Restaurants can survive 
recession, consultant says

Restaurants can roll with the punches of the recent recession and thrive in the emerging recovery.

That’s the view of Chris Tripoli of the A La Carte Foodservice Consulting Group, who spoke at the recent Cayman Islands Tourism Exchantge.

Mr. Tripoli said that in 2010 sales had increased by 2.5 per cent in the aftermath of two very difficult years. Full-service restaurants were up 1.9 per cent to $175 billion and counter service restaurants were up by 3 per cent to $165 billion.

He cited several examples of how large chains created or followed trends. Outback, for instance, had decided to concentrate on value, introducing new menu items at lower prices and had thrived as a result. McDonalds, noting that consumers were less likely to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, broadened their day offerings by introducing smaller snack items. These inexpensive, feel-good options such as snack wraps and smoothies were not meal replacements but compensated for lower sales at mealtimes.

Popeye’s has experienced 10 consecutive quarters of sales growth by marketing the basics of taste and value. However, KFC had a roller-coaster performance because their strategy of inventing new products such as ‘grilled’ chicken, did not work. The company had branding problems, said Mr. Tripoli, until they recovered by getting back to ‘dude food’, the fried menu that is their core offering.

Healthy options

Customers expect value in the aftermath of the recession, which had brought opportunities for increased sales of coffee, breakfast and takeout or home meal replacement. Another reality in this new era is that healthy options are being demanded, said the consultant.

He also coined a word ‘eat-ertainment’ which related to people going out to multi-purpose venues to eat and be entertained, such as Studio Movie Grills and brew pubs. During the recession, eating habits have meant more beer, burgers, sandwiches and breakfasts in America. Restaurants could think about growth without expansion, offering more breakfast, late-night or weekend brunch options, catering and delivery, private parties and speciality cocktails involving fresh and local, seasonal ingredients. For Cayman this could involve sorrell, he said.

Another piece of advice that Mr. Tripoli offered to delegates was to differentiate the menu, which is at the heart of any restaurant. All systems, services and promotions work around this. The menu should be based on what the customer wants and watching trends will give indications of which menu items are selling more.

All in all, the total guest experience draws people into restaurants, he said, which is everything from what the customers hears, feels and smells to the taste.

Good marketing, concluded the expert, is an ongoing circle of planning, implementation, reviewing and adjusting 
the plan.