What do we conjure-up in our minds when we see or hear the expressions, “upscale restaurant” and “high-end restaurant”? Undoubtedly, they denote “fine dining”. Expanding those adjectives further and we think of pricey, presentation, ambiance and service – including restaurants which could be described as “trendy” and “nouveau” anything. An upscale restaurant should strive for top ratings in every category which enhances its image and reputation. Therefore, focus is multi-dimensional as in good food, extensive wine selection, atmosphere, including striking and tidy washrooms, choice furniture, tableware, cutlery, glassware along with courteous and seasoned staff. It’s easy to see that these essentials combined can amount to sort of a “show” business within the dining experience.
Despite the recession still lingering and value with premium replacing luxury, fine dining is in the process of redefining itself swiftly. Tourists, special events/celebrations and corporate dining have all scaled back their generous spending. The truth of the matter is, the desire for great food and service will never change – no matter how bad the economy gets. There will always be folks who have the desire to indulge the highest level of the culinary experience. It simply becomes a much smaller market where additional creativity becomes ever so essential to capture those discerning clients. Menu offerings for business lunches are also being injected with “a la carte” prices which present tremendous value for money going as low as $20 – provided the diners take advantage during lunch hours only.
Adjusting to the New Reality
Shrewd owners have come to realize that they must adapt to the new economic realities. For this reason, they have revamped their prices, menus, as well as innovated and focused on lean operations. Some are also tweaking their marketing strategy to generate enhanced results with less to spend.
Drew Nieporent, co-founder of New York’s Myriad Restaurant Group, owner/operator of such up-scale establishments as Corton, Nobu, Tribeca Grill, Mai House and Centrico, agrees that fine dining isn’t going anywhere.
“All of us in the foodservice business feel there is some sort of place for fine dining, but we also pioneered the casualization of it,” Nieporent said. “That doesn’t mean we want it to go extinct, but we have relaxed the rules to where dress codes or a pretentious experience have disappeared.”
Re-tooling the Marketing Machine to Convey the Dining Experience
The central theme for a “lifestyle” fine dining establishment should be a distinctive style that you can spot a mile away. As a primary rule, a prospective or existing owner definitely needs a passion for epicurean food coupled by an instinctive understanding of what people want and willing to pay a premium for. In favor of a growing customer base of loyal patrons, this is the solid foundation that will support the building blocks of the food establishment.
One of the finest case studies of an astute marketer and operator in this domain is serial restaurant entrepreneur Peter Morentzos based in the predominantly French speaking city of Montreal – renowned for its impressive array of dining establishments. As a concept and menu originator, as well as owner and operator of renowned high-end dining establishments such as Queue de Cheval (“Horses Tail”) and Estiatorio (“Restaurant” in Greek) Trinity, details are everything to Peter. His interpretation of such sensory elements have inspired him to develop well over 13 unique restaurant concepts and build over 65 restaurants in 20 years. His talent is in the way he creates timeless concepts that tap into a distinct memory from one’s past. One of the best examples of this is Le Pois Penche which opened in December 2007, but still manages to look like it has been there for 100 years. Personally responsible in all aspects from conception, interior design, food and wine development, staff selection and service, Peter has created a unique brand of trend-setting, thematic restaurant concepts. Elements of Morentzos’ style found in each thriving venue include high ceilings, exhibition kitchens, trendy “menus-du-marché” and eclectic music – all used as strategic weapons to excite and seduce guests. Based on the insight that dining offers a “form of entertainment or art,” each one carries with it a sense of event and celebration. In the end, it is his relentless curiosity, drive, and generosity of Morentzos, himself, which are truly key to the personality of his empire. This is in fact the secret to his success that many others are keen to emulate. However, execution of all the components is vital yet not as effortless as they appear.
The Pursuit of Success – Sales – Marketing – Branding – Public Relations – Event Planning
Marketing and sales are the corner-stone and driving force of all restaurant concepts, let alone upscale dining establishments. Differentiating restaurants in all marketplaces give them a distinctly competitive edge. There is the need for a creative direction and graphics expertise to build a strong and lasting brand and an effective market penetration. Sales literature and marketing material should be conceived and executed either by an in-house talented staff or outsourced to a select agency which understands the philosophy of the dining experience. The marketing division/staff should conceive, develop and execute all the establishment’s events, charity or otherwise. The department should be responsible for choreographing a marketing blitz in the form of radio & print advertising and informational pamphlets to be circulated within hotels and established press contacts. It’s important to stress that the marketing activities of the restaurant should be well versed in both B2B & B2C with the former having emphasis in the hotel and tourism sectors in general. You could do some promotions with strategic partners like florists, hotel getaways, jewelry stores, event planners or other vendors who cater to special occasions. Perhaps cater to the top businesses in your area by offering special deals to offer a world-class, deal-closing dining experience. Offer extras that can make the visit a special experience – it’s got to be more than just the food.
Implementing a Customer Retention Policy
Once the creative marketing campaign has accomplished its mission to attract the customers to the establishment, the dining experience has to equal or surpass the expectations of the diners.
Moreover, we should remind ourselves that customer retention should work as follows:
SERVICE: Great service is offered to customers at every touch-point (i.e. client booking process, welcome when guests arrive, politeness of waiters/waitresses, great food, its presentation and the manner in which it is served along with a post dining farewell). None should be left to chance as it could spell the difference between a one time or repeat visit and effect word of mouth advertising.
RELATIONSHIP: How you/your staff communicate with patrons. Advertisements must be appealing and memorable. Client gripes should be handled promptly, cordially and discreetly from other patrons.
PUBLIC RELATIONS: Your reputation in the area is also vital to retention. It’s not often that a restaurant will undertake PR, but it’s a practical, virtually low cost, believable/earned and quite effective. Think charity events held at the restaurant, charitable donations, helping a local kids charity and even making bold moves with unusual themed events that will create buzz similar to what a premium steak house organizes almost once a year with its swanky “Mardi Bra” fund raising event.
The problem with many restaurants is the lack of contact with their customers. It’s worth considering an investment in a CRM software program or start with a simple spreadsheet with customer details and the dates of visits). This is a good way to track how often a client returns for another visit (weekly, monthly, quarterly etc) and if for some reason they are late for their ‘usual’ booking, a postcard can easily be sent to remind them the restaurant is still there. A CRM tool can also be used as a database for sending Christmas cards, reminders about Valentines and so on.
Consumers Have Spoken – Restaurants at the Podium
In a recent Gallup poll, Americans stated they are keenest on the computer industry, with the restaurant business and hard-working farmers not far behind. This is encouraging, yet not surprising as people enjoy their dining experiences – especially with upscale restaurants when it comes to indulging themselves. This type of news should give comfort to competent restaurant owners who are prepared to raise the bar with their innovative methods of attracting and retaining new and existing patrons – regardless of the state of the economy. Know your market, your competitors, adapt, pursue a wow effect, strategize and flawlessly execute. Avoid complacency.