Transcript of Food & Restaurant Podcast – Casual Dining Moves Upstream

Transcript of Food & Restaurant Marketing Podcast – Episode: Casual Dining Moves Upstream

[00:00:06] Adam Pierno: All right, we’re back with another episode of Food and Restaurant Marketing. I’m Adam Pierno, with me today is Mr. Daniel T Santy.

[00:00:15] Daniel T Santy: How is everyone doing out there?

[00:00:17] Adam: No answer, these people are lame. They never respond when we say that. You’re out there somewhere, thank you for listening to another episode, we appreciate it. We are talking about something near and dear to our hearts, casual dining and the Hindenburg that is some of the restaurants in this category that we laugh at/cry over, because we love them and we also love to hate them a little bit as some of the brands that just refused to change.
Dan, do you remember a few weeks ago– Geez, I don’t know how many episodes it was ago but we’ve covered some failed brand extensions by casual-dining. Actually it was by all brands it wasn’t specific to casual-dining or the Red Robin’s burger works was an example we gave of a failed extension. Do you remember why we said it failed?

[00:01:11] Dan: It failed because expectations are already set. I know what the expectation is at Five Guys, I know what the expectation is at Smashburger and I could go down the list for about six more brands–

[00:01:26] Adam: Something more than that?

[00:01:27] Dan: All right. And you’re too late to the game.

[00:01:31] Adam: You’re not innovative.

[00:01:33] Dan: You’re innovative and I already have my probably two to three favorites that I choose from-

[00:01:41] Adam: Perez.

[00:01:41] Dan: -is that space is really, truly the burger space specifically is very saturated at this point, so is pizza for that matter.

[00:01:49] Adam: Many of these spaces are finding themselves kind of saturated and built out and not a lot of room for growth. We were visiting that topic today, because we have another look at it. There was an article that was published in Adweek. Yes, Adweek of all places, that was really good it was written by Robert Klara, well done. Interesting look, although I think his point is really overly focused on millennials, but what else is new? Great look there with some brands that are stepping out of casual dining and we’re moving where we call downstream.
They’re figuring out how do you get into that fast casual space, which is really an interesting move, it’s an interesting gambit for us and in the Red Robin example that we were just talking about, they closed all those burger works location, so they retreated from that. They realized their mistakes, but the examples given in this article are very interesting for conversation purposes. We were talking about it and we just turned the mics on just to capture an episode and capture the conversation.
What did you think of the three that are profiled in this article, Dan? There’s a Denny’s has The Den, Cracker Barrel launched a new concept called Holler & Dash, and lastly Tony Roma’s which is the place for ribs, I don’t know if you knew that?

[00:03:14] Dan: Yes, I did.

[00:03:14] Adam: Tony Roma’s launched theirs which is called TR Fire Grill or TR’s, some people call it TR’s.

[00:03:23] Dan: Okay. That popular it’s already got abbreviated the name.

[00:03:26] Adam: Yes. Of the three which one do you think best avoids the pitfalls we laid out in our earlier episode which we will definitely link to in the show note?

[00:03:34] Dan: I’m going to get Cracker Barrel big kudos for Holler & Dash and here’s why. There’s two reasons, one it does not resemble a Cracker Barrel on any level.

[00:03:47] Adam: That’s a compliment-
[00:03:48] Dan: Compliment.

[00:03:49] Adam: -to both Cracker Barrel and to Holler & Dash.

[00:03:51] Dan: Exactly. They wanted to go and step into fast-casual, they wanted to attract the millennial or younger diner and they’re doing it, but the interesting piece that I find about Holler & Dash, they’re still sticking to their core of the product offering being southern comfort food. I just saw a commercial that they produced, that shows that everything’s made– the sandwiches are made on a biscuit. Classic biscuit, like you get at Cracker Barrel, but they’re putting these interesting sandwiches together and that’s going to be very attractive to that 18 to 34-year-old fast-casual diner who’s upgraded from QSR.

[00:04:39] Adam: It looks smart, it looks fresh. If I saw it without knowing anything about its relationship to Cracker Barrel, I would still go and eat it, I will still go try it. It makes me curious and I think what they did, which is kind of what we warned about in our last talk was they figured out the insight about the audience they wanted to reach and they built the concept around that versus just saying, “Oh, you know what we’ll do? We’ll get rid of that lobby with the tchotchkes and we’ll paint everything a new color and we’ll cut the menu down, we’ll cut down the chicken-fried steak. But everything else will be the same.” Which is what Red Robin tried to do. This is a whole new invention, it’s got menu boards. I mean it feels like a different experience.

[00:05:25] Dan: It’s 100% different.

[00:05:26] Adam: From the ground up.

[00:05:27] Dan: Yes. From the concrete floors to the brick walls, they serve their beverages in the mason jars. Again, 100% really thought through what was going to be attractive to that customer versus just trying to spin something. As we’ve talked before, consumers are extremely smart today, they’re very savvy, you just can’t trick them anymore, you really can’t. I think on the flip side of that, while TR’s Fire Grill or whatever it’s called is trying to look younger and so forth, it’s still ribs and it’s TR’s and TR stands for Tony Roma.

[00:06:18] Adam: Well, okay. Let’s talk about this, I have some big problems with it from a branding perspective, which is my obsession, obviously. What would happen if Tony Roma’s instead of messing around with, “Let’s keep our Tony Roma’s core and then open this fast casual version”, what would happen if Tony Roma’s just changed all their formats to this and didn’t change the name? The awareness for Tony Roma’s of people that are under 45 has got to be close to zero, right?

[00:06:56] Dan: Yes.

[00:06:57] Adam: Cracker Barrel has enough brand recognition that they need to do this, because they can’t coexist that way. But could Tony Roma’s arguably just close their locations, move into smaller footprints and make this move?

[00:07:14] Dan: Possible. I think plausible, for sure.

[00:07:17] Adam: Would they be better served?

[00:07:18] Dan: When we went out and surveyed our staff and millennials that work for us, we said “Tony Roma’s”, they’d be, “Huh?”

[00:07:27] Adam: Nobody would, I know one guy that would know, but nobody else would know. The foodie who works here would remember something, but nobody else would. It just seems– Maybe that’s what they’re doing, maybe they’re dipping their toe in the water of how to update the brand and this is a way to hedge.

[00:07:43] Dan: I’m sure they’re testing. I can’t remember how many locations they have up so far. Maybe they’re testing, trying to figure this out. It doesn’t, but I’m with you a 100%. If your brand is Tony Roma’s why not use Tony Roma why are you saying TR’s, because it’s irrelevant. It’s like when Treasure Island became TI, it was– Does that make it hip and cool now?

[00:08:08] Adam: I don’t think. I think it did for a minute just because it was novel, but only for a minute. But I don’t think TR’s feels hip and cool, it feels like you’re really trying to pull on me.

[00:08:21] Dan: Right. Well, there’s a classic example though of borrowing from popular media and the way things are being branded and go, “Let’s just call it TR’s, that sounds really cool.” You know what I mean?

[00:08:38] Adam: That’s a boardroom, you won the boardroom.

[00:08:41] Dan: That’s not strategy. That’s not insight to your point earlier.

[00:08:44] Adam: Yes. Guests don’t know what the hell that is. I’m driving by and see the sign, I guess Fire Grill might tell me, but TR’s sure doesn’t mean anything to me.

[00:08:52] Dan: Fire Grill doesn’t tell me anything. Fire and grill, yes, there’s typically a fire and a grill. What are you grilling?

[00:08:58] Adam: True. And see Applebee’s, right? They spent millions on that grill campaign around Applebee’s and that. Okay, I’m not going.

[00:09:06] Dan: Yes. Right.

[00:09:08] Adam: You didn’t tell me. The last one I think I want to talk about here is The Den by Denny’s, which I like, because you can tell whenever we talk about Denny’s in the office or out in the world, the disconnect between– They do such an amazing job with social and with content. But the disconnect between what the store might– Brand understanding of Denny’s and that social media and how clever and quick it is, and then I think about the store and I’m like, “But that’s not–”

[00:09:45] Dan: Major disconnect.

[00:09:46] Adam: Major disconnect. The Den feels like, “Okay, let’s stitch those things together finally.” If you look at the website there’s quirky wallpaper, there’s– you get the idea like, “Oh, okay. They’re going to make that social media make sense here at The Den.”

[00:10:04] Dan: I couldn’t agree with you more.

[00:10:05] Adam: They don’t hide it. It’s The Den by Denny’s, unlike Holler & Dash by– Holler & Dash does not have any reference to Cracker Barrel. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know. The Den is owned by Denny’s here, it’s in the logo. It’s pretty clear and obvious. That’s a brand that just has a sense of humor about itself and has enough self-awareness to know. I’m looking at the locations and seeing they’re all opening around colleges as well, which I think is pretty smart. Did you catch that?

[00:10:38] Dan: Yes. See? They’re staying with– Smart, it’s just smart. This is a brand extension that was clearly well thought out. They probably queried a number of customers that they wanted to attract with The Den. “What can we keep about our existing brand?”

[00:11:00] Adam: Yes.

[00:11:01] Dan: Right? “But what do you want new in the brand experience?”

[00:11:06] Adam: Yes. They built it for the people, the right people and they’re buying the media or the real estate in the right places. I’m actually looking at the locations and saying, “Damn, I’m disappointed there’s not one closer here.”

[00:11:18] Dan: Yes. I don’t mind giving them a try.

[00:11:19] Adam: Yes, but I’m not going to Tucson.

[00:11:22] Dan: You’re not?

[00:11:23] Adam: If I go to Tucson, Dan, as you know-

[00:11:24] Dan: We love Tucson.

[00:11:25] Adam: -I go to Eegee’s if we’re going to Tucson for sure. But this is similar, this play, depending on what their sponsorships are like, this play is very similar to Raising Cane’s. In their new market they sponsor the football team and they get on board with all the college sports. They try to win people that way, which-

[00:11:44] Dan: Makes sense.

[00:11:44] Adam: -doesn’t, so far, has not failed them.

[00:11:47] Dan: I had to laugh in this article, giant change in subjects here but– Not subjects, but brands. It talked about Wienerschnitzel [chuckles] which I have always loved that brand for some– I don’t know. It’s more probably nostalgia than anything.

[00:12:05] Adam: It’s a cute brand.

[00:12:06] Dan: They launched a fast casual Mexican eatery called Two Madres that featured build your own burritos and tacos. Is that not Chipotle?

[00:12:17] Adam: Yes. Doesn’t that already exist?

[00:12:18] Dan: [laughs] Guess what? They opened five locations and by 2015, the sole Two Madres was closed. [laughs]

[00:12:28] Adam: Right. I’m shocked.

[00:12:32] Dan: Right?

[00:12:34] Adam: Let’s see, that goes back to not knowing. That’s like, “Chipotle is selling things. We’re going to also sell things. We’ll sell things just like Chipotle. Okay, let’s do it. Great.”

[00:12:43] Dan: Yes, but you go from being a hot dog stand with the iconic name and–

[00:12:50] Adam: Isn’t that why it works? Because you get, you understand the space?

[00:12:54] Dan: All right. Again, everyone who’s suffering from a traffic standpoint, sales standpoint and they did everything they could for that brand or so they think, for that brand to rejuvenate it. They didn’t so they, “Let’s open fast casual, because fast casual is where [crosstalk]”.

[00:13:10] Adam: That’s where all the money’s going.

[00:13:12] Dan: But if you’re not going to think through that, you can’t just– Like we pointed out, Burgerworks failed. There’s already plenty of burger places. Mexican existence fades in fast casual, especially if you think through the burritos of the world, right? The burritos all over?

[00:13:31] Adam: Yes. It looks like Denny’s is doing something different with The Den too, because as you were talking, I was thinking about each of these value props of each of these places. What I like about Holler & Dash is there’s crowded competition in the breakfast space, but Holler & Dash has a different attack at it and there’s not a lot of breakfast fast casual.

[00:13:57] Dan: Good point.

[00:13:58] Adam: There really isn’t. I’m wracking my brain now to think of one. I think that’s well positioned to succeed if they buy the right real estate, if they get in the right places. The Den, too, figured out a way to take breakfast, which is their core, and also put a twist on it. They’re focusing on breakfast sandwiches and they’re focusing on things that are little more fun and interesting versus the regular. I don’t look at the menu, but I doubt there’s a Grand Slam. Maybe there’s some play on than Grand Slam.
They’re doing something different that plays the insight about the audience. We want a young consumer, who doesn’t want to come in here and sit down and wait, breakfast sandwiches. Faster, still satisfying, I’m getting something I want. Holler & Dash is saying, “No, biscuits. We’re the only people that can do this. We have the credibility to do it.” That’ll be interesting to see how both of those brands grow and Denny’s, obviously, has a capital behind it to do it. I don’t know what Cracker Barrel’s– Their sales have to be hurting at the core locations.

[00:14:58] Dan: I would imagine. You mentioned Holler & Dash and The Den’s as fast casual breakfast. The minute you said that, I’m like, “You’re right”. The vast majority of breakfast-

[00:15:10] Adam: Can you [unintelligible 00:15:10]?

[00:15:10] Dan: -all I can think of is QSR, predominantly. Now a lot of that’s because there’s so much advertising for it. Then, after that it’s First Watch. Full service, sit down, have breakfast and that’s a great offering, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time there’s– I can’t think of anything.

[00:15:32] Adam: No. Maybe they found a little niche here. First Watch is actually a good brand, I like it. But it is another sit down place. It’s a different spin on it and they did some different things than Denny’s or a lot of their competitors, but it is still– There’s a server and you sit down. It’s not faster and it’s also not premium to a QSR. You get into that business and now you’re going up against McDonald’s and literally, every other restaurant out there. [laughs]

[00:15:58] Dan: I was in that First Watch a couple of weeks ago. Haven’t been in one in a very long time. I was very impressed with the menu.

[00:16:06] Adam: They refurbished everything.

[00:16:07] Dan: Yes. The menu was much healthier, had all the pressed juices and smoothies.

[00:16:16] Adam: That’s recent within the last 18 months. They’ve added all that juice and more natural side of it to get away from all the fried.

[00:16:22] Daniel: See now, that can attract the millennial. If your mate wants to go and get pancakes, they’ve got pancakes. If you want to stay healthy and have the juice and egg white omelet or whatever, it’s covered.

[00:16:38] Adam: The menu, too. They do a good job there. They made the menu rather spare. The new First Watch we’re in, I guess, it’s a 2.0 version here that they’ve been changing over the things that they acquired. We’re seeing probably, that this is probably the newest version of First Watch. Although, I’m sure there’s a prototype somewhere that’s the next one. They cut the menu way down. It’s very simple. There are pancakes, but there’s not a page of pancakes like at IHOP where you’re just flipping pages, syrup covered page after syrup covered page.
It’s just “Here’s our pancakes dish”, maybe there’s two. It’s simple. They figured out a way to make it feel fast, even though it’s casual. That’s pretty interesting, too. I like the decor in there, though. I do think they did a good job with differentiating themselves that way.

[00:17:24] Dan: They did.

[00:17:25] Adam: I’m really curious. Maybe we will go to Tucson and see The Den, because if you look at the website for The Den, the art that they’ve chosen and the way it looks, I’d love to see how much of that plays out in the restaurant or if just feels like a Denny’s with the orange vinyl seats and the negative things I remember. I’m looking at my notes here and I’m skipping back and forth the article. Tony Roma’s actually followed what we said. Tony Roma’s did not just reskin their brand, they did a wholly new brand, TR’s Fire Grill. But I still think they missed. I think the brand is so irrelevant, that a new brand is not going to help them.

[00:18:10] Dan: I agree.

[00:18:11] Adam: There’s no saving that. It’s just a brand that just needs to pack out.

[00:18:16] Dan: To your point earlier, I agree with what you’re saying. To the extent that you could convert your existing Tony Roma’s into TR’s and do a 180.

[00:18:28] Adam: You think that’ll save it? That has the best chance to save it.

[00:18:32] Dan: That seems to have a better chance of saving it. They’re trying to save Tony Roma’s.

[00:18:36] Adam: That’s not a brand that I don’t think is a beloved American brand. What differentiates in these three examples and you can throw Burgerworks back in here, I think one of the other examples we talked about back in the other episode was Jamba Juice did a kiosk model where they ported some of their juices to a kiosk, where I just choose one and it spits it out of a machine. Yikes. It’s imagination. Cracker Barrel really stepped back and redesigned the whole thing around and inside. It looks really impressive where Tony Roma’s was more like– There’s no imagination. It’s just like, “We’ve got to save this brand.”

[00:19:22] Dan: Right.

[00:19:22] Adam: Their shareholders need to be getting cashed out here. “What are we going to do? Okay. Let’s just cut out these letters out of the name. Here we go.”

[00:19:29] Dan: Exactly.

[00:19:30] Adam: It says the food is good.

[00:19:32] Dan: [chuckles] Well, it did win an award in Winter Park, Florida, numerous awards. Best new restaurant, best cocktail, best happy hour. Maybe there’s more to it than–

[00:19:44] Adam: What do you think of a chain restaurant running best new restaurant?

[00:19:47] Dan: [laughs] That why I read that.
[00:19:49] [laughter]
[00:19:51] Adam: You don’t believe in that?

[00:19:52] Dan: Well, I’d love to know the source. Best new restaurant according to what publication that I paid for a lot of advertising in it.

[00:20:01] Adam: That’s true. We’re working on an article, and this may be a podcast here that we do, but about how really we were looking at Chili’s and we were walking past the Chili’s. We walked up and just looked in and we we’re like, “God, these Chili’s and Applebee’s and all these casual dining places, the legacy places–” That experience is the same, it doesn’t change. You could blindfold me if I go to one, there’s a nuance to it, but there’s nothing different about them.

[00:20:34] Dan: Yes, it’s Fridays. And Chili’s.

[00:20:35] Adam: Well, someone here said that Olive Garden is Chili’s for lovers. The differences is, I don’t want to look like a total jerk, so I’m going to take you to Olive Garden to be a little bit more romantic, there’s olive oil near here.

[00:20:55] Dan: [laughs] We have olive oil?

[00:20:56] Adam: Yes, I don’t know. You can’t blame them for trying to differentiate themselves and get into the fast-casual game. I don’t know if it’s as millennial focus is overblown, especially in college campuses there’s [unintelligible 00:21:10].

[00:21:12] Dan: I know I keep harping on this, it’s what you brought up earlier, you’ve got to do things based on a customer insight. Customer insight, not the boardroom, not the CMO or the CEO with a vision, “Let’s go do this.” You know there’s a Burgerworks i think– You told the Burgerworks story, but there’s another example in here about Texas Roadhouse which quite frankly it does quite well. Open a place called Jagger’s and it serves guess what? Burgers and salads. What are you doing?

[00:21:54] Adam: I get the need to expand, but it’s that saturated, do something else. Then what else should they do, because if they do Wienerschnitzel, they create a burrito place then we spank them for going too far outside their comfort zone.

[00:22:09] Dan: Say that one again, which brand?

[00:22:10] Adam: Wienerschnitzel. Then it’s like, “Well, you were too far gone there.” They have to figure out a way to stay to their core but really re-imagine the whole packaging that way, and still serve the best thing that people will want.

[00:22:24] Dan: The food truck hot dog is in vogue right now, they had an opportunity ready to-

[00:22:33] Adam: That brand should be back, yes.

[00:22:34] Dan: -upgrade it. Maybe it’s just about the menu offering around that hot dog and there’s, what’s that place called, The Leash or something like that, do a great job with the whole–

[00:22:46] Adam: Do you know of any fast-casual dog places?

[00:22:49] Dan: Well, The Leash would be one of them, I don’t know if they have more than one location, but they started off as more little kiosk at the Biltmore, and now they have a free-standing spot in the middle of the park now.

[00:23:04] Adam: I guess Ted’s too. There’s one here and there’s one in Buffalo, but it’s not a chain, I can’t get off a plane in any city and go find it if. I can with Five Guys.

[00:23:16] Dan: You think that would do well to expand.

[00:23:18] Adam: It’s a no-brainer, I can bring kids to it, Five Guys has hot dogs, they’re pretty good.

[00:23:22] Dan: Is that right? I’m not a Five Guys guy.

[00:23:26] Adam: That’s why we can’t be friends.

[00:23:28] Dan: I know.

[00:23:29] Adam: All right, well I think we have covered this conversation about casual dining, moving downstream here. We would love to hear from you, got any more examples of brands that have made a similar move or that you think should, please, you can tweet to us at F&RM or email either one of us, Dan at Food and Restaurant Marketing or Adam at Food and Restaurant Marketing. Please, tell your friends about this show if you like it and if you don’t like it, don’t tell them you don’t like it, just tell them to listen anyway. Thank you very much for listening.

[00:24:01] Dan: Eat well.

Transcriptions by Go Transcript.

sandwich, Starbucks, experience, brand, LTO, daypart

Listen to the Episode.

The demise or success of Casual Dining.

Is your brand going to just give in to the prognosticators or fight like hell?

Everyday there’s another article about the demise of casual dining. Denny’s CEO stated, “ongoing and pervasive challenges” in the restaurant industry. We recognize that the environment will most likely remain challenged for the foreseeable future and we are committed to delivering profitable system sales growth as the industry and consumer expectations evolve.” No one said success would be easy.

In addition to competing with fast-casual chains, casual-dining chains have to win over consumers who will be increasingly choosing to eat at home in 2017, as grocery prices plummeted in 2016. In 2017, fast- casual restaurants will continue to be seen as trendier places to eat that typically beat casual-dining chains when it comes to convenience and pricing. The head winds are strong and new competitors enter the market daily. But what you have in recognition A locations and traffic coming in daily.

How to create success

The key to success is leveraging those things to your advantage. So if you’re a fighter and believe in your concept and plan to steal share, here are the five fundamentals to success. The competition in casual dining is fierce and brands struggle everyday to drive traffic into store. Never before has marketing been more important to the category. First you must focus on the core items that your customers love and consume regularly. If you’ve gone off trying to match Fast Casual brands and been changing up your menu it creates confusion. The key is to simplify your menu offerings. Use ordering data to create a streamlined menu strategy. We call it focusing on the craveable core offerings. Second, is to leverage limited time offerings on those core items to drive traffic.

It doesn’t mean discounting either. Many brands find success in reminding core guests and lapsed gusts about the items they’ve been enjoying for sometime. It acts as a reminder that you’re here and implies a discount when you show the price as limited time. In addition, LTO’s are great ways to give new customers a reason for trying your brand. Of course if you really want to be aggressive offering your LTO at a discount never hurts and can actually drive considerable traffic. Ok so now you’ve streamlined the menu to focus on your core offering. and put in some near term traffic driver offers, what next.

Now it’s time to think about the long-term success of your marketing program. In this third step to success conduct a media audit of all your spending and it’s efficacy at driving traffic and sales. Are you spending in the right places and getting an effective reach and frequency with your messages? The bottom line is without awareness you can’t build sales. We know through our years of research there is a direct correlation between awareness and trial. Share of voice equal share of stomach, as we like to say.

Analyze and optimize

When examining the digital components of the plan use advanced, precision targeting to grow your audience. What you will be doing is targeting the type of people who have shown a liking to your offering. It’s all about finding lookalike audiences to grow your base of customers. Look at geographic, demographic and interest based data of your core audience to date. Finally, deploy your new plan with a test and optimize mind set. The beauty of today’s media landscape is our ability to continuously analyze the performance of each channel.

As you examine the information make revisions based on the data collected. Within each channel you can optimize for ad types, audiences messaging and so much more. The test and optimize approach gives you flexibility to react not to ad performance but also market conditions. Perhaps you have a weak day part. Perfect opportunity to test and optimize ad units promoting that period.

The fact remains not every casual dining concept can survive these challenging times for the industry. As in all industries the strong survive. But so do those that pivot and change and don’t let the chaotic times control their destiny. Having the right tools and concepts and discipline to deploy them will push to success. Because, success depends more on what we do than what the world does to us.

Listen to the companion episode of the F&RM Podcast for this article.

Transcript of Food & Restaurant Podcast – What is Your Brand Movie?

Transcript of Food & Restaurant Marketing Podcast – Episode: What Is Your Brand Movie?

[00:00:05] Adam Pierno: Welcome back to another episode of Food and Restaurant Marketing. I am Adam Pierno, and with me as always, Mr. Daniel T. Santy.

[00:00:14] Daniel Santy: Hello. Hope you’re doing well.

[00:00:15] Adam: We are coming to you today from our headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, where it is typically sunny but today cloudy, and we’re actually happy about that.

[00:00:25] Dan: Yes, enjoying the dreary weather.

[00:00:27] Adam: We’re not roasting for one day. Let’s all enjoy it, to token it. Today we are going to talk about something a little different. We are going to a have a little bit of a different format. We are both excited as Cinema Files and people interested in the restaurant world. This movie coming out called The Founder. The questions it’s asking of its viewers and the question that it spring boarded for us. If you’re not familiar with the movie, it is the fictionalized story of Ray Kroc who was the famous “founder” of McDonald’s, who actually discovered the McDonald brothers’ hamburger stands and built on that, and turned it from the hamburger stand into the hamburger empire that we all know and love.

[00:01:17] Dan: Yes. It’s such a great story and so near and dear to me, I mean I grew up on and which I met a lot of people, dude, but it was relatively new. I remember that when we used to go to at Des Plaines, Illinois. It was the original, and you know the big arches going through it, just a tiny little sitting area inside and real clean, or talk about a simple menu.

[00:01:40] Adam: That one was more of the hamburger stand model with like a smaller restaurant inside. Oh, that’s funny. You still see those and now they’re repopulating those a little bit. Yes, that small dining room.

[00:01:52] Dan: It was so simple and it survived so long. It’s amazing. My dad and I, we’d go get the McDonald’s for the family and we’d always get an extra order of fries, and he and I would pound them. [laughs] Having fries on the way home. Otherwise we’d end up eating everybody else’s fries, and then would be that bad.

[00:02:15] Adam: Those were the originals. Those were the beef tallow fries. Those were the real good ones. There is a place in my hometown called All American Burger, that is still a hamburger stand with the chrome exterior. Looks like a diner, and I think there’s a few tables. It’s almost no dining room and you just queue up and you go through and you order your hamburgers and you bring them to wherever you are going. Something about that hamburger stand experience, and I don’t know if McDonald’s captured it. If they are still doing that, it’s a much more different brand experience. But just something about that experience, just an All American experience.

[00:02:53] Dan: Well, the company they built around that. You see so many brands like of McDonald’s that have a meteoric rise and then they fall out of grace and they just diminish, but without storing.

[00:03:05] Adam: Keeping up for this long.

[00:03:07] Daniel: It’s just phenomenal. It’s equally phenomenal in light of other competition it has faced since its inception. Think about the restaurant industry since, what was that? 1950 something?

[00:03:20] Adam: Yes, ’55, I think.

[00:03:20] Dan: ’55? Yes.

[00:03:22] Adam: What’s interesting about the movie itself, it’s not a movie about the history of McDonald’s and it cuts to today and the new CEO stepping up and saying, “Yes, everything is great,” or, “Here is what I’m doing.” Nope, not at all. It stops around 1961 before there was ever a Ronald McDonald, before they changed their market focus or had one. Initially it was just American consumers. Before all the things they have been facing, and before our awareness as consumers about some of the downside of just eating fast food or not a balanced diet. That’s how dense and rich their brand story is.
They can make a movie that essentially is a ten year story about the founding of it. It is interesting enough to lure an Oscar winner Michael Douglas to be– or Michael Keaton to be in it. A story that is going to captivate people and I’m going to go see it. I don’t know if all Americans are as geeked out about it as I am. But I am. The question that Dan and I were debating and talking about today, and we’re doing this a little different format than we usually do, there is no outline for today’s conversation. For most brands – what would the movie be?

[00:04:47] Dan: Great.

[00:04:47] Adam: McDonald’s is lucky to have this- not lucky, they have earned this long legacy and something’s good and something’s bad. You can look at two sides of even Ray Kroc himself, there’s positives or negatives. That Founder story is such a magical, you think of Walt Disney’s and you think of Steve Jobs, and like the garage story and the whole stupid mythos that goes around all the huge companies.

[00:05:11] Dan: The Hewlett Packard guys. Those are wonderful made in America stories.

[00:05:18] Adam: So we are thinking, never mind just The Founder story. Through the lens of a consumer what would most brands, what would the movie or the story of that brand be, and using that as a tool for them to perpetuate that story that they would love people to take away.

[00:05:35] Dan: You know what brand I think would make actually probably a very good movie, we have to get a good director though, is the story about Denny’s. Denny’s is a lot more like McDonald’s. They have survived a very long time.

[00:05:51] Adam: They are on a good upswing now.

[00:05:52] Dan: They are on an upswing now. I drove by one of the other day and I literally almost went in. I need to get in one because I haven’t been in a while.

[00:06:01] Adam: A new one.

[00:06:01] Dan: Yes. A new one, yes. I think it’s a great story. I think the story of the Denny’s could be less about the founder and more about all the experiences that happen Denny’s over the years. Families and stoned out kid.

[00:06:18] Adam: Yes. There is millions of stories you can do it, like that would be such a fun way to tell the story over time. Maybe it’s one booth and generation after generation something different happens and the background changes.

[00:06:30] Dan: We should call them up [unintelligible 00:06:31]
[laughter]
[00:06:36] Adam: Yes. Exactly. Love to bring it up. That’s funny that you bring up Denny’s. There is one that just opened here north of the office and seeing that brand opening new stores. I mean, 10 years ago did you think they would be opening up new stores?

[00:06:51] Dan: Their demise has been predicted for a number of years now.

[00:06:55] Adam: Right? Like everybody in casual dining. I guess that’s the space they fit in.

[00:07:00] Dan: Absolutely that’s casual dining.
[00:07:02] Adam: If I ask, Denny’s is a great one because I can go outside into the office here and just shout, “Hey. Does anyone have a funny story about Denny’s,” or, “Does anyone have a memory about Denny’s.” I know from those 40 people, I will get 10 stories at least I can count on. McDonald’s the same thing. Can i get the same thing at Pei Wei? I don’t know, it’s a different animal.

[00:07:28] Dan: I don’t think so. I don’t think they have the– well, of course, they don’t have the heritage, Pei Wei, as the example. They don’t have a heritage yet. At the same time they were a little darling brand that’s just plateaued. You don’t really hear much about them as much.

[00:07:43] Adam: Struggling to find itself and figuring out where it’s going, and trying to reorganize. What do you think if we say that consumers have good stories about it? Consumers can already tell a story about the brand and that’s part of what the movie would be. That’s part of what the brand story would be. I think that The Founder is a powerful story because I have such a knowledge of McDonald’s that anything they add to it or plug into it, it’s like– we know that attention is a something that people are fighting over and it’s something that at least 100 million Americans know pretty well and eat at. They have plugged into that. They have co-opted that interest that I have in McDonald’s to some level, awareness of it, which is really hard to do. I don’t know of other brands, most brands don’t have that capability to have that mass shared awareness.

[00:08:45] Dan: I agree and when you look at what they are doing with their coffee offerings now and the whole McCafe, pretty powerful. They didn’t go at Starbucks. They just said, “Look, there is a coffee culture out there, and we are not going compete with Starbucks, we don’t want to. We are not going to sell our $3 cup of coffee up. Obviously that’s not who they are as a pricing strategy, but why can’t we up the quality of our coffee and our coffee offering still make a value play with it.” Now all of a sudden probably pretty powerful penny profit for the franchises in their products, in that core offering from McCafe.

[00:09:26] Adam: Yes. It gets folded into the greater understanding of the brand because they are so masterful at the marketing angle of it and passing that information through and building it up over time. I mean that platform we still think of as new but I think it’s 10 years old.

[00:09:39] Dan: Yes, you are right. I think they’ve been putting a lot of money behind with the whole breakfast thing.

[00:09:44] Adam: Now they are on a value. Now they are actually saying, “Hey. Coffee is four bucks a cup at Starbucks. We are at quarter of that. Come on in.” Which is smart. The question of what would the movie be, what would be the story be, is really about, to me, what was interesting, Dan and I read an article that was on the Ringer about the Ray Kroc movie, and we’ll put a link in the show notes. It’s really about how consumers understand the brand. They know how to use the brand. They know how to move around inside the brand. People have their own customization strategy and their own kind of approach. I was just talking to my father last night, and he was telling me, “Oh yes, I went to McDonald’s at the airport, and I did this, and I always do this. I order these two sandwiches and I mix them up in this way.” Everybody has that thing. So does your brand have that? That’s the question. I’m trying to think of another brand that’s out there that’s in the world- let’s talk about Ruby Tuesdays.

[00:10:44] Daniel: In a QSR category?

[00:10:45] Adam: No. Let’s talk about something like Ruby Tuesdays, that’s again, is in a place where it’s trying to find itself. You couldn’t make a movie about Ruby Tuesdays. I’m sure on the inside they say, “No, no. Here’s what the movie would be.” But it’s not going to be about the garden bar. Will it? I guess time will tell.
[laughter]

[00:11:07] Dan: Well, I think the question you’re posing is when you hear the phrase “Ruby Tuesday”, when you said it, nothing came to mind.

[00:11:17] Adam: I threw it out there to see what reaction I would get.

[00:11:21] Dan: Yes, and the only reason I know about the garden bar is because I’ve read about it.

[00:11:26] Adam: It’s an industry thing, it’s not consumer thing.

[00:11:29] Dan: There’s a brand that is in decline, and I think it’s in decline because it doesn’t know what it is, and hasn’t articulated that to consumers.

[00:11:39] Adam: That’s it, and consumers don’t know how to enter the brand.

[00:11:43] Dan: If I being go back to Denny’s, Grand Slam. That’s a great entry point for me.

[00:11:50] Adam: That’s right. We wrote an article about- I’m trying to remember which article from Food and Restaurant- well, we’ll link to everything we mention here in the show notes- about ‘do people know how to use your brand?’ Buffalo Wild Wings is another example. I don’t think you could make a movie about or tell a story about Buffalo wild wings because now it’s the opposite of Ruby Tuesdays. When I say Buffalo Wild Wings, tell me what’s the occasion that you think of? It’s their tagline.

[00:12:23] Dan: I’m going to watch sports, and eat wings with my-

[00:12:26] Adam: What are you going to drink?

[00:12:27] Dan: -Some of my buddies and I’m going to have a beer.

[00:12:29] Adam: Beer, wings, sports, right? We were laughing yet just yesterday we were doing an audit of that brand for another projects we’re consulting on, and they’ve nailed it down so much, which is normally we preach that. Nail down your occasion, nail down your visit. That they’ve hemmed themselves in in a way that they can’t tell an expanded story. If someone says to me, “Hey, let’s go to Buffalo Wild Wings.” I go, “Well, what game is on?” “If there’s not a game, I’m not going. I’m not interested.” Luckily for them, there’s a lot ESPN has serve to put on a lot of games. But I mean a game that is interesting to a casual fan like me. I’m hardly ever going out just to watch college basketball or something.

[00:13:08] Dan: By the way, what restaurant doesn’t have television on right now? I mean, obviously McDonald’s doesn’t or I could be wrong, and I don’t know if they do or not but-

[00:13:18] Adam: A lot of them do.

[00:13:20] Dan: That’s like the old- remember when Quiznos came out, and they said, “We toast our buns.” Subway just started throwing toasters, and you could meet that competition. Well, same thing, “Hey, come watch sports here.” I can watch sports just about at any restaurant where I would go, and sit down like that.

[00:13:35] Adam: Buffalo Wild Wings too is funny because wings were the late ’80s, early ’90s appetizer du jour, or I guess du decade, and- I don’t know French enough to know decade. They just said, “Okay. That’s going to be our offering. We’re just going to be the masters of that.”, and they were able to grow on that because of the popularity of that entree over that appetizer, that dish, and that flavor profile, kudos to them. It’s still a strong business even though they’ve been in a little bit of decline for the past two quarters. But now, what do you do now they introduced hamburgers, and to me that’s what Dan and I talk about is, what’s the move of desperation, and that’s it. When they say, “Well, now we’re going to expand to this.” Now people are freaking confused. Because you’ve been telling me for 15 years that you are beer, wings, sports, and now what’s this? I don’t want pulled pork from you. I don’t want it.

[00:14:34] Dan: I got another place I can go get that. A really good-

[00:14:37] Adam: A really good one. So you better-

[00:14:39] Dan: That I trust and know.

[00:14:40] Adam: Yes, and it’s not cheap. They’re not delivering out of value. That place, you can get into the triple digits on a bill without even ordering beer there.

[00:14:49] Dan: That does go under the idea, “Let’s expand them menu. Maybe that’ll expand our sales.” In that article you mentioned, that we both read, I love what they tested or piloted. It was fascinating. Wraps, fancy coffee, I heard some burgers, but did any of that make- none of it, none of it.

[00:15:16] Adam: No. The McDLT. You remember that thing? Do you have the stat up about their core menu? I’m scrolling through the article now to find it, which I’m sure people love to listen to.

[00:15:26] Dan: You mean what their sales are?

[00:15:27] Adam: Yes, that core, craveable menu that we were talking about.

[00:15:32] Dan: I think it was a Big Mac, fries and McMuffin.

[00:15:35] Adam: Yes, that’s 40-something percent of sales?

[00:15:37] Dan: That is correct, yes.

[00:15:39] Adam: Oh, good. You got it. And that’s part of the story of that brand. Does the McDLT get included in that the famous ad with Jason Alexander? I don’t think so. You can tell the story without that. You don’t need to go into the failings of the McWrap, and some of the other things that they’ve tried. Because they’ve done a few things really well.

[00:16:02] Dan: Now the McRib, I think they’ve been smart about, because they only have it once a year. For a limited time. They don’t try to make it be successful, 365.

[00:16:15] Adam: Well they play the market. That is actually a product, as I understand it, that’s a product of availability at the price that works for them, of the ingredients for that.

[00:16:25] Dan: Those little fake riblets?

[00:16:27] Adam: Yes. So when they can get that pork product, that’s when they release it. It’s not a calendar timed thing. Although I’m sure they’re disciplined in their planning and know when it’s going to happen, but it’s when the price is right, we buy it, and we issue it as an LTO, and they’re just masters of it because the McRib is part of the story, I think, for a lot of people. They know how to use that occasion and when it comes out, there’s a buzz about it, which is not a fake influence or campaign on Instagram. It is real people saying, “Oh, this thing is back. Oh, I’m going to go get one.” Every third year, I’ll go get one, and get caught up in the madness of it.

[00:17:04] Dan: What a great way, though, to actually pull in traffic, then. You’re not a regular McDonald’s guy, but what pulls you in-

[00:17:13] Adam: It’s another way to get me in.

[00:17:15] Dan: It’s what we talked about, that craveable–

[00:17:18] Adam: They also have the benefit, you said it right off the top of this which surprised me that, “Hey, I grew up with this. It reminds me of my childhood.” Every time you go in there, subconsciously, some sense memory happens for you, so that you have your own individual story. Do you think everybody has a story like that for-

[00:17:37] Dan: For McDonald’s? Or a lot of brands?

[00:17:39] Adam: For McDonald’s, yes. For Denny’s, a large population does. For Mr. Goodcents Subs, a local population probably does. But for Applebee’s? Is that a real thing or a manufactured thing? I don’t have any thoughts about Applebee’s it’s like a blank slate.

[00:17:59] Dan: Again, what is Applebee’s? There’s something coming out here in this conversation, and that is McDonald’s had Ray Kroc, the founder, and the Big Mac, and these really successful things like that. But how many brands have that? You know Denny’s has the Grand Slam-

[00:18:25] Adam: They have things they own.

[00:18:26] Dan: Things they own. Say, Applebee’s, what does Applebee’s own?

[00:18:30] Adam: They got all their operators to buy into the grills that they installed, and they put all this money behind it. I didn’t know what they were before, but I sure didn’t know what they were after. Because I’m not going there for a steak. Because in my mind a steak is going to be 25, 30 dollars, as a consumer. So I was just more confused. I think it made me go to Outback.

[00:19:00] Dan: It reminds you you want a steak.

[00:19:03] Adam: Beef is good. I’m going to the place that does beef, Lonestar. I’m going to the place that will do that there. You’re dead-on. I don’t think Applebee’s has a story to tell or I’m sure they have a story to tell. I don’t know people that can articulate that story. That people know how to use that brand and I think the sales and the traffic are reflecting that because I don’t know where it fits into my life. We did a project last summer for another brand that is kind of turning over, and rebooting itself, and we got to do some research for them. It was a lot of fun and very interesting.
We did some social media listening where we looked at the time and day that the people referred to the brand. We thought, “All right, well, let’s just see if there’s a pattern or anything.” And there was a pattern, and it was very low comments, which was not surprising because its traffic and sales were low and we knew that, but the time and day of week was basically the same pace, there were no spikes. When we compared that just for fun we compared it against Subway, we compared it against Outback and for Subway at noon every single day there’s a spike. If you look at it on a seven-day chart it’s like a heartbeat, right, it keeps the brand going. Lunch time I know how to use it and on the weekends it drops. So five days a week, lunchtime that Subway’s business, intuitively you know it but the social media backs it up.
For this brand it was essentially low and flat throughout because people didn’t know how to use the brand. They don’t know where it fits into their life. They don’t know the story it’s going to tell. So they don’t know do I go there for happy hour? Do I go there for dinner? Do I go there breakfast? Do I go there for lunch? So they just stopped going altogether. Probably if we look at Applebee’s and we haven’t done that and created that chart for them.

[00:20:57] Dan: You’d see something very similar?

[00:20:59] Adam: I think so.

[00:21:00] Dan: Yes.

[00:21:00] Adam: Don’t you think it’d be diminished?

[00:21:01] Dan: I think you’d see that flat pattern for a lot of brands out there. Ruby Tuesday we were talking about a while ago. I bet you if you do it for Cheesecake Factory you’ll see spikes.

[00:21:14] Adam: Yes, what do you think those spikes would be?

[00:21:16] Dan: I think it’s a dinner place. I definitely think– and it’s a celebration place too.

[00:21:23] Adam: Yes, it’s transcended casual-dining into that next — actually it’s not quite, it’s not white tablecloth. It’s not fine dining, but people do, it’s a special occasion place. You go there after something happens.

[00:21:34] Dan: Right. I noticed that it’s not just like a big event too like graduating from high school or anything. It’s even the smaller things that people want to celebrate, maybe a good day at work, more on a little bonus or something.

[00:21:50] Adam: That’s part of what fast-casual has stolen from casual-dining as a category. If that’s my every day in casual dining it’s like that’s, ‘Okay. It’s little bit of a bump and then the pinnacle of casual dining which is Cheesecake Factory probably and some other players, steal the special occasion space, well then if you don’t have a story when do I go there. Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesdays and Chili’s are learning lesson. We don’t know. We don’t know. Please come in. Please eat here.
[laughter]

[00:22:25] Dan: Look at the people in my commercial they’re having a good time.

[00:22:28] Adam: Yes, look how happy they are. They’re toasting and they’re ordering all these add-ons, please won’t you do that? Average check needs to go up.

[00:22:36] Dan: I was saying — what we’re asking you about the brand story and it seems like the thread then we keep referring back to is there’s this famous, famous is probably the wrong word, but this very memorable food item so Grand Slam, Big Mac even Cheesecake for Cheesecake Factory.

[00:22:59] Adam: Something ownable.

[00:23:00] Dan: Doesn’t Cheesecake sound good right? i wouldn’t mind that.

[00:23:03] Adam: It never doesn’t, yes.

[00:23:04] Dan: Right. So if you have a chain today, casual dining or otherwise, find the product that can be a pinnacle for you. Can be something that you can point to consistently and it represents who you are. The type of offering you have and build around that’s because that’s, now you build story around that item.

[00:23:28] Adam: Right, and you can — it’s almost that you could make a list of the– I bet if we looked by stock price or by sales for the non-public brands we could probably say, “You don’t have one, you don’t have one, you don’t have one. A signature dish or a signature. Even Chili’s has shifted cuisines from- it was modern southwestern cuisine now they’re doing more of a Mexican play.

[00:23:55] Dan: Is that right?

[00:23:56] Adam: Yes. It’s more of a Mexican influenced cuisine, more tacos and that kind of thing. How the hell can they switch that? How can that — how can you be the brand and make that change and feel good about that if you really do have the story to tell? You know what I mean?

[00:24:13] Dan: Yes, I agree. I don’t know if this is– it feels right, but you one chain that’s really struggling is PF Chang’s, but they have an item.

[00:24:23] Adam: What’s the item? The lettuce wraps.

[00:24:25] Dan: It’s the lettuce wraps, and they’re good for you, oh, yes, not good for you —

[00:24:32] Adam: They don’t have carbs.

[laughter]
[00:24:35] Dan: The whole idea, but lettuce wraps they is fresh–

[00:24:36] Adam: They are good. I love them, yes.

[00:24:38] Dan: They’re very good. You can get it as an appetizer. You can get it as an entree. A attorney friend of mine asked me to meet for lunch last week and said PF Chang’s, I’m like, “No, okay. I’ve been here in forever and I knew exactly what I was going to get but you could have shot a cannon through this place and they were not six tables.

[00:24:58] Adam: No, the last time I was there too, but what’s the story of that place?

[00:25:02] Dan: That’s a great question they just lost its way. Maybe, it expanded too fast.

[00:25:11] Adam: That brand I feel like has a story they just haven’t told it yet. The way they figured it out how to put a real twist on American Chinese cuisine they did some new things to it. That brand has a story. They could make an interesting story about that.

[00:25:30] Dan: I would venture to guess that the recession didn’t help them at all. As casual dining goes that’s– on that price-wise on that brand of casual dining.

[00:25:41] Adam: Right. Then you’re competing with Cheesecake Factory and there’s no veto there. They have everything you could want. That’s interesting. Yes, I think they could have a story, but I think on top of —

[00:25:53] Daniel: I think I’m going to call them today.
[laughter]

[00:25:56] Adam: I think on top of the recession hurting them. I think they’re spread pretty thin. They have that Hard Rock [Cafe] model where they’re not concentrated anywhere. They have a national footprint, but it’s more like dots on the map.

[00:26:06] Dan: Right, they can’t do a significant TV campaign.

[00:26:11] Adam: They don’t have critical mass anywhere. It becomes this tourist destination for lazy tourists who will you say “Oh, I don’t want to try some local, but I know that place.” That doesn’t last very long. See Planet Hollywood it fails over time people get bored of it. All right, well, this has been an interesting conversation. Thank you for humoring our experiments to see where that conversation would go.

[00:26:35] Dan: I do think we’re going to- we should float this movie idea about the booze inside the Denny’s December.

[00:26:42] Adam: I texted Scorsese already so we’ll see.

[00:26:44] Dan: Oh, perfect. Let’s see what he says.

[00:26:45] Adam: He hasn’t responded yet.

[00:26:47] Daniel: Yes? Send it to Bobby.

[00:26:48] Adam: No, I’m on it. I love it. So if you have thoughts or questions you want to debate us on our movie ideas here please do. I’m adam [at]foodandrestaurantmarketing.com. You can get to Dan at dan [at]foodandrestaurantmarketing.com or hit us on the Twitter @FandRM. Thanks for listening.
[00:27:08] Daniel: Eat well.

Transcriptions by Go Transcript.

discounting, movie, story, brand, LTO, daypart

Listen to the Episode.