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.

The case for local store marketing.

In our recent article about social media reviews, we noted that comments from one market can affect traffic and sales in other parts of your organization. This is an example of ways that the connected world can disrupt the goals of a restaurant brand. For this reason and more, it’s important to consider the ways in which local store marketing can shape brand perception.

True, your brand might exist across a city, a market, a region, a country or beyond. But this doesn’t take the focus off the need to win at the location level. Each location has to appeal to the consumers nearby who compare to other options. The whole shooting match. Whether you have 5 stores or 500, losing to local competitors means losing system-wide.

In your neighborhood, think about the independent restaurant that always has a wait. It certainly isn’t out-marketing the global brand across the street, yet there’s no line at Olive Garden. In fact, it may not be doing any local store marketing at all. Except it is. By having staff who care about the place, and the customers. By hosting meals for local groups. Even offering discounts through their neighborhood commerce association or those amateurish flyers on the cork board at the dry cleaner. By serving good food people like, and treating them nicely without having to explain that something is the way it is because of ‘corporate.’

But let’s redefine ‘local store marketing.’ It’s not marketing. It’s just caring. The difference between a conference call about store #1189 and this store on Franklin Avenue. Near Willow Road Elementary. With Cub Scout Pack 362. Next to a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Friendly’s, a Chase bank branch, a PathMark and two independent garden centers. Knowing that level of nuance helps the operator better prepare their staff for the daily visitors.

Having a plan to execute at a neighborhood level can help overcome flaws in the brand level marketing. Failing to execute on local store marketing even once can undo the best loved brand work. It’s not about getting everything right. It’s more about limiting what goes wrong, or more importantly owning it when something does go wrong. Because it certainly will.

Local store marketing is less a function of marketing than it is of operations. Because the best local store marketing that is done is good execution at the location level. From a tactical perspective, sophisticated campaigns and materials delivered to franchisees or to regional managers are a helpful way to drive the brand message into communities. What happens if that works and the store experience falls flat?

But when a customer walks in without seeing any marketing and has a great experience, another outcome can be predicted. That customer becomes an advocate. They make connections. They look for ways to tell people or bring people in.

When beginning planning for local store marketing campaigns, where do you start? With the marketing objectives? Instead, consider the community objectives that match your brand. Typically, marketing starts with the brand but the best always starts with the customer. In this case, the customer is the entire community. Create a program for managers to think about the neighborhood and choose ways to fit the brand into the community. Do it right, and the locals will find ways to fit themselves into the brand.

Steal Your Share

The media simply won’t stop reporting that Casual Dining is a dying breed. What does that mean for the people at the helm of those brands? Dan and Adam dig in to discuss the changing restaurant environment and ways that Casual Dining brands can fight and win their share of dining occasions.

Have a seat and dig in.

Prefer a transcript? Read along here.

dead, dying, share, steal, restaurant
Casual Dining is dead? Tell that to The Cheesecake Factory.

Transcriptions by Go Transcript.