In the early 2000’s I was at a National Restaurant Association show in Chicago attending a panel discussion. There were a dozen or so experts from the industry in chairs on a stage bantering ideas back and forth about how to save money on staff, food, rent and anything else they could think of. As I watched the discussion I couldn’t help but think that our industry was putting itself into a cage that had no exit. The entire mindset was on trying to save money to become more profitable.
I raised my hand and asked the group: “How do I get more for my burger?”
There were blank faces and a few, uneasy giggles from the panel. I asked further: “You have all been sitting here talking about how to lower food costs and save on dish soap, but you can’t ‘save’ your way to success in the food industry. So, how do I get more for my burger while making my customers keep buying it and telling their friends how good it is? How do I get more for my burger?”
The answer came from the panel moderator who said, and I quote: “Okay, moving on.”
Foodservice has nearly always been a one legged stool.
I’m not saying spending time thinking about how to save money in the restaurant business isn’t important. But I am saying it is only one leg of a four legged stool. Yes, save money if you can. But never at the risk of food quality. Make deals on staples. But spend more time on marketing. While you are counting your pennies, look for ways to stay top of mind with your potential customers and get more dollars to the bank.
Here are the four legs, in case you were wondering:
- Cost of goods – yes, this is essential, but not by itself
- Consistent quality – maybe more important than cost of goods
- Brand connection – there must be an emotional attachment through your brand
- Brain pegs – basically, when I say burger, what brand comes to mind first? That’s a brain peg
COVID-19, Blessing or Curse?
There has been a lot of discussion lately about how the restaurant industry was already broken and the recent crisis is just amplifying the problems that were already there. In my discussions with industry leaders from around the country, without exception, each has said there is nothing new here. Food costs remain a problem. Labor costs remain a problem. Trying to run a business on less than a nickel for every dollar in revenue is a problem.
When I ask these business leaders what the foodservice industry will look like a year or two from now the answers are mixed at best. But the combined answer seems to be: it’s anybody’s guess. Which isn’t really an answer at all. One even said it’s not his problem. But it is all of our problems.
To many in the foodservice industry Coronavirus is a curse. But perhaps it could be a blessing. In the 1920’s, when prohibition went into effect, it was a curse to white table restaurants. But it was a boom for diners and dives. It also gave fast food a road to success. COVID-19 has uncovered the problems the foodservice industry has kept hidden for years: Our focus on costs and saving money to make things cheaper.
The foodservice business has a rare opportunity to rethink, reestablish and build a new model for foodservice that mends the problems that have been brewing for decades. We can have a much better industry moving forward. But we will have to have vision.
Getting More For Your Burger
It’s not just a burger, either. It’s everything. Coronavirus is not going away magically. It will be here for a very long time. With this virus will come a lot of worry and safety issues with regard to public gatherings. The foodservice industry is going to need to help guests feel safe, fed and entertained in ways that have not yet been imagined. At the moment, foodservice operators are trying to get back to the way things were. But that simply is not an option. The idea of a large group of people shoulder to shoulder talking and shouting at a TV and crowds over capacity simply isn’t going to happen safely any time soon. Maybe not ever.
Moving forward, the foodservice industry will need to rethink how they market their businesses. The foods they sell and the guests they serve will need to be reimagined. And as an industry we will all need to start asking the questions I asked at the NRA show in Chicago decades ago about in earnest: How do I get more for my food? How do I serve a smaller crowd, pay my staff a proper wage and still make a profit worthy of my efforts?
Let’s Think Differently
This blog is about innovation and thinking differently about the foodservice industry. Our agency is a place where we approach marketing and marketing communications in transformative ways. If you are looking for business growth and a fresh approach to your business, we hope you will find what you are looking for here. The mission of this blog is to think differently. To that end, if you have business questions that you have not been able to answer, contact us. We’ll think about it and write about it.
About M+K Laux
We help food businesses grow by helping them think differently. We specialize in finding marketing solutions for business problems that other people have either given up on, or just couldn’t find a way forward.