I take my hat off to marketers in the restaurant sector, I really do. An article in the Times recently (April 30) confirmed what we all instinctively know: this is a fickle business.
As Dominic Walsh wrote, it seems only five minutes ago that Mexican food was all the rage, with brands like Barburrito, Chipotle, Chilango, Tortilla, Benito’s Hat and my personal favourite, Wahaca, popping up like daffodils in the spring sunshine. The latest One to Watch report from food service consultancy Horizons suggests that the fire has already gone out of the South American kitchen and that burgers and steaks are back in the pan as the biggest growth area for new concepts. As one of the Horizons analysts observed, the face of the UK’s eating out scene can change faster than it takes to peel an onion, so it’s vital that restaurant marketers refresh their brands on a regular basis. Something that perhaps Frankie and Benny’s, arguably the Woolworths of the dining out sector, failed to do as it parts company with its Finance Director (not sure why he’s carrying the can?) and the parent company, The Restaurant Group, issues its third profits warning in the space of 15 weeks.
There’s no doubt that when a concept is in, there is money to be made, but it seems that queues outside the door can quickly turn to empty tables if the management team and the marketers take their eyes of the ball.
While he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I love watching the programme, particularly the US version, where Gordon Ramsay goes into a failing restaurant and comes up with a plan to turn it around. Have your noticed how that plan is invariably pretty much the same: a smaller more contemporary menu, with fresh ingredients, sourced efficiently, cooked and presented well in a menu that is priced to meet the market and allow a return to be made? I was reminded of this formula recently on a trip to Brighton where our host managed to extract a dining out victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to a failure to book a table in advance on a busy Saturday night. We got lucky. The Curry Leaf Café was fully booked but they kindly gave us the empty table by the door we stuck our head through, just in case. It was divine in every way and is a firm recommendation should you ever find yourself in Brighton this year.
I managed to have a brief chat with the owner. He knows a bit about marketing for sure and he’s definitely swimming in the fashionable lane right now. Something tells me he’s going to be doing this for quite some time, so be wise. Book ahead.