The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned About Restaurant Marketing

July 20, 2009

Seriously, have I mentioned that I love the restaurant business…especially the part about eating out at great restaurants? I once admitted that my business card should read, “Will consult for lunch.”

Speaking of which, I had lunch the other day with a casual dining exec, and it brought me back to the things I’ve learned about restaurant marketing. So, with all due respect to David Letterman, here is…

The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned About Restaurant Marketing

NUMBER TEN: Customers own the brand.

As a restaurateur, it’s tempting to believe that you’re calling the shots. But the truth is, a brand is a set of expectations, and if your guests don’t believe your messaging…it might as well not be true.

Years ago, I was doing a menu focus group for a casual dining chain with the food and beverage director behind the mirror. I could almost hear him cringe when the group refused to believe that the chain was serving fresh swordfish. For all the work he had put into it and all the mentions in the menu, consumers still didn’t believe it. It didn’t have the ring of truth given their brand positioning.

An exec recently admitted to me that a design project they had tested to “reposition” to upscale casual had the same result. “As I was sitting there listening to the designers explain to our executive team how we would move up to compete with PF Chang’s, we all loved the idea…and so did our board. I can still see the diagram the designers showed us. But I should have stopped them there.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this story and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Several years ago, I heard the same thing from a heritage brand that hoped to become the next Cheesecake Factory and from a family dining exec whose remodeling was intended to move them from family dining to be the next Starbucks. Their sales spiked up after the remodel and then settled back to the level before their repositioning program.

Customers own the brand, and sadly, brands that don’t consult their customer base about how to bring them along on the “repositioning” may leave their base behind.

More later…Until then, let me know your thoughts.