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The Independent  Restaurateur Challenge; 
Competing with the "Formulas"
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By John R. Hendrie, CEO, Hospitality Performance, Inc., October 2005

It has always been about the Experience and the ability to differentiate, and that is why the “formula” restaurants have the edge.  We may bemoan the homogenization, the lackluster façade and ambiance, and the uninspired product and service, but the formulas have consistency, a known and familiar product, and usually an absence of surprises – the experience anticipated will usually be met.  Such is the reality and the challenge to independents.

For the local pizza parlors, delis and doughnut shops, “formulas” will simply dominate, for you deal with a product that cannot be readily differentiated – a doughnut is really a doughnut (unless you have the allure of Krispy Kreme, which sadly ran into other problems) and a cup of java is really just that (unless you are a Starbucks, where it is about the experience, not the coffee).  For these local establishments, initial, intense community loyalty wearies and fades over time, and convenience and familiarity prevail, leading to that take-out window. 

The middle market restaurants, casual dining, at least have an opportunity for a decent battle, for the table top, menu, and environment add varied dimensions, and the “formulas” simply cannot match the diversity and, therefore, they stick with known cuisines and types – steak, sushi, Italian, Mexican, etc.  So, this is the opportunity to shine and profit for the independent.  But, as we know, the “formulas” have certain advantages.  Beyond purchasing clout and marketing dollars, they have guidelines (the FORMULA), which dictate everything from design, to food preparation, to presentation and service.  They work with norms, standards, and guidelines, for their success spells no deviation from the norm and no surprises.  The FORMULA controls how they look, what they say, what they do and how they do it.  As an aside, this approach is used exceptionally well in the Hotel segment with Marriott as a long standing example.

So, this becomes the challenge for the independent  restaurateur in this segment of the business – how to best posture their restaurant, promote their style, indicate to the public that they reflect high standards, and that the guest experience will be unique – and, demonstrate consistency.  Along a typical highway this is difficult with the mix of “formula” restaurants.  Price can be a determinant.  Your cuisine may offer that competitive slant, if you are only Indian Restaurant along that miracle mile.  Sometimes, entertainment (an added expense) may create the traffic.  Malls give the “formula” the advantage, and they then compete amongst themselves (whew).  But, in your typical Destination area or downtown circuit, independents have a real opportunity to excell, if you can get that prospective patron through the door.

Local color and local ownership is fine, yet how do you sell to that wary public your “signature” establishment.  There are no fine dining “formula” or chain restaurants, because they herald a top chef, top preparation and delight, a professional cadre of food service personnel and, frequently, the legendary personality of the owner.  The consumer, who can afford this luxury, listens to the “buzz” and responds, for they want to be part of the experience and the lore.  As we know, these types of dining establishments often are only a spark, a short flame, for the extraordinary is very hard to maintain and represents a small percentage of the industry.  It is high risk, high return.  But, the reputation grows and even moves on to other venues and markets.  The middle market of restaurants wants this same type of “buzz” from the pyramid top and some means and statement of consistency gleaned from the “formulas” in order to make their case. The marketing dollars are tight, though.

There are no magic answers.  Your marketing has to be a mix.  You want to promote your uniqueness, your passion, your signature dishes, your emphasis on high standards – all components which make for that memorable yet consistent  dining experience.  Your pride is on the line, not to mention your livelihood.  Your mix should include a means to share what your patrons have said, some means to indicate attention to cleanliness, safety, service, and environment, and other promotional vehicles to showcase your brilliance.  The competition is fierce – other independents, the “formulas”, a wary and sometimes complacent public.  The restaurant industry is not kind, given the track record of successes and failures.  But, once you know the landscape locally, you can compete with advantage, recognizing that your particular Brand must be consistent, no matter what, or you will not survive. 


About the author.  John Hendrie, of Hospitality Performance, a full service Consulting Consortium, considers the Visitor Experience the portal to Remarkable Hospitality. www.hospitalityperformance.com

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Contact:
John R. Hendrie, CEO
Hospitality Performance, Inc.
www.hospitalityperformance.com
978-346-4387
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Also See: Are you ready for Business? – A Hospitality Recovery Plan / John R Hendrie / October 2005
Destination "Damage Control" Starts with that Single Visitor Complaint / John R. Hendrie /  October 2005 
Grappling with Progress, A Destination Denies Chains / John R Hendrie / October  2005
Promoting the Dining Experience by Matching Expectations / John R Hendrie / September 2005
The Gratuity Revolution / John R Hendrie / August 2005
Plotting His Travels; Some Bumps Encountered - Chaper III / John R. Hendrie / August 2005
Jacques Sets Up Shop or Jacques Joie Hospitality Advisory Establishes Rating Scheme / John R. Hendrie / August 2005
Thats So Jacques' / John R. Hendrie / August 2005
The Symbol of Hospitality, the Pineapple, Has Morphed to That of a Kumquat; Hotel Operators Focus on the Guest Becoming Secondary / John R. Hendrie / August 2005
Ready for Pluckin'; Hospitality Represents that Fat Roaster, Just Sitting there, Plump and Contented / John R. Hendrie / July 2005
Literally Every Destination Marketing Organization Is Under Duress; The Challenge to CVB's / John R. Hendrie / July 2005
A Smile is Really a Simple Thing – an Expression of Welcome, No Cost Involved / John R. Hendrie / July 2005
Lead the Trend to Becoming Guest-Centric; Demonstrating Behavior Not Normally Experienced by the Guest / John R. Hendrie / June 2005
Hospitality QED, That's Latin to Me! / John Hendrie / June 2005
Unless You Operate a Business in a Very Remote Location, You Belong to the Amorphous “Brand-Scape” /  John R. Hendrie / June 2005 
Maximize the Performance of Your Greatest Asset - Your Employees / John R. Hendrie / May 2005
Preparing for the Assault by Organized Labor on Hospitality / John R. Hendrie / May 2005
Customer Service - Panacea or Placebo / John R. Hendrie / May 2005
How to Even the Playing Field, As Independents Suspiciously Eye the Chain Hotels / John R. Hendrie / April 2005
Oh, What a Web We Weave! Pitfalls with Descriptive Language / John R. Hendrie / April 2005
Woe is We! We in Hospitality Have Lost Touch and Share the Responsibility for Consumer Cynicism, Angst and Ennui / March 2005
Moving the Guest Comment Card from Paper to Paperless / John Hendrie / March 2005
Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association Launches 'Total Quality Destination' and Presents 'Gold Star of Excellence Awards' / March 2005
The Evolution of Guest Room Amenities / John Hendrie / February 2005
Advertising Integrity; Framing the Visitor's Expectation Through Print, Signage & Internet / John Hendrie / February 2005
Hospitality Trade Associations:  What Have You Done for Me Lately? / February 2005
I Would Like to See your Hospitality Standards. Where Are They? Anybody Seen Them? / John Hendrie / January 2005
Remarkable Hospitality - the Road Map to Excellence; Exceeding the Expectations of our Guests / John Hendrie / January 2005
Are Your Guests Expecting Mediocrity with Your Hospitality Services? Move Your Level of Excellence to the Remarkable / John Hendrie / December 2004
Guest Services - A Tradition Diminished / John Hendrie / December 2004
Rescue from Mediocrity; The Decline of Service Etiquette - A Sequel / John Hendrie / November 2004
Offering Crushed Pepper Before Tasting the Entrée; The Decline of Restaurant Service Etiquette / John Hendrie / October 2004
Destination Marketing – How to rebuild your Reputation and the upcoming Season after the Hurricanes / John Hendrie / September 2004
Six Factors Which Dictate Success in Performing Destination Marketing / John Hendrie / September 2004
Influencing the Consumer to Book Business through Your Commitment to Quality / Aug 2004
Major Hotel Operators Have Rediscovered Hospitality Fundamentals by Revisiting the Guest Room / John R. Hendrie / July 2004
Destination Marketing 101: Take Care of Mom / John R. Hendrie / June 2004
Service Unions Combine, Presenting Huge Challenge to Hospitality Industry / John R. Hendrie / March 2004
What Value Quality? Most Hospitality Operators Use the Term “Quality” In their Advertising. What Exactly Does that Mean? / John R. Hendrie / April 2004


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