Restaurant Marketing: Insight From Insiders on Today’s Biggest Challenges

June 5, 2015

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Thousands of foodies flocked to Chicago a few weeks ago to learn about the hottest restaurant trends, meet some of the country’s top chefs and taste what’s popping up on menus around America at the National Restaurant Association annual conference.

But the conference is about more than flavor and flare. It’s about how to stay competitive in an ever-expanding industry. I had the opportunity to listen to panel discussions hosted by the NRA’s Marketing Executive Group (MEG), which shed new light on the unique business and marketing challenges within the industry, and how we as counselors might approach communication and program strategies.

The three most interesting areas were:

  1. How to convert the potential FDA restaurant menu labeling nightmare into a brand-building opportunity. While the specifics of how to calculate and display the nutrient composition of food and beverage offerings continues to give restaurants impacted by this law angst, Joan McGlockton, VP of Industry Affairs and Food Policy for NRA said it could be an opportunity. She reinforced that establishments should start crafting strategies to keep labeling from being a joy killer of the dining experience, as well as how to get out in front of the confusing data and serve it up in small bites so consumers won’t be overwhelmed.
  2. Building restaurant brands from the inside out. We’ve all heard the philosophy “the customer is king” (even if we don’t always feel that way as a patron!). That is even more important today as customers have the opportunity and motivation to share their restaurant experience and opinions with anyone and everyone in real-time. A NY-based hospitality branding executive discussed how the tension created between the goal of turning tables by operators and driving awareness by marketers can often work to the detriment of what everyone cares most about – profits. By creating a culture of collaboration and working together to create an experience that keeps customers coming back, a restaurant will have much greater success in building equity, frequency and loyalty among consumers.
  3. Helping restaurants with both the capability and integration of digital and social into their business models. We all know how critical digital and social is to building, enhancing and preserving brands. Beverage giant Coca-Cola and analytics shop Fishbowl teamed up on a study that reinforced how pivotal this is to the restaurant industry, and how challenging it is to do it right. They cited both the difficulty in recruiting talent and ability to measure impact (and thus justify the ROI) as the key obstacles to overcome in the food service industry.

As integrated marketing strategists and counselors, it’s always important to understand the business of our clients’ business. For the restaurant industry, it is clear that understanding their operations, culture, talent and perspectives on marketing can be a differentiator in how we demonstrate our value.