The big restaurant holding companies are pulling out all the stops to drive “butts in seats” for their casual dining restaurant brands.
The big restaurant holding companies are pulling out all the stops to drive “butts in seats” for their CDR brands. One well known concept took a big risk by using a “throw-back” theme recently. Another enlisted some bold music to be relevant. The other big CDR brands are all doing something similar. They are all seeking some path backward in time to their dominance of the American dining popular culture of the 80’s and 90’s.
The problem? In short, despite their respective attempts at “innovation” they are essentially still producing the same food they did in those decades past yet expecting a different future. The problem is that the food is just not that great by today’s standards given all of the options available to the American dining consumer.
The worst thing these brands can do right now is to put amazing advertising into market that will attract a whole set of consumers to sample their current fares. Their marketing departments will be heroes, for a short period of time. Over the long-run, they will simply disappoint those diners who come in off of an advertising promise because the product will not live up.
So, what is the solution? In my humble opinion, there are three steps CDR must take to have a chance at winning the hearts and minds of existing and future guests:
- Deliver quality instead of boring. Throw out the hand-book for how to run a casual dining restaurant at scale out the window and allow innovation to happen at the individual restaurant level. Allow restaurants or regions to source product as locally as possible. I know, the accounting and restaurant operations people are freaking out right now.
- Be great at one thing (that guests care about. Stand for something specific and be great at it. Whether it’s tacos, burgers, lasagna or something else, just please own one thing.
- Make meaningful promises in your advertising. Use your advertising to promote what you’re actually doing to make your food great instead of showing fake people enjoying food wrangled shots of something a guest will never actually experience.
Now, I know that these three things are easy for me to write. I’m not facing a board of directors and shareholders demanding profits. I’m also not the one who has to figure out the complexity of cost of goods sold in a model that I’m suggesting.
However, I am a consumer just as much as a marketing expert and the ending for the CDR story has been written. It’s not a happy one. It’s up to the industry to rewrite the ending. If it was easy to fix, I’d have standing reservations at one of those top restaurant chains every Friday night.
Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.