Use Food Innovation to Drive Your Restaurant Marketing

Chef finishing her salad in culinary class

In order to thrive, restaurant leadership should be demanding food innovation.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, restaurant executives are always blame events like elections for soft sales performance. However, Wells Fargo data tells us that consumer spending typically goes up during election years.

I travel quite a bit for work and as part of that travel, I dine out a lot. I can tell you that reservations are still a must, a wait should be expected and full restaurants are the norm. My focus group of one tells me that consumers are still dining out frequently.

So, what is the real problem? The real problem is the approach that drives executives to look for external forces to blame in the first place. They are so focused on making it through another board meeting or another analyst call that their real strategy is survival.

Survival as a strategy is the same as raising prices or cutting costs to drive short-term profits. The irony is that survival as a strategy will inevitably result in the exact opposite of the desired outcome. That’s because when survival is the focus, starting at the top, everyone else in the organization behaves the same way.

The menu innovation department stops innovating and instead delivers incrementally. So we see things like toppings or spice differences on old entrees. Service is no longer memorable. At best it’s forgettable bordering on regrettable. Even procurement does the same thing by beating up long-term vendors for savings instead of demanding higher quality or unique food components.

Finally, marketing has the impossible job of presenting the same old story in some new way. But wait, isn’t it marketing’s job to find or create something differentiated when it’s not that obvious? That answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

That is sometimes where really interesting advertising comes from. However, in a company where survival is the strategy how interesting do you think the advertising will actually be? You guessed it. It will be “safe,” “middle of the fairway” and “unobjectionable”. That’s because surviving is definitely not thriving.

In order to thrive, restaurant leadership should be demanding food innovation. The independents are doing it every day. A no-compromise approach to service and food quality should be table-stakes. Again, independents are doing it because they know their best, and sometimes only, marketing is the last meal experienced.

Marketing needs to be taking risks. If it doesn’t make the organization a little bit uncomfortable, it’s unlikely anyone will pay much attention to it. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing advertising dollars repurposed to driving true menu innovation in the near term.

If you are delivering a superior experience, consumers will find a way to spend money with you.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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