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The Great Debates Independents
vs. Chains

Reader Feedback:

Bob - I am an independent operator getting set to open my second restaurant this summer. AMERICA is a 150 seat, high-end, full service restaurant and wine bar featuring New American Cuisine and an exclusively domestic wine cellar. It's located in northern Bergen County, New Jersey, just a few miles outside Manhattan. Recently, I ended a 15 year career in corporate marketing with Lazard Freres & Co. and others. Your idea is terrific and if I were approached to participate, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment. Keep us informed on progress, or let me know if you would like some help.

One campaign idea might be to spotlight chef/owners regionally, showing them in front of their restaurants, and quoting them talking about the difference made by the personal attention of the owner, the chef's inspection and selection of produce and ingredients, the unique atmosphere of an independent restaurant (original, reflective of place, etc.). Your concept is actually very rich, and I can think of dozens of ways to execute it, communicating the comparison between independent restaurants and chains.


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Once again you hit the nail right on the head! Practically, the same thing is happening here in Manila. For the past three years there has been an "invasion" of foreign chains and franchised restaurants in our country. Slowly but surely, I feel they are affecting the businesses of independent restaurants such as ours. It is very frustrating to see people practically lining up and waiting a long time just to be and dine in these new and trendy establishments. They end up paying the same amount and sometimes even more just to eat "dressed up" deep-fried food and to drink watered down iced teas.

Thanks for the suggestions. They might prove to be helpful. But it does seem very difficult. I can't imagine independent restaurants, here in our parts at least, joining forces while we are still trying to grab hold of our shrinking market base. Thanks again for your newsletter.

Lito Benitez

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Just read your comments in the Restaurant Report. I agree that marketing makes a big difference -- and the Indies may well benefit from countering with their own marketing campaigns. However, your comments missed the single biggest reason for the popularity of fast food chains: consistency.

My husband and I love to eat "good food" - especially in small, comfortable places serving "ethnic" foods. It's been four years, though, since we've dined anywhere other than at a few chain restaurants. Why? We have two small children who don't want ANY surprises when it comes to their food. We know that McDonald's will have hamburgers and french fries - and they'll taste exactly the same as they did the last time we were in. We know pretty accurately how long it will take to get our food. We know exactly how much it will cost. It's not gourmet, but it is edible.

Life is hectic, and when my husband and I find the time to slow down, we seldom choose to spend that free time pursuing an "unknown" (will we be served in a reasonable amount of time? Will it taste good? Will the waiter bring our drinks on time?). We usually choose to watch a movie snuggled on the couch with the kids - maybe munching on a pizza from Domino's.

A good indie advertising campaign just might get us into one of your restaurants slightly more often, but I doubt that it will convince us to give up the Golden Arches. At least not until the kids are grown...

Good luck.

Lyndele von Schill
Charlottesville, Virginia

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Thank you for providing such an informative and comprehensive newsletter. I'm a NYC writer and filmmaker, who's invested in a two independent restaurants, (one in Manhattan, the other in Vancouver).

I'm very supportive of the independent advertising campaign concept and am interested in utilizing my film and video resources to ensure its success. The answer may lie in telling this story with all the power of not just modern marketing, but modern media. In fact, I've been working on a media proposal (prospectus) for a related idea for quite some time.

Sally O'Brien
Reel Artists Productions NYC

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Yes, your idea makes great sense! To me. Any ideas on how to go it alone when everyone else had rather sit back, moan and groan, and think they are whipped before the chain outfit opens? I have a small restaurant in a small town. The town's population has been greatly oversold--to the chain operator. I know it, my peers know it. The chain operator will find out. But in the meantime, while losing money hand over fist, he warps hell out of every independent in town. You are right. That's all I have been hearing--"don't worry, your food and service are 100% better, etc., etc."

Ha!! So what!! Since I could make more money with less headaches selling cars, there is no danger of going nuts over this thing, but the correct solution in a small town may be to simply do the best possible job of giving people what they want, even if they don't know they want it. My restaurant service has been patterned after a chain's that I worked for in 1976, and the food is from the 1960's, meaning hand-pressed burgers, aged BIG steaks, etc. I think part of the answer may be in using some of that knee-jerk-reaction, extra-advertising money to hire a couple of extra really good waitresses and maybe an extra hand in the back to make doubly sure the atmosphere and service is at it's best, and maybe spend a few extra bucks on customer- visible amenities such as new curtains, menu covers, etc. Anyway, not having a quadrazillion dollars, that's what I'm going to do, and let the chips fall where they may. Besides, it'll make things interesting, since the same chain in the same building went broke six years ago, and there have been three in between. So competing with number five will just make life more fun and interesting. Did you believe I meant that? You have a good net site.

Take care.

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