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The Great Debates Independents
vs. Chains

Reader Feedback:

I enjoyed Howard Black's pragmatic input regarding restaurant marketing. As a one-time restaurateur and long-time marketer, I thought this page from a marketing plan recently written for a fading restaurant might add to the thread. I'd be happy to contribute more details and welcome any ideas your readers might contribute.

Simon Zylph
TableTips Marketing Service
Restaurant specialists since 1976

TO: The Beach Café,
RE: Outline of suggested marketing methods and strategies

1. Make the commitment to proceed & succeed
2. Set aside a monthly marketing budget
3. Begin as soon as possible; each day that passes is a lost opportunity

1. Begin gathering email addresses immediately; collaborate with other, non-competitive merchants to do so. Use print media to publicize email address and Online-Only Specials. (trade whenever possible)

2. In-House
- Begin immediate menu count: continue it faithfully every day.
- Get waitstaff into new uniforms (and attitudes) immediately.
- Set up blackboard specials as soon as possible (count item sales)
- Conduct weekly (at least), staff meetings to educate and motivate servers about new attitudes and thinking.
- Begin training staff in selling by suggestion; establish sales incentives
- Promote wine and dessert sales with table displays, sampling, server incentives and sales contests
- Employ a carefully-selected host or hostess. A LEADER.
- Review current employee's strengths and weaknesses. Replace those with poor attitudes or who fail to treat each customer as a valued guest and those who put their personal interests before those of the business. Attitudes and image need improvement. Friendly, smiling and helpful service must be the rule. Accept and tolerate nothing less.
- Experiment with creative appetizers; make free snacks memorable; something customers will return for and tell friends about. Experiment. Innovate.
- Use the blackboard to test creative, unique entrees. Keep a count of sales of blackboard specials. Add best sellers to the menu regularly.
- Consider entertainment in the patio lounge; try other entertainment styles. Select talented, capable entertainers. Direct them. Publicize them.
- Consider wine tastings and other special events.

Remember the rule:
No matter what you do to improve the operation and attract customers, if you don't tell the public, nothing will happen!

**Next Post

A factor that is usually overlooked is that the chains have better information for making decisions. What do you know about how well you are scheduling your labor force?

There are major productivity and morale problems at either extreme of over or under scheduling. While there is a lot of randomness in customer arrivals, some attempt must be made to manage the problem.

If there is chronic over-staffing, there are unnecessary expenses, lack of respect for management because employees are getting away with under performance, excess server turnover if a full service restaurant because the tip pool is spread too far, and gaps in service because the service rhythm is lost. If there is chronic under-staffing, the customer is the shock-absorbing system. This is dangerous on many levels. The quality of the customer experience is poor risking permanent customer loss. The good tipped employees have poor tips and poor morale because they cannot provide good service. The marginal employees are completely swamped.

There are some rudimentary steps that you can take fairly easily to address the problem. Do you have a service standard? How many customers should a counter person or server handle per hour? How many meals should a cook produce per hour? Are you fully utilizing your Point of Sale devices? With the service standards in place are these measures of actual performance readily available to your restaurant managers and supervisors? Are they available by day and by meal period or even better by hour?

The Labor Wizard can help at

**Next Post

If you dont notify what's going on in your restaurant, your customers won't know. I have a friend who owned a small fast food restaurant and sometimes put on specail promotions but never notified the public of it and these promotions were never a success.

When you own a restaurant, and you want to put on promotions, your customers must be notified about it. Whether its through a 10-15 second spot on the radio or a small text print through newspaper ads or even through flyers handed to your customers, you must tell them of your future promotions. And don't just rely on your re-peat customers to give you business, you must also strive to get new customers to constantly come in and then keep them coming back. Also, make sure your business is kept clean, whether it's old equipment that is dirty or even the ceiling tiles that have become yellow or even dim lighting, your customers may get discouraged and not come back. Keep your business looking clean and fresh, that includes your staff's uniform.

Also, customers now want more selection of combo's. They are tired of going to small restaurants that offer the same 2-4 combo's every day, they want to see a large selection. That's what I believe should help you out in the long run.

Louciano Mora

**Next Post

I am an Executive Chef at a hotel in Alaska. Although I work for an Alaskan corporation with multiple sites, I have complete control over my menu, staff and restaurant. So in that regard it is like running an independent restaurant with corporate backing. I have worked in every aspect and in every job in the restaurant from chain to independent. My point of view comes from 20 years of experience.

I find most of these folks who are defending their chain restaurants have one sided views of the industry and have not worked outside the "chained" area of the business. I bet most of you went to a college and learned about restaurant management from corporate sponsored programs (which I bet at the time you did not know that it was funded by them). Or you took that 6 week crash course in culinary school so you can learn those culinary "terms" and "sayings" to move on up the ladder. Or you just worked your way up the chain right out of high school going from Applebees to Red Lobster to TGIF.

Anyone who has worked for a small café or a Mom and Pop place or even big locally owned restaurant has experienced the soul that possesses the atmosphere, people and most important, the food. What you lack in your "dining" establishments is the most important thing of all, soul. It is the thing you mimic by decorating your walls with old signs and funky hip things, Foo Foo drinks and waiters with trucker hats and flare on there suspenders.

Sure you may make your own sauces from scratch, big deal, someone in a test kitchen in a lab wrote the recipe, its bullet proof, idiot proof and monkey proof. At that point its no different than a Big Mac in Jersey. There is no soul in it.

You may work hard at your jobs and may care a great deal about what you do. That’s great! No one denies that, but do you honestly think that you set the standards that others follow? What independent restaurant is jumping on the Fried Mac and Cheese Appetizer? We are the ones who set the standards that you follow. We put the soul and heart into our food and service. It is you who take it and bastardize it by putting three different "fun dippers" or adding your "south of the border" sauce to it. Telling us what is cool and in the now.

Do you honestly believe that the chain restaurants are a valuable, viable part of our industry? Come on. They are an eye sore on the roadways and they poison the palate with bland and over sauced food.

They may keep the employment rate up, but they do nothing to teach young cooks to become talented Chefs or educate Joe Public about food. I will hire someone first with no experience before someone with fast food or chain restaurant experience. You teach them absolutely nothing!

All of you who defend the products you serve in chain restaurants, and how you train your staff, should be ashamed and embarrassed for what you contribute to the restaurant industry. We need to be making the industry a better place by educating and training professionals. Not making it a place where an out of work actor can get a job until his big break or the social studies teacher can make some extra money because he thinks that its an easy job. I have never once thought that I could get a job teaching school to supplement my income or drive a train on the weekends to make extra cash.

I am so tired of this being the industry where anyone can come and get a job and suck at it and that's OK.

You do nothing good for this industry.

During the great rise of chain restaurants in the early 90's, a great Chef once told me that there is no more art left in culinary arts.

I have found that not to be true. With all great art that becomes commercialized, watered down and processed for the masses, there have always been the true artisans, at the end of the road, in the back alley, anywhere off the beaten path, keeping the heart and soul alive and truly making my world a better place.

Erik Slater
Executive Chef
Seward, Alaska

**Next Post

I have done public relations for independents for 22 years. I disagree that co-op advertising is the answer to the independent's problems of filling seats, but I know public relations is a very effective way of assisting independents from standing out from their competitors, chains, or otherwise.

Here is why: Every restaurateur has a story to tell. That is why this business has been fun for me. When you help place stories about a particular restaurant it gives credibility to the restaurant since the "publication"(no matter if it's print, TV, cable, radio or new media) felt it was worthy of the story to begin with. If you truly have a story to tell (and most do!) get a PR company to help you articulate it.

You can find small companies like myself in just about any city big or small. at least I hope that is the case! I made my niche by theorizing that independents did NOT have big budgets for marketing or advertising or PR, but I felt if I was less expensive than the big guys (or girls) then I would be worthy of their business longer, whereas other PR firms, it seemed to me, were busy charging so much money at the onset every month the restaurants dropped them anyway because they could not afford it ultimately!

Think about what story you have to tell. There many ways to talk about "XYZ restaurant." Get recipes published, get your wine dinners listed, do promotions with other chefs in your community for charity. There are so many things to do I cannot list them all here. You do have a story to tell so go out there and get help doing so and you will be able to compete with any big chain because you will be the family type business people want to know about!

Sherri Maddick

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