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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Sun 3rd Dec 2023 - The sector’s big challenge – balancing short-term tactics with long-term brand building

The sector’s big challenge – balancing short-term tactics with long-term brand building

By James Hacon, founder of Think Hospitality
Each summer I have the privilege of talking to the great and good of restaurant marketing, innovation and development, as I work to curate a programme that excites, educates and inspires for the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit, that we hold each January in partnership with Propel (see below for our schedule of speakers).
This year I spoke to over forty Marketing Director, CMO’s, Chief Growth Officers, Heads of Marketing, as well as Chief Executives, Managing Directors & Development Directors, all with the ambition of hearing about their priorities for next year and their long-term focus in terms of customer, communications, proposition, and positioning.
Here are some of the headline subjects that stand out;
Getting back to a more strategic approach
Many operators still feel completely bogged down with the daily pressures of survival, seeing declining covers as the economic pressures continue to hit consumers. Pricing strategies, increases and the question of value had been a key focus almost unanimously, as you would expect, with inflation forcing almost all to pass on significant price increases to consumers.
Few were talking about growth and expansion with capital expensive and hard to come by. Some had delivered on minor, low capital development and improvement projects, but very few had embarked on anything more revolutionary or brand redefining. It looks like 2024 will be the year many will start to refocus on innovation at a more strategic level, carefully balanced with short-term, sales focused activity. This was taking the form of increased customer insight work, expected adaptations around formats and offer and increased looking at how to attract new customers at new occasions, driving footfall.
In our conference programme for next year we’ve carefully curated a mix of subjects that cover the short-term immediate revenue building initiatives, mid-term strategies and long-term trends; aiming to bring value to business leaders and marketers from across the spectrum of business size and sub-sector.
Building new customers and occasions
Traditional customer bases are shrinking was a key message, with lower visit frequency and customers who are increasingly more value sensitive, with many talking about strong weekend trading and declining mid-week and convenience occasions, as well as consumer trading down for convenience but up on experience occasions. A priority for many moving into 2024 is building occasion strategies that will encourage new and existing guests to visit for different times of day, week or for reasons they hadn’t thought of before. With food and wage inflation, there simply isn’t the opportunity to put down prices to drive traffic and we’ve all seen the woes of heading down a discounting led model – so this approach seems to be sensible, as a way of preserving the integrity of your main offering, while adding revenue through new or adapted occasions and dayparts. Some angles shared with me included a greater focus on sports – and differentiated sports, not just footfall or rugby, with one marketing director talking at length of their focus on F1; e-sport, a huge untapped area for many in hospitality; special priced lunch or shoulder period menus; a greater focus on food with unexpected trade up opportunities into a more premium category from casual dining or pubs, to capture the leakage to more high-end restaurants for special occasions; and experiences, whether that be masterclasses, at table add-ons that can excite a customer or experiential elements to venues.
On the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator programme this coming January, we’ve recruited a number of incredible leaders to reveal how are they are diversifying their offer and marketing to new potential customers around different occasions, from research and insight through to communications and delivering world class campaigns.
Closer working between operations and marketing
Almost directly comparable to the friction between front of house and the kitchen, the age-old challenge of marketing and operators understanding one another was still at large. Pressure on achieving sales figures in a tough market, means everyone’s scrambling for sales, creating the short-term thinking I mention above. It’s easy for relationships to be challenged and blame to apportioned. With many new, less experienced operators and marketers brought up quicker through the ranks or from other sectors after the covid recruitment challenges, there is a focus on setting realistic expectations, drawing lines of responsibility and in many cases more of the local marketing that would have commonly been delivered by site teams, finding its way to head office, as high-turnover, short staffing and pressure on labour costs sees less time to deliver – which in itself is a challenge as we know that community outreach and integration can be vital for many hospitality businesses. Meanwhile many senior marketers are picking up responsibility for sales, where they may not have had it before, driving pre-booked revenue at a more granular level, in addition to the brand building, database and activation-based marketing they may have focused on in the past.
At the event we’ll be hearing from leading commercial and marketing leaders on how these teams can work hand in hand to closely forecast sales, drive pre-booked sales, collect more guest data, drive customer experience, and improve marketing activations.
Social media cannot be the entire strategy
With many junior marketing roles being recruited up through operations or fresh from university, a lack of the basics seems prevalent and a major challenge for businesses. Time and time again, I heard that there is still a misconception from those without training or experience in marketing that social media is the key channel for hospitality marketing with both boards and inexperienced marketers, many focusing all their efforts on social media and pushing slightly tweaked creative out to the same slowly growing database, without enough focus on new customer acquisition or understanding the journey of inspiration, consideration and conversion that gets people off the sofa and into your venues.
At January’s event we’ll be focusing on a 360* approach to marketing through more than 25 sessions looking at trends and market forces through to brand relevance, tactics for 2024, delivering through digital, engaging content creators, partnerships and activations. It’ll be the perfect environment to learn from the industry’s best and go away with real actionable insights and tactics that can make a difference to your business right now and for the future.

Bookings are now open for the two-day Restaurant Marketer & Innovator conference taking place on 23 and 24 January at One Moorgate Place in London. A one-day ticket for operators is £295 plus VAT while a two-day ticket is £550 plus VAT. Supplier tickets are £500 plus VAT for one day and £945 plus VAT for two. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Jo Charity at Propel on

Day One: Tuesday, 23 January

DRIVING HYPE THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA AND COLLABORATIONS: Andreia Harwood, marketing director – EMEA at Wingstop, reveals how the brand enhances its food offer through collaborations with music, fashion and art brands, influencers and creators – sharing real life case studies from music artist and brand collaborations to leveraging paid strategies to boost reach and drive brand consideration. 

DRIVING COVER GROWTH THROUGH FOOD FOCUSED MARKETING: Our panellists will discuss the vital role food plays in driving customer decision making, broadening visit occasions, improving visit frequency, the role of seasonal and special menus and the place for food in messaging and content. Panel includes Sam Bourke, marketing director at Fuller’s, Sarah Collins, head of marketing at the Rick Stein Group, and Jessica Wight, marketing director at Bistrot Pierre.

THE MARKET LANDSCAPE ENTERING 2024: François Blouin and Claire Diemer, chief executive and director of qualitative studies respectively at Foodservice Vision, outlines the current market landscape and pressures impacting consumer demand and trading, including the revolution of spaces, development in delivery, battle of the experience factor, CSR issues and economical models under tension. 

OPPORTUNITIES TO INFLUENCE CUSTOMER BEHAVIOUR THROUGH MARKETING: Katy Moses, managing director at insight consultancy KAM, shares exclusive new research on how marketers can effectively influence customer behaviour and sentiment while face-to-face in venue. 

MOVEMENTS IN THE MARKET: Lina Olea, marketing director at Wireless Social, shares changes in customer behaviour based on millions of data points from across the UK market. 

STAND-OUT CAMPAIGNS OF 2023: Jack Jolly, senior marketing manager at Mission Mars and founder of H!JACK, reveals the coolest and quirkiest campaigns from across the sector in 2023. 

THE REALITY OF RESTAURANT ROBOTICS: Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, takes an analytical view on the subject of restaurant robotics, considering the behavioural, psychological and financial impacts for our sector. 

FUELLING SUSTAINABLE JOURNEYS – THE FUTURE OF ROAD TRAVEL HOSPITALITY: Amanda Mason, head of marketing at Roadchef, shares the direction of travel for the electrification and eventual automation of vehicles and the changes this will have on the way people travel, work and live – and the impact this will have on consumer behaviour in our sector. 

WORKING CLOSELY WITH OPERATORS TO REACH REVENUE TARGETS: James Coldrey-Mobbs, sales and marketing director at East Coast Concepts, shares how to work hand-in-hand with operations leaders and general managers to closely forecast sales, drive pre-booked revenue, collect more guest data, drive customer experience and improve marketing activations. 

ACTIVATING A BRAND THROUGH THE GUEST JOURNEY AND TOUCHPOINTS: Anthony Pender, co-founder of Our Yummy Collection, Natalie Waldron, of Natalie Waldron Design, and Dan Burns, of Natural Selection Design, share the in-depth process of researching a new brand hand-in-hand with suppliers and activating it through clearly defined guest journey touch points and content. 

REBRANDING TO REVITALISE A CONCEPT: Matt Preisinger, marketing and brand director at Brewhouse & Kitchen, shares its rebranding story, how it has been implemented across the existing estate and the changes for new venues. 

BRAND BUILDING CONTENT – PIZZA PILGRIMAGE II: Thom and James Elliot, co-founders of Pizza Pilgrims, give a behind the scenes look at the mini-series, Pilgrimage II, where the brothers returned to Italy to retrace their journey through the country that led them on the path to create this iconic brand.

WINNING AT OMNICHANNEL: With constant evolution of how customers discover, research and purchase from food and drink brands, this panel looks to consider how operators are becoming increasingly omnichannel in their approach. Panel includes: Siobhan Lloyd, marketing manager at 200 Degrees Coffee, Julius Wiesenhütter, founder at GetViola, and Megan Burton-Brown, marketing director at Tortilla.

BUILDING A GO-TO-MARKET STRATEGY: Simon Potts, chief executive of the Alchemist, shares his experience of international expansion from initial research and market studies to launching the first site, in Berlin in early 2023. 

GROWING A BRAND WITH SIMPLICITY AT ITS HEART: James Hacon talks to Natasha Sideris, founder and chief executive of Tashas Group, about her incredible journey from launching her first restaurant in South Africa to operating in four countries, launching two books, getting listed in The World’s 50 Best Bars and its recent launch at Battersea Power Station. 

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM DAY ONE: James Hacon, co-founder of Restaurant Marketer & Innovator, shares the top takeaways from day one.

Day Two: Wednesday, 24 January 

FROM FAST FOOD TO FAST GOOD: Jenny Packwood, chief Corporate affairs and sustainability officer at KFC UK, shares how the brand is championing equality, inclusion and social mobility among other things.

CREATING A WINNING GROWTH MARKETING STRATEGY: Andre Johnstone, chief growth officer at Côte, reveals the secrets for successfully defining a growth marketing strategy that moves the needle on commercial returns that your board will buy into, with a focus on omnichannel marketing, optimising delivery channels, meal box solutions and commercial innovation. 

STRATEGIES AND TACTICS For 2024: It’s vital to stay ahead of the game and the competition. During this panel our industry leaders will share what they plan to stop, start and do more of during 2024. Panel includes: Hannah Clark, UK head of marketing at Sticks n Sushi, Romy Miller, global brand director at KellyDeli, Sarah McDermott, and marketing director at BrewDog Bars

HOW DO YOU MAKE 1,000 RESTAURANTS SUSTAINABLE: Emma Banks, vice-president of food and beverage strategy at Hilton, shares how the company is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and food waste, support local communities, while still providing exceptional dining options. She will talk about sustainable sourcing, local produce, reducing carbon emissions and farm-to-table initiatives. 

DEVELOPING A CULINARY DESTINATION: Some of the foremost culinary destinations of the world have emerged over the past two decades, overtaking places that have long standing traditions as food capitals. Our panel discusses how places can build culinary credentials, a strong foodie reputation and ultimately a place on the world map. Panel: Jonathan Doughty, managing director at Viklari Consulting, talks to Fiona Richmond, head of regional food at Scotland Food & Drink, and Mikala Kofoed Rasmussen, senior manager at Wonderful Copenhagen.

RESTAURANT OF THE FUTURE: This session features leaders’ predictions for the future of eating and drinking out after a lockdown think tank session earlier in the day. The panel includes: Marta Pogroszewska, managing director at Gail’s Bakery, Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy, Eljesa Saciri, general manager at The Zetter Marylebone, Michael Ingemann, chairman of Think Hospitality, Hilari Voorthuis, global food and beverage manager at Fairmont Hotel & Resorts, and Sven Sallaerts, co-founder of Younique Concepts.

BRAND RELEVANCE: HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY CONNECT WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS: Brand relevance is the new differentiation. In this session marketing heavyweights discuss how to build and market a brand at scale while remaining personally relevant and emotionally connected, ensuring you deliver messaging that has pertinence to the topics, issues, needs or interests of your customer. Panel includes: Marcus Denison-Smith, chief marketing officer at Honest Burgers, Tom Patrick, marketing director at Banana Tree, and Libby Andrews, marketing director at Pho Restaurants.

COMPETING IN CROWDED URBAN MARKETS: Ali Alt Recanati, co-founder and brand and marketing director at Farmer J, shares how the brand is bringing fresh thinking to the grab and go market, revealing its priorities and expansion plans for 2024. 

ENGAGING CONTENT CREATORS AND BUILDING A CULT FOLLOWING FOR YOUR BRAND: Love them or hate them, digital influencers are changemakers of the modern world and can be leveraged to incredible effect by brands. In this session our panel talks about how to engage new communities and tribes around your brand, driving digital and real world engagement and commercial returns. Panel includes: Maya Orr, managing director at Connect Management, talks to Rameez Al Aghbar, brand partnerships – quick service restaurants and travel lead at TikTok, Anthony Knight, sales and marketing director at Incipio Group, and Lynsey Benton, brand and franchising manager at I am Doner.

CREATING COMPELLING REASONS TO VISIT THROUGH SHOWSTOPPING ACTIVATIONS: Myles Doran, former commercial director at Revolution Bars Group and managing director at Hospitality Inc, shares his secrets for collaborating with supplier brands to develop distinct and brand defining activations that drive footfall and generate compelling reason to visits. 

MARKETING LIKE IT’S 2024: Supersonic founder Mark McCulloch shares his top tips on winning in marketing for the year ahead. 

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM RMI 2024: James Hacon, co-founder of Restaurant Marketer & Innovator, shares the top takeaways from the past two days.

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