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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 2nd Feb 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Secondary Siberia dining rooms, top ten marketing trends and success is in a brand’s DNA
Authors: Glynn Davis, James Hacon and Ann Elliott

Secondary Siberia dining rooms by Glynn Davis

Regular restaurant-goers and those in the industry will know that every venue has its own versions of the Siberia tables, which in the case of the worst examples only the unwitting and timid would fail to reject when directed to by the front-of-house team.

Those tables situated right next to the toilets, in draughty doorways, facing a wall, and on the busy pathway between front-of-house and kitchen would potentially rank as Siberia tables. But what I’ve found more problematic of late is the secondary dining room. This irks me just as much as being offered a low-end table because it’s like being invited to a house party but then not being allowed into the kitchen where you know all the interesting stuff is happening.

I have faced this very issue on a number of occasions over the past few months, which is now leading me to enquire at the time of booking that I want to be seated in the main dining room and not in some soulless basement or some overspill function room that hotels seem to have lots of – just waiting to suck in unsuspecting diners.

My run of bad luck in this area started at Gravetye Manor, near East Grinstead, where on snooping around I noticed one delightful wood-panelled candlelit dining room and another across the corridor much more brightly lit and plain with only a handful of tables. On enquiring which room we were to be seated in I was informed we were down to be in Siberia. Shortly afterwards I dispatched my wife to have the situation rapidly addressed.

It was clear within minutes of sitting down that we were in the main room where all the life was, in contrast to the overspill room nearby. I now offer my apologies to the couple that were no doubt unwittingly jettisoned into the other room.

Following this experience I was very aware that our family’s Christmas Day meal at the Mermaid Inn in Rye involved running the gauntlet of three dining rooms. The main one steeped in history, the second much smaller one was okay at a push while the third would be a disaster to have to dine in – for any meal longer than breakfast. Various requests to members of the hotel team ensured we avoided Siberia and had a very enjoyable four hours in a lovely dining room with the full buzz you’d expect on Christmas Day.

Back in London, a meal was recently booked at Indian restaurant Jamavar. Once my coat had been dispatched I was led out of the lively ground-floor dining room into the basement where only two people were sat. When asked if I’d like some water I accepted it – as long as it came with a table upstairs. It was such a relief when I was led back to civilisation that I needed a number of stiff drinks, which undoubtedly made my move upstairs a profitable one for the restaurant.

I’ve become increasingly fussy about where I’m seated in a restaurant in just the same way that I no longer accept being served quality craft beer in bog standard half-pint glasses. This is based on the fact I’m now more than willing to argue my case about where I’m sat – partly fuelled by the knowledge that dinner out in a half decent place is not a cheap exercise nowadays and I therefore must have all the right pieces in place.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Top ten restaurant marketing trends by James Hacon

Following the inaugural Restaurant Marketer & Innovator three-day event, here are my top ten takeaways:

1. Far from fluff 
In a traditionally operator-focused sector, the worth of marketing to hospitality businesses was undoubtedly an undertone to the event. When questioned as part of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers’ survey at the Boot Camp section of the event, 61% of young professionals cited a lack of operations team buy-in as a key challenge of their job, while 44% said they lacked buy-in from their leaders. The only greater challenge was budget.

Throughout the three-day event, the worth of marketing in our sector was put through its paces, with many leaders highlighting clear return on investment for their spend. It quickly became apparent the role of a marketing leader in eating and drinking out brands is far broader than in other industries, being seen as the centre-pin to a successful organisation and taking responsibility for brand, product development, internal communications, sales, innovation, pricing strategy, and often business direction.

Senior marketers are seen as an important voice around a boardroom table. Broader business leaders need to recognise the value marketing brings to businesses, while marketers need to concentrate on building a better rapport with operators by getting out on the front line more often. In the words of one speaker: “Collaborative working is key to successful marketing, it isn’t just the responsibility of the marketing team but everyone at every level should buy in, engagement starts within.” It’s time to ditch the desks at head office for our marketers and put them out into the business!

2. The deeper you dive the more you see 
This was a guiding principle shared by Wagamama customer director Emma Woods. It references the need to get into the thick of your data to truly understand your customers and find the gaps to maximise the effect of your marketing spend. As you would imagine, it was also a broader trend during all three days of the event, with companies of all sizes sharing how they are concentrating on linking technology to create one-customer viewpoints, which supports operational planning and development of new products and services, as well as driving guest recognition programmes.

The key to success in this area is ensuring the data updates daily, not monthly. Also be clear what you are tracking and why to ensure you don’t get overwhelmed and have the ability to act when required. Jo Fontaine, of Fishbowl, recommended we should be more demanding of our data and be prepared to challenge it too.

3. Social sucks your time 
Use of social media clearly continues to track strongly as one of the big three tactics in our sector. That said, the message from our speakers was to be more strategic, as not doing so wastes a lot of time. As part of our marketing budgets survey, social media advertising and organic social media was the largest area of increased spend, with more than half (58%) of respondents saying they would invest more of their budgets in advertising and 55% in organic this coming year. The third-biggest increase is in video, with YouTube seen as the key channel.

Many marketers of smaller brands speaking at the conference highlighted that while they felt it was something they had to be doing, it didn’t replace on-the-ground-type activation and building local networks, which they see as being key to their success. Bigger brands talked about professionalising this area, bringing in stronger tracking against online conversions. Ewan Turney, of England Rugby, left an impression with his “seven E’s of winning content” – excite, exclusive, entertain, engage, enhance, educate and encourage.

4. Simplicity sells 
On many levels the idea of simplicity is key to achieving business success, from developing your initial proposition and scaling back terms and conditions on your offers to being clear what you do in your promotions. WE ARE Spectacular chief executive Mark McCulloch warned people not to be arrogant, citing Pret A Manger as a great example of a brand that still garnishes its front doors with signage about what its sells despite being a leading high-street brand for more than 30 years.

5. It’s good to talk 
Perhaps adversely to the tagline made famous by British Telecom, the advice of many speakers was to put down the phone and go face-to-face in an effort to better understand your customers and teams. Spending time at the coalface of the business with the people who spend the most time with your customers will help you highlight what’s not working and why, as well as capturing those moments that really engage your customers and which you should be doing more of. On a formal basis, focus groups continue to be a great way of getting under the skin of individual areas you’d like to investigate more. However, they rarely help uncover an issue from the outset, we were told.

6. Lean on an ancient artform
Without trying to sound like a cliché-riddled Jedi Master, storytelling has been around longer than civilisation. We actively try to find the story in everything and, if we’re not told one, we’ll make one up – that’s human nature. When building content strategy, ensure it’s based on what your customers want to hear, not what your brand wants to tell.

7. Don’t demotivate 
Building robust processes around monitoring the performance of sales team members is vital to success, ensuring you are not only actively generating and converting the leads but also capturing the data that will drive future marketing and outreach. Putting the right processes in place was a key strategy behind the success of Revolution Bars Group’s pre-booked growth, which is a key centre-pin to its business. Kate Eastwood, the group’s sales and marketing director, explained it is important to ensure sales targets are attainable to ensure your team remains motivated.

8. Doing good business 
As a sector we are naturally social and are often at the heart of our communities. We also have easily identifiable opportunities to help, whether through donating food waste, giving community groups use of our venues at down periods or getting our team involved in volunteering.

Michael Ingemann, chairman of Claus Meyer Restaurants, introduced the company’s charitable activity through the Melting Pot Foundation and questioned the thinking on “doing too much”, the affordability of social initiatives, and the oft-cited issue of management distraction. He turned these around to say it all helps provide a compelling narrative for stakeholders – media, staff, partners and customers. Romy Miller, marketing director of Gail’s Bakery, went one step further, saying her customers expect the company to help the community, saying it builds brand love and loyalty, and drives group sales.

9. Design drives marketing 
Good food and great service are often hailed as the champions of success in the restaurant and foodservice sector, but design plays an integral part in setting a brand apart. Hayley Simpson, head of marketing at The Breakfast Club, is a strong advocate for the need to tell a story – not just through marketing but also through design. This was a sentiment further developed by Mark Stretton, of Fleet Street Communications, who said we had the ability to stand out through our cutlery and glassware, furniture and decor, signage, uniform, externals, menu design, and food and drinks presentation.

10. Innovate or follow 
The Restaurant Of The Future panel highlighted a number of areas our experts believed would be most prominent in five years’ time, many of them extensions or enhancements of some of the technology we see today. These included friction-free payment, real-time follow-up, preference-based adaptive experiences, automated delivery, flexible modular design, food-state-need marketing, surge pricing, and the likely development of a gastro-passport as a simple and secure way to communicate needs.

The sector was praised for its innovation by renowned food critic Jay Rayner for having a sophisticated mid-market, albeit with a hope that independents are not forced out through the continued growth. In the parting comments of this eventful session Russell Danks, founder of Future Factory London, highlighted the need for businesses to continue challenging themselves and innovating. In his words: “You either define the future or you follow others.”

Marketing tactics and activity aside, marketers need a clear commercial understanding. Personally, this is the gap I believe most needs to be worked on during 2018. It is vital to understand your P&L, sales flows, margins and costs to ensure you are making decisions that will move the needle, not just drive awareness. To be taken seriously as a marketer you must be able to hold your own with financiers and operators. Do this by not only voicing your own opinion but the brand and customer viewpoint. Remember, winning brands aren’t made by financiers, they are created by people with a vision, an understanding of customers, and a good handle on the market place. That should be you.
James Hacon is a development, growth and brand strategist for restaurant and hospitality companies, working as brand strategy director at Thai Leisure Group and a select group of other clients

Success is in a brand’s DNA by Ann Elliott

We went to the cinema last week to see The Post – a great film on the back of a really great book, the autobiography of Katherine Graham. The cinema is right next door to Stadium MK and numerous casual dining restaurants including Bella Italia, TGI Friday’s, Chimichanga, Prezzo and PizzaExpress. It’s no different to numerous shopping centre and leisure parks around the UK in terms of its number of places to eat – it’s a familiar mix.

Of course, it’s all been said before; the casual dining sector is possibly in the same sort of state the pub market was in a few years ago – too much supply and not enough differentiation. It’s a really difficult situation. No one in the sector wants to see fellow operators closing restaurants, going into administration, calling in advisors and having to lay-off staff. It’s a very supportive sector with an in-depth understanding of the current issues – “there but for the grace of God”.

One of the issues for these casual dining brands is differentiation. Price points are pretty much the same, the food on the plate is pretty much the same (even though it may have different geographical origins), back-of-house is the same, the food supply chain is the same, the service proposition is similar and the interiors can all feel slightly too similar. They could all probably be served by the same back-of-house kitchens, processes and systems to a greater or lesser extent.

There are, though, casual dining brands that are bucking the trend as we know – Nando’s, Wagamama, Bistrot Pierre, perhaps PizzaExpress lately, The Breakfast Club, Dishoom, Pizza Union, Brasserie Blanc, Pho, Flat Iron – it isn’t a finite list. So why are these brands doing ok while others are suffering? It’s the obvious question.

At the heart of many successful brands there is a deep-rooted sense of brand origins and a feeling among the management team it is a custodian of the brand, nurturing it through for the next generation. It’s an emotional feeling perhaps – a real reverence and care about where, and how, the brand started.

It’s in their DNA to treat the brand foundations with respect. The brand is genuine and it communicates that internally and, through its team members, to its customers. It is in its DNA and that DNA acts as a checklist for all the brand is doing – all activity is then totally aligned. Going back to a brand’s roots and the reason for its launch in the first place can often help revitalise a brand that has lost its way.

This brand purpose carries through into every element of the brand – most noticeably into the quality of its food and pride in its presentation. If the food is right and reflects the values of the brand, then the back-of-house and front-of-house teams feel proud to serve it. They want to put food in front of customers that they believe in – “serve and run” dishes harm the whole organisation.

This, in turn, helps the whole service proposition. Servers who love the brand and love the food they serve seem somehow to be happier, more confident and more relaxed. Or perhaps that’s just me? Asking customers if they have a voucher before they take an order must feel slightly demotivating – do their efforts really count for so little?

I think successful brands have a virtuous circle. Their teams respect their brand’s heritage and foundations, they reflect those in all they do and so do their teams. In turn, customers appreciate it too and then recommend it to friends and family. How these brands cope with today’s difficult challenges and changing customer needs is a subject for another day – but they must be in a better place to start with.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com. Follow her on Twitter: @elliottsagency

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