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Advice To Restaurants: Make Your Restaurant Different

Differentiation is the biggest key to the success of restaurants.

Such was the thrust of this year’s 2012 Chain Operators Exchange which was held last month in Las Vegas. The trade show’s theme was “Emerging Stronger,” with keynote speakers constantly emphasizing the need for restaurants to strengthen their brand promise by way of differentiation.

By definition, differentiation is simply being distinct from all others—special—particularly in the restaurant arena where everyone seems to be offering the same thing to consumers and any sort of restaurant improvement can be easily matched by a competitor.

Find your own message

Cited as the best examples of restaurants which were able to effectively do this were Chipotle, Red Lobster and White Castle.

Chipotle Mexican Grill came up with its distinct “Food With Integrity” campaign, which educates its customers about the chain’s use of sustainable and local farm suppliers. A big part of this campaign is their two-minute animated film “Back To The Start,” which shows a family farmer who made a conscious choice of going back to sustainable farming after being given the opportunity to become an industrial factory. The campaign, which was shown in movie theaters prior to the showing of main films, highlights how the chain’s chefs in cozy chef aprons use environment-friendly ingredients in Chipotle’s food, and effectively made the brand stand out above its competitors.

Red Lobster’s “I seafood differently,” had the same effect. It was able to recover from being a tired brand and successfully shifted their message to their consumers – from focusing on its products, they diverted the heart of their brand promise and centered it instead on the pride that the restaurant’s suppliers and employees feel when they are doing their jobs.

White Castle, for their part, did not focus their promotion on special ingredients or heritage; instead, they talked about their customers. They launched their customer-centric Cravers Hall of Fame, where loyal customers were encouraged to give testimonials as to how they went above and beyond to satisfy their craving of any of the chain’s food items. The promotion created a buzz, livened up their image and increased sales.

Customer traffic have gone up since these campaigns were launched, confirming what brand marketers often say – “restaurants need not spend a lot—they just need to look for the right message and convey it to the market the proper way.”

Know your competition, add “emotional component”

Experts and keynote speakers in the many sessions that the 2012 Chain Operators Exchange had also cited other important things that restaurants need to realize:

• Two of the biggest competitive threats of restaurants are convenience stores and supermarkets who now get more visits by customers than restaurants. Restaurants are then encouraged to focus their defense strategy to battle this challenge.

• The sessions in the trade show also cited how consumers today add an emotional component to how they see value in restaurant food – they love to hear a good story behind their food, the chefs in elegant chef aprons who prepared it or the waitstaff who serve it.