Number 4: Keep Your Promise

The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned About Restaurant Marketing

NUMBER FOUR: Marketing can’t promise what operations can’t execute.

We all know that ours is a “no excuses” business. Our guests don’t care that the reason their Great Aunt’s 80th birthday was ruined was because it was shift change and you had two servers call in. But even that is more understandable than a promotion gone wrong. So much depends on flawless execution…delivering an experience that will drive a return visit. A simple thing like promoting a long-ticket-time appetizer versus an easy-pick-up item like soup can negatively affect the guest experience.

* I was in Arizona this past winter and tried the new breakfast menu being tested by a fast-food chain. My family tried a number of great items, but the thing that we all liked the best was the breakfast smoothie. I know for a fact that my brother-in-law who lives in Arizona went out of his way to go back for it. But when I talked to a friend who works for the chain a few weeks ago, she told me they had taken it off the menu. I’m disappointed but not surprised. It was a great item, but operationally, it appeared to be clearly difficult to execute.

* When I started with Max & Erma’s in the ’80s they had telephones on every table so that people could call each other…it was great fun and a big draw. But I can’t tell you how many complaints we got when guests waited an hour or more only to be seated at a table where the phone was broken. It was a signature for our brand, but it was a promise we couldn’t keep. We eventually discontinued the phones and focused on higher quality and fewer gimmicks.

* Similarly, French Onion Soup was a signature item for Max & Erma’s, but we had to back off from promoting it because it came off the salamander broiler, which didn’t have the capacity to support high volumes. Again, a signature item for the brand, but a promise we couldn’t keep.

* A more current example is the recent round of brands hopping on the “come in for a FREE ITEM” band wagon only to have to backtrack when it proves to be operationally impossible.

Some people believe that an average plan flawlessly executed is better than a creative plan inexpertly executed. The simplicity of limited-menu concepts like Houston’s or In-N-Out Burger attests to the strength of this kind of focus. On the other hand, restaurant chains like The Cheesecake Factory who have developed the operational expertise to execute a high level of complexity are the exception that prove the rule. The bottom line is creating expectations you exceed every time.

Until next time, let me know your thoughts.