Number 1: Don’t Follow the Competition

The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned About Restaurant Marketing

NUMBER ONE: You’ll never be first by following the competition.

I often see small companies avidly watching the competition and “re-appropriating” ideas for their own brands. When Max & Erma’s was a 10 unit chain, we spent a lot of time camped out at our local TGI Friday’s to see what they would do next.

But the truth is, that kind of “me too” approach will never make you number one. Following your guest, not your competition, is the secret to being number one.

Once we learned that lesson at Max & Erma’s, we were able to focus on our guests’ specific needs, wants and expectations and deliver an experience that tapped into their needs and lived up to their expectations rather than being a second-rate TGI Friday’s.  The real secret is: RUN YOUR OWN RACE.

Today, more than ever, creative entrepreneurs are inventing new markets, new occasions and new dayparts while maximizing their potential by this kind of outside-the-box thinking.

* Phil Roberts, the founder of Buca di Beppo, is a great example of an entrepreneur who doesn’t sit around waiting for his competition to come up with the great ideas. After spinning off Buca, he and his Parasole group partners combined creative and operational expertise to develop brands that touch guests with enduring guest appeal. Their brands like Manny’s, Oceanaire Seafood Room and Chino Latino all touch guests in a unique way. I love the tag line of their Pittsburgh Blue concept:  A steakhouse for people who work hard and want to enjoy the rewards.

* On a completely different end of the spectrum, the Kogi BBQ Truck combines Korean barbecue, Mexican food and tweeting…maximizing guest convenience, craving and a powerful digital connection in one simple concept.

Once you focus on what your brand does best and how it connects with your guests’ needs, wants and expectations, it takes you all sorts of interesting places.

That concludes my Top 10. Paul Shaffer, cue the band. Until next time, let me know your thoughts.