Operators Must Be Marketers Too

Earlier this week Propel shared the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker for January sales, which revealed: “The big contrast was between managed pubs and group-owned restaurants in the capital, with the former down 0.5% against a more significant 4.1% sales decline for restaurants in January.”

If you ran a group-owned restaurant and probably needed 4% like-for-like growth in January just to stand still in the face of increasing costs but actually delivered minus 4.1%, what would you do? An 8% gap is difficult to bridge. There may be an upside during half-term week but otherwise there are no large sales hikes on the horizon until Easter, which this year is in the middle of April, with the prospect of quarterly rent and rates invoices hitting the desks well before then. It must be difficult to remain resilient and optimistic.

I doubt there’s a lever out there group-owned restaurants haven’t pulled in the past 12 months in an attempt to increase sales and cut costs. Where do they go now to look for sales growth or minimise expenditure?

Technology: Easy ordering and payment, especially at table, has to be a way operators can increase spend per head. Last week I spent three hours working in a London pub and spent the princely sum of £6.70 because I didn’t want to leave my table and belongings and they didn’t offer table service. I could have easily spent closer to £30. This doesn’t have to be an expensive “own app” solution, there are cheaper and quicker options on the market.

Low pricing: It can’t be a coincidence high-value operators such as JD Wetherspoon (large breakfast of two fried eggs, bacon, two sausages, baked beans, three hash browns, mushrooms, tomato and two slices of toast for £4.99 and coffee with free refill at £1.25); McDonald’s (hamburger or cheeseburger 89p) and Greggs (sausage rolls 95p each or four for £2.85) have all delivered positive like-for-like growth recently in contrast with the performance of group-owned restaurants. In the first two brands, technology has undoubtedly helped to drive sales and cut labour costs. Could more struggling brands look to introduce hyper-low-priced items to their menus to generate footfall and sales?

Voucher sales: Many restaurants are missing an opportunity to sell vouchers on their websites – properly and legally. This is a no-brainer. It’s cheap and easy to do using a simple plug-in from a number of tech companies and profitable as only 70% of vouchers are generally redeemed.

Content: The holy grail. Many restaurant groups want a Greggs-style activation campaign – vegan sausage roll launched in an Apple phone box, Fenwick’s reverse shop logo, sausage roll replacing Jesus in the nativity, the Valentine’s idea, exclusive WhatsApp group for VIPs, the mince pie air freshener, Greggs pranking foodies with its undercover restaurant at a London Food Festival. These are low cost, very creative and garner a huge social following and masses of coverage. It’s probably the most common brief we receive. Finding an outstanding idea (or lots of them) and activating brilliantly can make a huge difference to a brand’s performance.

Local: Many brands don’t do enough consistently and don’t always have enough stores to make national activity financially viable to attract local clientele. Genuinely being part of a community, looking for ways to give back, visiting local influencers with vouchers or coffee and cake, being a hub for other services in the area, and regularly talking to other businesses are all cheap and effective ways to inspire local visits. It’s not all about putting an ad in a rugby club calendar – it’s about meeting face to face.

Customer first: A bit of a no-brainer but restaurants should always start from understanding a customer’s needs, wants and expectations and continually talk to and consult them (inside and outside their site). Of course they can use technology but a brunch every other Sunday with users and non-users run by the manager will gain even more valuable insights. These days operators have to become marketers too.

Written by Ann Elliott.