Operations – Have a Consistent Message

One of the fascinating things about business, especially lately, is that there is so much going on that we become reactive.  Being constantly bombarded with communication, it’s no wonder that we do not make the time to be proactive.  That is the only explanation we can come up with for why restaurateurs focus on a few cents per pound related to cheese and pepperoni, while ignoring the fundamental trends in the marketplace and how to deal with them.

Amazingly, little emphasis seems to be placed on what turns customers into repeat-business customers.  One of the most important determinates to success is CONSISTENCY, in two parts: consistency of message and consistency of delivery.

CONSISTENCY OF MESSAGE means that everything you do – every communication, every contact, every message of any kind – needs to say the same thing.  If the message is “cheap eats”, then the prices, quality and service can all be the same – cheap.  If, on the other hand, the message is that you and your product are “different and better”, how they are better needs to be clearly defined and delivered.  Because the “cheap”, mass-merchandised position has already been taken by the big chains, the specialists and independents must be different and better to effectively market themselves.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate is to focus on the local aspect of your business – namely, local ownership, participation and support.  The goal is to market your products and services that appeal locally and cannot be easily matched by companies focused on duplicating themselves (i.e. chains).  However, the products must be demonstrably different with some local favored characteristics.  Ditto on the service and marketing efforts.  Every communication needs to say how glad you are to serve the customer and how their business is important.

Small businesses are often short on formal training.  When was the last time you sat down with your team of employees and explained thoughtfully what your message is, what their job is and how they can make an important contribution to the business?

A sharp restaurateur recently described how they tied with local schools, successfully getting the principals of several schools to come and work one night per month at the pizzeria.  They promoted it as “Tip the Principal Night”, with all gratuities and part of the proceeds for the night going to the school.  By doing this several times a month with different schools, the restaurant had a flow of new customers and has since developed a loyal following who wouldn’t think of going down the street just to take advantage of a cheap offering by the chains.  A family-friendly environment, combo meal deals, great food and service, and community spirit all contribute to the “come again” message.   Talk about consistency of message.  The result: your place is always packed!

CONSISTENCY OF DELIVERY is equally important.  This is one of the great strengths of the chain and fast food industry.  Consumer research has shown again and again that people are creatures of habit, and service expectation is one of the key factors in choice.  Training and procedures are important for this reason, as is longevity of service, because experience in a system – any system – will make for consistency of delivery.  Focus on employees as well as customers, because they are the ones who deliver your message over and over again and – hopefully – consistently great.

While chains often make their business via advertising and cheap deals, the independent operator is much more likely to depend on repeat business.  As a result, consistency of delivery and meeting or exceeding expectations for the food and service are an absolute requirement.

The great variety of consumers in the US ensures that consumers of many tastes will support different levels of price and service, in the same way that they support different ethnic cuisines.  Recent statistics show that the average American consumer spends 41% of their food dollar on foodservice meals eaten outside of the home.  Consistency of message and delivery will keep them returning to you, if you successfully communicate what makes you better and consistently deliver on that promise.

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