In our ongoing first-hand research, we recently convened in Chicago. There, we visited three restaurants that are mixing things up—El Che Bar, GT Prime and Giant—all showcasing examples of innovation. Blending this primary research with data, industry trends, consumer behavior and more, here are the insights we have to share:
All foodservice operators are competing for customers. Protecting market share and building a competitive edge comes down to three things: preparation, authenticity and execution. In Chicago, we saw how those three things thrive when you have a strong brand, staff and culture.
The operators we visited have mastered the art of attracting and retaining customers by linking their menu and their brand. What they articulate through marketing and messaging is delivered via their menu. A great example is El Che Bar, whose brand is steeped in South American influences, exhibited by live-flame cooking most of their menu, a traditional Argentinian method with Buenos Aires flair.
The menu/brand link is important because consumers use brands to make decisions, and your menu is the most tactile part of your brand. To gut check where your menu stands in relation to your brand, do a simple analysis. If the two aren’t aligned, make changes to get them there, including executional tweaks, if necessary. If it is (or once it is), turn your attention to training your staff on your menu and delivering great service.
It’s impossible to be involved in every staff-guest interaction. Nor should you be. That being said, your staff represents your brand, your menu and sets the tone for all guest experiences. This makes them ambassadors for your operation. Set them up for success by:
We saw this in action at GT Prime, a steakhouse reinventing the concept by evolving beyond traditional protein-heavy trappings. With 4 ounce and 8 ounce meat portions and a litany of sharing plates, the staff walk guests through exploring the menu. One dish we sampled was sliced meats served with several dipping salts. The server took the time to explain how the salts were imported from Australia, the unique flavor profile of each one and how they would change the taste of the meat. The Australian salt anecdote resonated with the GT Prime team and was made part of their story, the story was passed along to us by our server and we were able to create a unique message about our experience.
Fostering employee needs for collaboration, ownership and transparency can lift employee engagement and improve the guest experience. Giant, a modest restaurant offering New American fare, models this idea. There, employees engage in creating new menu items. They partner with the chef on production, execution and even naming. Radiating tableside, this involvement enables servers to take customers on a menu journey, from genesis to execution.
To increase employee engagement, start by focusing your energy on mitigating the processes and costs of staffing and training and developing your workforce. As staffers gain knowledge and experience, shift appropriate areas of participation and task ownership to them, with your guidance appropriate. Giant, for instance, trains front-of-house employees to mix cocktails for their guests instead of employing bartenders, and they are better able to present beverages because of it.
The marketplace is crowded and choice abounds for consumers. Focus your limited resources—time, money, energy—on creating a point of differentiation in the market, namely your brand, staff and culture, and you’ll stand out from the crowd, just as El Che Bar, GT Prime and Giant are doing.