It’s Not Just the Food

It’s Not Just the Food

Creating a food and beverage brand that franchises successfully is as much about the customer experience as it is about good food and drink, says Justin Livingston

There is an old advertising adage that a pitch or offering was “all sizzle, no steak”.  In today’s world of instant global feedback through online reviews, Facebook and Instagram food posts, the sizzle has never been more important.

Long gone are the days when F&B concepts could rely solely on good food and disregard the entire customer experience. In today’s over-stimulated, over-saturated world of infinite options, no-one can afford to be one more dime-a-dozen diner. Claims to serve the best chicken, coffee, drinks, steaks, burritos, or burgers are just white noise to consumers craving a different, unique, or authentic experience.

Successful bars and restaurants must create a memorable culture to survive. They must offer an experience full of both tangible and intangible differentiators that will keep the attention of their customers and, if they connect, keep them coming back. It’s worth noting, by the way, that this holds true for real estate, taxes, gyms, service industry and many other franchises too.

A key indicator that you have not set your brand apart from the crowd is the content you have to market your brand. If you are stuck in the days of advertising the best cup of coffee in town, the cheesiest pizza around, the juiciest burger ever, etc, your days may be numbered.

Knowing that everyone claims to have the “best in town,” promoting your brand as such is vanilla and suggests a lack of substance and identity. To capture the hearts, minds, and dollars of today’s overly-informed customers and uber-opinionated consumers, you must find and spend time defining your culture.

Company culture

After you define what it is you want to be as a company, what you must then do is deliver, every time, and without fail.  And that’s not easy. Even companies that buy into the idea of creating a customer experience often fall short. They may write an impressive mission statement and hang it proudly at the front door, but it means nothing if that soon-familiar sign is ignored by staff as they go about their day-to-day rituals.

Creating a company culture is complicated and starts with full buy-in from the ownership and upper management. This then translates to the staff and finally, to your customers. A successful brand culture is rarely the work of a single person. Brand building is like telling a good story, good weavers of tales need to commit to the details, paint a vivid picture and leave a trail in the customer’s mind so that they may find their way back to your story time and time again.

We are not at the precipice of a major paradigm shift. Businesses have done this throughout time, in every kind of way. Concepts have variously served infernally spicy wings, combined science and food, or employed a novelty theme, perhaps for example, seasoning the dining experience with a dash of mystery in a speakeasy setting. Some restaurants have experimented with eating in total darkness.

Setting yourself apart from the crowd is a recipe that has stood the test of time. However, creating something new that is quickly seen as a success brings its own problems; other people are apt to want a slice of that action. The better the idea, the more copycats it is likely to spawn. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but that’s no consolation when your bottom line is shrinking. 

So proceed with caution as you plan your brand culture and customer experience. Your culture must be unique, tested, and fill a need that your customers maybe even didn’t even know they had. If your main point of differentiation isn’t authentic, customers will sniff it out and tell the world. And, in a connected world, that’s something that can happen very fast.

Daring to be different takes courage and conviction. Launching a new idea takes time and perseverance. When you choose the road less traveled, there will be naysayers, those who doubt the wisdom of doing something different. Keep the faith. The majority of those who don’t support you simply don’t have the courage to do it themselves. When your concept works, others will follow; some will even claim it was their idea. Find satisfaction in being an original and though your concept may be imitated, it will never be duplicated. It’s the rebel-blood entrepreneurs that will keep the F&B industry interesting, evolving, and thriving.

Justin Livingston is Vice President of Global Development for the international saloon chain, Coyote Ugly

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