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.

What is Your Brand Movie?

With the premiere of The Founder, the story of the humble beginnings of McDonald’s, Dan and Adam wonder what makes a great brand story. If your customers were asked, would they be able to conjure a tale about your brand? If so, are you sure you’d want to hear it?

Sit back and enjoy the show!

Prefer a transcript? Read along here.

movie, story, brand, restaurant
If your brand was a movie, would you want to watch? Would your customers?

Transcriptions by Go Transcript.

Transcript of Food & Restaurant Marketing Podcast – Episode: Why Does Restaurant Traffic Die?

Transcript of Food & Restaurant Marketing Podcast – Episode: Why Does Restaurant Traffic Die?

[00:00:05] Adam Pierno: Welcome back to another edition of food restaurant podcast. I am your host Adam Pierno, and with me today again is Mister Daniel T Santy.
[00:00:15] Daniel Santy: Hello.
[00:00:17] Adam: Great to be back today on this beautiful rainy day.
[00:00:20] Dan: Yes, we love the rain in Arizona.
[00:00:23] Adam: Yes, here in the desert where actually happy when it rains. So sorry rest of the country we get 380 days of sun a year, something like that. That’s not may not be a good — exact. So today we have an exciting, very exciting topic. We did an article about this a couple weeks ago and we’ve been talking about it around the office a lot. As we see concepts grow and mature and we see kind of the phases of the concept cycle for different restaurant brands, we had a very, very important question that we’ve been debating.

Why does traffic die? Really, what makes a brand that’s extremely strong one day suddenly have a drop-off and have a lack of traffic? It doesn’t mean it has to happen overnight but what causes that change? What are some of those things? And then obviously the question would be what can I do to stop some of those things?

[00:01:19] Dan: The first thing that has come in mind for me and this is just forever and ever and that is, the oversaturation of restaurants and I mean globally speaking. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a QSR, a fast casual, casual dining. There are just more and more restaurants opening each and every day. New concepts coming on, concepts that are growing because they’re getting investment money from private equity.

So the competition just continues to grow and grow. And quite frankly the demand is not necessarily come back from the Great Recession so we’re all still battling for that share of stomach as I like to say and if you’re a QSR and a fast casual opens up down the road, there’s a good chance that it could have impact your traffic. Your competition is not just the other Sam. If you’re saying what shop the other Sam which shop around the corner.

[00:02:19] Adam: That’s a great point. I think of that as the better mousetrap. So it’s not necessarily–Dan you’re dead-on. It’s not when we talked about share stomach you’re not — if you’re Quiznos you’re not just competing against Jimmy John’s and Subway and the other huge sandwich shops that are crushing you right now. Anybody that serves the same need which for Quiznos is lunchtime, get in and get out for 30 minutes and probably under $12.

That’s your competition and that could be, we’ve talked a lot about prepared food at grocery even stealing share there and getting people’s attention, getting people’s dollar. So whoever invents a way to get that 30-minute occasion, the population is not growing that fast that we can support all of these concepts. We’re going to see a shakeout eventually.

[00:03:10] Dan: Yes, there’s got to be and I think that the older your brand, the more mature, rather I guess I should say, that your brand is, the more I believe you’re at risk because people like new. People want something different and so when that new chain comes to town or opens up in your area, curiosity is going to drive you in there and right there, there’s one traffic visit that you lose just for people checking out the new brand.

[00:03:40] Adam: That’s right. But we also know that there’s a, usually after there’s trial, there’s a trough period where you get a spike of new traffic when a new concept shows up in town and then it dips down when people have tried it and they’re still figuring out whether they liked it or not. That’s your chance to re-entrant yourself either by adding a menu item or changing your value prop or whatever you can do to counter that concept and what their appeal is to people.

[00:04:08] Dan: It’s never been more important to make sure your marketing is really fine-tuned and honed in and if you’re having sales problems and I know the first thing to do is to cut the ad budget, cut the marketing budget and all that does is further perpetuate the problem. You’ve got it. We know ’cause we’ve done all the research. Share of voice so if I’m in your head, my brand’s in your head, I have an opportunity to get your dollars. Doesn’t mean guarantee it but it certainly if I don’t have you in my head then there’s zero opportunity and that’s where traffic can go to die.

[00:04:54] Adam: Yes, I can’t try what I don’t know. The highest awareness gets the most trial and a lot of times the most favorite rankings. Think a bit – everybody listening to this and Dan, you tell me if this is true, have you in the last 60 days, let’s say, talking about where to go for food, have you uttered the phrase, “Oh yes, I always forget that place.”? Did someone made a suggestion?

[00:05:17] Dan: Yes, all the time, the other way I do is right drive by it go “You know, I keep meaning to go in there.” But you never do. So that’s a great point because I think that just shows was you how hard it is to get people to change their behavior that isn’t, again, going after the “Let’s go check this place out because it’s new.” And you read about her about it but that day-in and day-out behavior, it’s very difficult to change behavior.

[00:05:44] Adam: Absolutely and that’s when we talk about top-of-mind awareness which is a bit of a buzz word cliché from days of yore. It’s really about getting people to not forget you. It’s about people knowing that you’re on the list and you’re always kind of floating around in their mind as an option. When we think about really strong brands today that have a lot of traffic like Raising Cane’s is a great example.

They don’t do a lot of mass advertising. They do a lot of community partnership but some things that they do to really maintain that dominance and make sure they stay where they are. They’re simple. It is so simple. You walk in there and just a handful of menu options. It’s really hard to mess up from the experience curve, you know what you’re going to get and they deliver it. Good if they do a great job every time so you get what you came in craving and there’s not too much movement there.

[00:06:40] Dan: Agree, and the problem with lost traffic and – we could pick on Chipotle again seems like we have, having in a podcast or two or maybe we’ve picked on them and everybody gasp, one of the two; someone will have to tell me.

[00:06:55] Adam: It’s topical.

[00:06:56] Dan: But the catastrophe is obviously also a way for traffic to get killed and obviously that happened to Chipotle. I know they’re making strides. They’re making inroads. I heard they’re going to be running more advertising and so forth and so. But boy getting it back, again, because once I stopped going, the behavior shift occurred. Behavior change I was talking about earlier, stuff that create both held on for so define yourself, right? But if you do, you’ve got to be even that much more creative in how to get those customers back.

[00:07:33] Adam: And when you talk about the catastrophe, so everybody knows what happened there and we’re going to rehash that but what’s funny about what happens in the wake of the catastrophe? So Chipotle was always lauded for being this super operator, efficient, great training, great personnel. Experience was amazing, right? And they were just always getting high fives. Well now you know the CEO now, we’re down to one CEO, comes down and says “My audit shows that customer experience is a C across the system.” Well that doesn’t happen, the catastrophe caused this ripple effect that caused that.

So it’s one thing that builds on another thing that builds on another thing and that’s where I think brands get in really big troubles. Even sometimes a small catastrophe can happen, and then what do we do? Recover and everything goes to hell while you’re trying to fix the big problem with the perceived big problem.

[00:08:26] Dan: But it’s not exactly the same but I love of the Domino’s’ kind of success story that’s happened over the last several years. They didn’t necessarily have a catastrophe but they certainly did come out and say “You know what? Our pizza really stinks.” They owned it which was huge and then, not only did they upgraded and then they started creating a better customer experience through technology. I can’t tell you enough how important technology can play a role in the customer experience. Just take online ordering for example, people find it so fascinating to watch their pizza.

[00:09:14] Adam: They do.

[00:09:15] Dan: Where is it in the assembling.

[00:09:16] Adam: Isn’t it weird?

[00:09:17] Dan: Yes, it is weird but you know what? It’s working in a big way and they are owning tech in a really big way and I think restaurants need to pay very close attention to their web assets, to their online ordering if they have it. Even if it’s their menus online got to create a great customer experience there as well not just in store.

[00:09:39] Adam: And what you’re saying, that’s a real reason why traffic. Based on behavior changes outside of your four walls so technology is profoundly changing how we think about food; how we order food, how we interact with restaurant brands and Domino’s is innovating way ahead of the field and thank God they are. They’re testing a lot of things for a lot of us that — it won’t work for a lot of brands but for the brands that scaled, a lot of them can employ some of these things that are working.

But as consumers change those behaviors, what happens is that people get left, the brands get left behind if they’re not at least up to speed on some of those things.

The challenge for brands is, are you – how do you invest? Where do you put your chips? If there’s new media, there’s new social channels, there’s new tools, do I need an app? You can’t possibly do everything if you’re a small brand. Domino’s has the luxury of having that market cap to be able to make those investments.

[00:10:40] Dan: Yes. You’re absolutely right, but the beauty of the web, the inter-webs is that even small brands can take advantage of the technology.

It’s understanding how your customer uses technology. Once you understand that and what’s important to them then whatever budgets you do have, and again limited compared to something like a Domino’s, go all in on two or three things.

Test, optimize, test, optimize and see what resonates with your audience. Believe me, I think you can win a lot of hearts and minds; you’re reaching out to audiences in the right way with the most relevant messages. By the way, you can intercept them at a variety of times a day with that.

[00:11:30] Adam: Absolutely, the most important two words you said in that last paragraph was, “Your customer.” Here’s another way that brands kill traffic at their own places.

They want to go broad and they forget who their core customer is and they don’t stay loyal to that core customer or build on that core customer.

What you said is so smart. “What is your customer doing online? Would they use an app? I don’t know.” That’s not true for everybody, right? Just because you’re a big brand — Outback has an app; do I want it on my phone? I don’t know, I don’t think so. That’s precious data. I don’t know if I want to give it up.

[00:12:10] Dan: Agree, the app world’s it’s own complexity. When I think of, especially for a smaller brand, when I think of how to leverage the web up.

Paid social is a powerful thing, where they intercept people that are in your area, geo-fencing and so forth. Obviously, any kind of geo-fencing with a mobile device is really powerful and again you can test it. It’s not like a television campaign where there’s a big upfront cost to develop the asset, then you have to commit to weeks of advertising in the digital realm that hold what my mantra is test and optimize, test and optimize.

[00:12:59] Adam: Yes. I think you’re making a really good point as it relates to marketing and just getting in there and doing small tests. Then you don’t have to bet the farm on any particular channel or solution.

[00:13:11] Dan: I think the other — you brought up something or a conversation we’re having a few days ago about trends and the changing palates of many consumers.

I think, and you might want to weigh in on this because I know you’ve done a lot of research around this, is how important making sure the flavor profiles, the ingredients you’re using, are that which just can drive traffic, can really attract people to say, “I got to try that, that sounds interesting.”

[00:13:44] Adam: Right. Which one of those things drives trial or drives a single occasion versus a lasting customer that came in and was convinced that you really got it, so in 2016, going back into 2015, we saw an investment in fish brands that are selling poke. Poke – I don’t know how to say it, I think it’s poke – and really, having these dishes that are really kind of new ones for QSR or fast casual, not your usual, if I’m going out to lunch and getting Quizno’s or Roy Rogers as listed here in your notes.

That’s a different animal. How does a brand – the reason traffic dies is that becomes a trend and a brand like Arby’s can’t add that, a brand like most QSRs just can’t add something that new ones to their menu. That concept is built around that and there’s five or 10 of those, those that’s with the new hamburger trend.

[00:14:44] Dan: Right. Agreed but what brands, mature brands can do? Like in Arby’s like you mentioned before, is start experimenting with ingredients, building on there, so they — we all know what their platform is, we all know it’s the roast beef so, what can you do that roast beef sandwich to get that consumer to say, “That sounds interesting, I want to get in there.”?
I can’t remember the last time I was at an Arby’s but that’s me.
But you’re seeing a lot of that today and I think it’s smart because it’s A) It gives people a reason to come in, B) It’s probably on trend and I’m not talking about Sriracha.

[00:15:30] Adam: Right. Let’s just add something from Sriracha. I think it’s everywhere, it’s overexposed.

[00:15:34] Dan: It’s done and unfortunately.

[00:15:36] Adam: It’s the Deflategate of condiments.

[00:15:39] Dan: Exactly.

[00:15:40] Adam: I’m tired of hearing about.

When we talk about that kind of innovation, that kind of menu innovation, of figuring out what’s the ingredient or what’s the flavor profile of poke that makes sense at Arby’s or — Arby’s is a tough example for that, but for Subway, how would Subway integrate some kind of a pacific fish in to their menu without throwing out their customers?

Strong brands that stay dominant figure out how to intelligently take baby steps towards that and say our customer is X, this is the trend, we can do something with soy sauce and some kind of a fish product and make a collection of pacific sauces. That is made up, I have not seen that yet but that’s probably along the lines of how they would go to that trend to make it work for their process and make it work for their customers.

[00:16:30] Dan: Yes and they — and again your size matters. You know for sure that Subway and other brands are testing products. That they are indeed going on then they are testing them on limited a number of stores to see the receptivity to it and then they can roll it out.
You talk about the Asian flavor profile, probably something you would want to start in the west coast and test and you wouldn’t probably go straight to Tuscaloosa with that.

[00:17:03] Adam: You may never, you may never bring it to Tuscaloosa.

[00:17:06] Dan: Yes. Again, that you can test and optimize in flavor profiles as well with your customers and offer a small bite of that item as they come in, maybe they order the same thing every time but say, “Hey would you like to try this?” It’s a good way to test. Use your customer base to test new flavor profiles, new ingredients to your point and let them tell you if they think it’s something worth carrying.
[00:17:36] Adam: Right and see if it makes sense with the rest of your menu and your concept so that they’re not confused. I don’t think Wendy’s or McDonald’s will ever sell anything that does not taste good with French fries. That’s got to be the gold standard for their menu test.

[00:17:50] Dan: Right, good point.

[00:17:52] Adam: Another way that brands can continue to keep traffic up, marketing is definitely important, staying top of mind and keep from being forgotten is one thing but keeping experience is really tight and having that strong service, so focus on service and focus on changing and adapting service to keep it strong across these changing behaviors.

As we change as consumers, our expectations are different as fast causal has swept in across the country with hundreds of new concepts. That’s changed what I think when I go to a QSR and it’s also changed as the numbers show what we expect when we go to a casual dining restaurant. So how do you adapt there?

[00:18:34] Dan: I think that the service mindset has been lost to a certain degree. I think it’s because there’s just — again proliferation, you’re fighting for staff, fighting for quality staff, experienced staff, if you’re QSR you’re employing younger people with not, maybe that committed to the brand.

I think there’s a huge oversight in how were training and really reminding them what a great experience is and that can kill traffic in a heartbeat. I went there, the sandwich was fine but the experience, the service experience was terrible. That’s a reason not to go back, I don’t want to be treated that way again, I don’t want to wait that that long again. There’s so much damage a poor service experience can do to traffic.

[00:19:34] Adam: A lot of times it’s not even something that went wrong during the visit.
You get marked off if the person at the counter just doesn’t have the light of life, I call it. Their sort of look — they give you the dead eyes when you’re saying something like, “Hey is there any way I can get this table wiped off?” and they’re like “I don’t know.” It’s not necessarily doing anything wrong but they don’t hop to you and say “Yes, let me get that for you.” The table being dirty is not a problem until it becomes a problem.

[00:20:06] Dan: Right.

[00:20:07] Adam: That comes down into service and operations and training I think; that kills traffic. I don’t want to go back and deal with that and have to clean the table myself or ask somebody who’s going to be obstinate about it. I don’t want to deal with that.

[00:20:20] Dan: Don’t forget cleanliness man. These things sound so fundamental but I dine out a lot obviously, not obviously but I dine out a lot and I’m pretty fastidious about the cleanliness thing. I hate going somewhere and sitting down and there’s food on a chair or they just haven’t wiped the table so you’re sitting there getting a napkin and wiping and so you can sit down and have a cup of coffee and a bagel at a bakery. That’s just a bad experience right from the get-go.

[00:20:56] Adam: Right. That’s not good.

[00:20:58] Dan: One of the reasons I’m actually at the restaurant is so I don’t have to clean up. [laughs] If I’m cleaning up your place, it’s a stinger man. I think we underestimate the damage it can do.

[00:21:10] Adam: I am — let’s see here. I actually did a poll about cleanliness just last week.

[00:21:19] Dan: It’s next to–

[00:21:20] Adam: And I’m looking at it’s next to godliness exactly. I’m trying to find results here and I’m not going to be able to find them in real time because I’m a bit of a stiff. But the question was: which one of these pieces of the restaurant experience sticks with you the longest? Kind of impacts your next visit. It was service, cleanliness, speed, environment. I threw in environment just to see it if will trick people. Cleanliness actually finished third.

[00:21:49] Dan: Interesting.

[00:21:50] Adam: I was testing for — That was my real — what I wanted to see if that lever turned. I pinged a couple people said — you don’t care if the place is clean? That’s not important to you? They said, “Well, it’s kind of table stakes and so yes, I guess it is important.” But it’s not top of mind to say it until someone says the place can be dirty. Well, it’s either we talk about a sticky table or a filthy bathroom.
[00:22:13] Dan: Either one.

[00:22:15] Adam: Yes. You tell me.

[00:22:16] Dan: I hate a filthy bathroom. Yikes.

[00:22:19] Adam: I also hate sticky tables.

[00:22:19] Dan: [laughs] True that.

[00:22:21] Adam: I don’t want to my shirtsleeves sticking down to the table.

[00:22:26] Dan: Exactly.

[00:22:27] Adam: All right. Well, I think we have gotten through this topic. Why does traffic die at restaurant brands? Please, if you have more questions, you want to keep the conversation going, please you can find us on Twitter @FandRM. You can also email either one of us dan@foodandrestaurantmarketing.com or adam@foodandrestaurantmarketing.com. Please leave notes and reviews in your podcasting app if you’re if you’re listening and you can tell us you hate it. But just leave a note. We love it.

[00:22:56] Dan: I love when people tell me they hate me.

[00:22:59] Adam: I’m getting used to it.

[00:23:00] Dan: I can only get better.

[00:23:02] Adam: Yes. There you go. All right. Well, thanks for listening.
[00:23:05] [END OF AUDIO]

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