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.