offer some made-to-order options. Be flexible enough to cater to specific requests when they won’t harm your bottom line. Gluten-free and allergy-friendly choices are also important in today’s made-for-me society.
  • Appear fresh. Add in some healthy selections. Allow customers to see some of the food making process. If you’re transparent in what you’re creating, and they feel like you’re choosing the best ingredients at an affordable price – and it’s all being done in a sanitary fashion – then you’ll make them feel confident in choosing your restaurant.

–>The emotional reaction: “They made it so quick and easy for me, when otherwise, there would have been no time to eat. Plus, I could easily afford the meal-on-the-go!”

Product: Social gathering place

The neighborhood bar where everyone knows your name? The best spot in town to catch the game with your friends? If you’re going for social, then it’s about offering a place for people to kick back and have some fun with their friends.  Maybe you have pool tables or dart boards or a digital jukebox.  The large-enough-to-share appetizer menu with affordable drinks and “bar food” to order; sound familiar?  Whatever it is that makes people pull up a bar stool and relax in your joint, meet up with their friends, or order up another round is your key selling point.

Tips to do it better:

  • Your staff have to be really outgoing and fit right in with the groups of socialites choosing your bar for their next hangout. Hire personable staff members and train them on excellent service skills.  If customers like your staff members, they’ll be back to see their friends.
  • Consider bringing in some entertainment, such as live music, a karaoke night, or an interactive trivia contest.  The more reasons you give, the more likely your customers will plan night outs at your place.
  • Be social online, too.  Offer exclusive deals to your Facebook or Twitter followers.  Start a Pinterest page for your restaurant, and reward your Foursquare mayor frequently. Thank your Yelp! reviewers and find creative ways to encourage your in-restaurant guests to chat you up in all of their online social spaces, too.

–>The emotional reaction: “My friends and I had a blast! We created memories that will last a lifetime, and we cannot wait to go back and make new friends next time.”

Product: Family dinnertime

With two-parent working homes and a busier-than-ever lifestyle, more moms and dads are turning to restaurants to help them feed their families.  This means they want healthier choices, fresher ingredients, and more so, the comfort of being in a homelike atmosphere to sit down and enjoy both a meal and conversation about the various family members’ days while huddled around the restaurant table.

Tips to do it better:

  • Staff must be friendly and be able to talk to the kids and the adults equally well. When the kids are happy, Mom and Dad are happy, too.  It’s all about making the entire family feel special and at home.
  • Promote customer loyalty with always-changing kids activities, and develop a kid menu that parents and kids will both love.  Keep the kids occupied from the moment their wiggly behinds hit the restaurant booth, so everyone dining at the time is having a great experience.
  • Have you heard of the “Give ’em the pickle” philosophy? If you can make small sacrifices to keep your customers happy, they’ll feel appreciated and will let others know.  Use the word, “yes,” a lot.

–>The emotional reaction: “I got to spend some quality time with my family before homework and bedtime routines. Plus, I didn’t have to use precious time to cook or do the dishes, bonus!”

Product: Culinary masterpiece

If your guests find themselves at a fine dining establishment, chances are they expect a pristine interior with immaculate place settings.  They also expect top-of-the-line ingredients and a nice fat price tag that signifies quality.  Your exotic menu with fanciful choices and an extensive wine list reads like a descriptive travel book.  Above-excellent service is expected, but if it is accompanied with a bit of a snooty attitude, in this scenario, your guests will find it completely acceptable, because there is a trade-off for the culinary masterpiece that will arrive on a clean white plate in such artistic form they’ll feel like royalty.

Tips to do it better:

  • Complete your website content by adding a full menu with prices and your dress code, so patrons know exactly what to expect before stepping through your front door.
  • Share your chef’s story anywhere you can: on your website, on social media pages, through local and national food magazines, in your menu, via your trained staff.  The more personal you can be, the better. This is a social and engaged world, and people like to know the intimate (but not-too-intimate) details of other people’s lives.  So be human.  It’s what will make your restaurant a favorite.  The chef will visit your table during dessert? Even better!
  • Presentation matters.  Create anticipation with descriptive menus and follow it up with an adrenaline rush when the waitstaff sets down the plate, so gorgeous your guests will literally drop their jaws for your food.

–>The emotional reaction: “It was so romantic and luxurious, and the meal completely wowed me. I can’t wait for the next date night!”

Dining out is less about the food and more about the emotional reaction your customers have from the entire experience.   Think about the whole picture and what your customers are expecting when they choose your bar or restaurant.  This will help you capitalize on their wants and needs, which in turn, means you capture a loyal customer who will positively impact your restaurant’s success.

Does your restaurant need a website?

5 Reasons Facebook Isn’t Enough

With the growth of social media and the dependence on sites such as Facebook and Twitter to keep consumers in-the-know, many new restaurants are asking if they need to have a website these days.  While the landscape of the worldwide web and the manner of how people surf the ‘net surely has changed in recent years, my gut instinct is to answer, “yes.”  But it’s not just that simple.  Ten years ago, new restaurants only needed a website.  Today, you need to have a more involved online presence.  Sure, you probably should have a website, Facebook page, Twitter account, Google+ presence, and be managing Pinterest boards.  Not to mention a strategy for Yelp. But here are my reasons why having a Facebook page alone won’t cut it.  (These points can apply to any social network, really.)

1. Not everyone is on Facebook. You can spew the jaw-dropping statistics to me all day long.  I know Facebook is huge. The number of Facebook users continues to grow.  But the truth is, not everyone has a Facebook profile. Not everyone wants to use Facebook. And not everyone uses Facebook to search for restaurants when they’re hungry.  Sure, your Facebook page will probably pop up on a Google search if you’ve set it up correctly, added your name in the URL, and used your restaurant’s keywords throughout the page.  Can you guarantee a non-Facebook user will click on that Facebook result, though?  I didn’t think so.  I will absolutely argue that Facebook is a must-have for restaurants, but it won’t replace your own corporate website.  At least not this year.

2. Facebook controls Facebook. Remember the timeline adoption that rolled out a few years ago? When Facebook changes, its users just have to go along for the ride and adopt.  You are only one page on this gigantic network of pages, and Facebook owns every single one of them.  I recommend branding your pages as much as possible through the cover photo, profile image, photo albums, and of course the messages you post via your status updates, but I also recommend linking your Facebook page back to a fully-branded site that you can design and control.  Don’t forget, you’re going to need a mobile version of that same branded site.  As a side note, depending on your account settings, your fans (and foes) can post information on your Facebook page.  You can reply (or delete, which I don’t recommend), but it’s one less thing you can control on Facebook.

3. Facebook content is limited. A robust restaurant website should include: hours of operations, contact information, a map with directions, current sales or promotions, a complete menu, a photo gallery with pictures of food and ambiance and people, details on involvement with community or earth-friendly service projects, testimonials and reviews, an ever-changing blog, online reservation form, catering or takeout details, a little bit of history, the mission and vision statements, and key staff bios.  If you sell bottled spaghetti sauce, branded t-shirts, or gift certificates, you are also going to want to implement an e-commerce shopping cart and payment processor.  That’s a lot of info to cram into the ‘About Us’ section on Facebook.  You can create custom-designed tabs and a Facebook store, of course, but that can get costly with so much info to share, and not every developer offers Facebook tab/store design.  Besides, Facebook users don’t often look through the tabs, or even land on your Facebook page. If this info isn’t showing up repeatedly in users’ news feeds, there is a good chance they aren’t seeing it.  With recent changes to how all information and posts show up in news feeds, with more opportunity for selecting the type of news a user sees, this even becomes more limiting to restaurant brands.  Plus, if you aren’t already popular on Facebook, getting your content seen, liked, and shared is a challenge.  Facebook insights don’t currently share the impressions your ‘About Us’ section or tabs are receiving, whereas you can measure the traffic to your website with easy integration to Google Analytics.

4. Facebook content is hard to navigate. I mentioned Facebook tabs above, but not all the tabs are prominent from the home screen of your Facebook page. And those posts you share?  Well the timeline goes on and on forever, but Facebook doesn’t archive those posts in easy-to-find navigational menus.  There’s a search bar on Facebook, but it’s going to search the entire network (and web) for results, not just your page.

5. Facebook replaced MySpace. Well, that’s not true.  MySpace is still around, believe it or not.  My point here is that if you invest entirely into Facebook as your main online presence, you’re going to really feel the negative impact when Facebook usage starts to dwindle or the next big social media platform comes around.  I think Facebook does have staying power (for now), but again…you don’t have control of that.  In fact, neither does Facebook.

I want to reiterate that Facebook should definitely have a place in your restaurant’s marketing strategy.  It offers a great way to build community and generate fans.  However, it’s my opinion that you also should invest in a corporate website.  Only there can you control all the content, design, and properly promote your restaurant.  Your Facebook and website pages should link to each other and support the same overall branding of one another.  Being social and socially engaged is vital to the success of any restaurant (or business of any kind) in today’s real-time, interactive, socially demanding world.  Your own website is a great place to start!

? How did we do? Let us know if this restaurant blog article is helpful to you, or what topics you’d like us to cover in the future!

2013 Summer Restaurant Trends

Now that Memorial Day has passed, it’s safe to wear white – and start thinking about summer!  After listening to many National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (NRA Show) speakers predict what will be heating up this summer’s restaurant scene and after scouring through many expert opinions online, I’ve compiled the following list of things to look for on and off the menu this season.

Smoky flavors. This year, chefs are taking char-grilled to a whole new level. From barbecued meats to fruits and veggies (and even desserts!), everything just got a little bit hotter.  Coal ovens, things that sizzle, and fire-grilled are all the rage right now. Look for a little extra burn on the unexpected this summer.  Flaming cocktails will also get some attention at your bar.

Gourmet burgers. Sure the American classic quarter pounder with cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato is still a popular go-to item for many dine-outers, but there is an emergence of culinary excellence behind one of our culture’s iconic staples this summer: the burger.  You can now order burgers for breakfast with an egg on top, get a burger stuffed with, well, almost anything, or order up a burger with new and exciting condiments, such as jalapeno relish or chipotle BBQ sauce.  The new generation of burger lovers enjoy trying something radically new with their something familiarly good.  And what better time to experiment with a good ol’ fashioned burger than summertime?

Locally sourced ingredients. The phrases ‘health conscious’ and ‘fresh foods’ have been trending for a while now, but more than ever, restaurant guests expect cooks to be sourcing their ingredients from local farmers or fisherman.  More than that, they want to know which farm…and the entire story from seed to tabletop.  Whether it’s in the menu or information you post on your social networks, being as transparent as possible about where your food actually comes from will be a great approach to your new summer menus. Customers will begin to expect these details to be readily available, so you better get prepared to be held accountable for every ingredient choice you make.  Plus, this is a great time of year to forge relationships with your local growers while the supply is bountiful.

Coupons. A decade ago, I sat in a college marketing class looking at less than 3% average redemption rates and at that time, realized coupons were a dying fad.  Then the 2008 recession happened…and changed everything.  Only coupons are no longer delivered as direct mail pieces that show up in your roadside mailbox like they were when I was studying envelope design (yes, that was actually an academic lesson). Daily deals, social media, and coupon or price checker apps have revolutionized the way people spend and save money.  It  might not be new, but this summer, this trend is not old, yet, either.  If your restaurant hasn’t already experimented with digital couponing, maybe now’s the time.  Restaurant goers are savvy to find a good deal, and if your competition is offering something you aren’t…well, they will win.

Yogurt. From frozen to Greek, yogurt is definitely a buzzword in the foodservice industry right now.  Its versatility allows for it to be used in many different ways and dishes.  It can be a substitute for mayo or sour cream, used in dressings and pasta sauces, used in marinades, milkshakes, or smoothies, and used for fruit dips, cheesecakes, or other desserts.  Many prefer the frozen variety over softserve, and with today’s customize-it-for-me attitudes, choose-your-own-toppings buffets have also become very popular. What can you do with yogurt?

Dog-friendly patios. Already popular in Miami and So-Cal, more and more dog lovers want to bring their pooch along when they stop for a quick drink or deli-style lunch on your restaurant’s patio.  Take the opportunity to make new loyal customers, the four-legged kind. Of course, this is only good advice if you’re promoting a hip, casual, relaxing vibe and don’t mind a little doggy slobber on your deck floor. Leashes required!

Flavored teas. The options are not just sweet, unsweetened, or raspberry anymore. Tea drinkers are developing more sophisticated palettes, so they want you to introduce them to new ice tea flavors this summer.  Try a new tea of the week, or find one that will be a hit all summer long.  Serve it freshly brewed over ice for a guaranteed positive Yelp! review.

Artisan breads. As carbohydrate-eaters resurface in the post-Atkins™ era, they’re looking for distinguished breads to nibble on between the appetizer and main course.  Again, the principle that everything familiar can be new again applies.  Take something simple and make it exciting by preparing it in a new way. Start with baking bread with brand new appeal.  Make bread a challenge by creating some art out of it. You can do it!

Gluten-free everything. As I’m sure you’re aware, more and more people are requesting gluten-free items on the menu. Oblige by creating just a couple delicious and gluten-free mainstays, label them well on your menu, and voila!, you will become an instant restaurant hero to those in need.  Your flexibility in adapting your regular menu items to cater to other food allergies (such as milk or nuts) will also be a hit to your customers who trust, in some cases, their lives to your safe cooking habits.

I hope these tips help you stay on trend this summer season.  Feel free to post your restaurant’s success with your menu or marketing experiments. Join the conversation below.

Review of the 2013 National Restaurant Association Show

Now that we’ve had a chance to digest all the excitement (and endless food samples) of the 2013 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show, we put our thoughts together to share this brief recap of the 4-day, fun-filled international restaurant and hospitality industry tradeshow.

Walking into the magnificent McCormick Place for the first time was breathtaking. Its design so elegant yet massive, as the floor-to-ceiling windows welcomed in natural light and beautiful views of both a quiet sailboat-painted Lake Michigan and also the urban skyline of nearby downtown Chicago. Long rows of escalators inside the Grand Concourse helped move people up and down the five levels and bring people from the North and South buildings together. (The center actually has four cutting edge buildings, connected by beautiful sky bridges.) With 2.6 million total square feet of exhibit space, 170 meeting rooms, and assembly seating for up to 18,000 people, McCormick Place is enormous and versatile, and it’s a great choice for events, such as the NRA Show.  Decorated with an eclectic art collection, with pieces by artists Dale Chihuly and Tim Prentice to name two, that speak to the city’s architecture and culture, the center intrigues the senses from inside and out.  And I haven’t even mentioned that I saw one McDonald’s, two Starbucks, a few souvenir shops, a market cafe, and a food court that offered convenience to those of us who were planted there for 9-hour days.

South Hall’s Level 3 was clearly the most coveted (and largest) exhibition space with big brands such as Coca-Cola, Rubbermaid, and Anheuser-Busch piquing attendee interest with large, flashy displays and enticing giveaways. Across the hall in the North Building, Levels 1 and 3 were also filled with industry-related exhibitor booths, all vying for the attention of the 58,000+ passer-byes. With over 2,000 booths in over 900 product categories, the tradeshow offerings ran the gamut from cheese, salsa, and wine to rapid cook ovens, silverware, and of course, restaurant furniture.  Whether it was marketing and HR resources or the latest in green technology, a restaurant owner could seek out many new tidbits to help them run an efficient, trendy, and profitable business.  It’s a four day event for a reason; it’s massive!  If you’re breaking ground on a new restaurant or have always dreamed about becoming a restauranteur, we would recommend attending the NRA Show in order to amass the excess of product information, resources, trends, and advice which is contained under one roof.  Beware, the surplus of food samples, types of equipment, flatware companies, industry statistics, and recommendations may become overwhelming (heck the 25 yogurt vendors alone could send you into a tizzy), but the opportunity to sort through all the information can be very beneficial in making educated business decisions.  Plus, you’ll bring home a bag filled with tchotchkes and schwag.

Among the exhibitors, you may find a surprise or two awaiting you. We rounded the corner once and found Captain Sig Hansen of the Deadliest Catch signing autographs and taking photos with big-grinned fans, like our very own Dave DiSanti.

In between walking the endless aisles of exhibitors, the NRA also hosted 70+ educational sessions.  These sessions covered topics such as menu engineering, social and overall marketing, economic outlooks, managing staff within your workplace culture, and just so much more.  Plus, attendees had the opportunity to hear from celebrity speakers, such as Anthony Bourdain and the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz.

From inside our booth, we were able to survey the show attendees on their need for restaurant furniture either now or in the future. What’s more, we had the chance to really talk with them, form some personal relationships, and get to know our target audience a little bit better.  Understanding their perspective (and long list of balls they juggle on a daily basis) helps us become more than just another vendor to them, but their ally as they start or manage their restaurant, their dream, and the way they make their living. We met many passionate people who are in the business of making great food, satisfying other people, and creating wonderful places to work or dine.  Smart and savvy, with custom options on their mind, today’s customer is helping drive our business where it needs to go into the future.  For those lessons, we’re grateful.

We had such a great time, we’ve already reserved our 2014 NRA Show booth!  We invite you to join us in the windy city next May 17-20. See ya there!

Did you attend this year’s show? Let us know what you thought!

See our photos from our trip here!