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Brand refresh

Any Doctor Who fans in the house?

I was re-watching a couple of the new season and was reminded that the (new) series always refreshes the opening title sequence slightly. I’m actually old enough to remember Tom Baker as perhaps the most famous Doctor Who of all time – the doctor from the mid-70s (he’s the iconic one, all tweedy and wild curly hair and the trademark scarves).

For those of you unfamiliar with Doctor Who, it’s a venerable BBC series that has been around since the early 60s and ran until 1989, when it went dormant.  In 2005, it was revived, bringing happiness to those who grew up with the series.

Doctor Who is a Timelord. He looks human but is actually a separate species with two hearts and one very advanced brain and an immune system to die for (basically, as long as certain conditions are met, he can’t die, but he is “regenerated”, complete with a new body and face. His last name isn’t Who. We don’t know his name. He’s just the Doctor. Doctor Who gives the writers plenty of opportunity for clever wordplay when someone is first introduced to him – “Doctor WHO”? “No, just The Doctor”.

This regeneration is a very clever conceit by the producers as it allows them to bring in a new actor to play the part. There have been 11 “Doctors” since the story began (12 if you count a guy who thought he was the Doctor because he had absorbed all of the information about the Doctor – of course, he was just a human, but it made for an interesting Christmas episode and starred the always charming David Morrissey as the misguided Victorian with a balloon replacing the Doctor’s famous TARDIS and a wooden version of the famed “Sonic Screwdriver”, the Doctor’s only “weapon” besides his brain and wits.

Why am I going off on a fanboy’s idolization of Dr. Who?

Because it illustrates the difference between a brand refresh and a re-branding.

The Doctor Who title sequence/theme song has been basically the same since the beginning. However, each season (at least for the 3 renewal seasons and certainly for some of the original series), there is a slight difference in the graphics and the theme song. this would be a “refresh”. It doesn’t change the basic nature of the title sequence but it “modernizes” it or provides a difference to delineate it from the preceding season.

However, when Dr. Who regenerates, it’s like a “re-branding”. The face is totally changed. The new actor brings his own quirks, characteristics and cadence to the role. The first Doctor in the revival seasons was a bit dark (Christopher Eccleston), the second more playful but full of power, intense and is judgmental at times (Scottish actor, David Tennant) and the new Doctor seems to have a more childlike and buoyant personality (Matt Smith). However, many of the basic personality traits of the Doctor’s own quirks are preserved.

This is the mark of a successful rebranding. Sometimes the slate is wiped clean and the restaurant takes an entirely new direction and flavor. But generally, when you rebrand, you want to retain a link to the past. You want to keep the basic character of the restaurant that has been developed over time, and you don’t shift from one concept to another (a Mexican restaurant goes to Italian, for instance). Usually shifting concepts or market niches occurs when a restaurant is sold to another who wants to turn it into a brand new restaurant.

Many, if not most rebrandings take the idea of rebranding literally. They change the name, the decor and the product mix. However, they tend to try to retain a lot of the things that made the previous brand strong while bringing the restaurant into a new era. The Houston’s rebranding to Hillstone is a good example:

 http://www.nrn.com/article/hillstone-restaurant-group-rebranding-houstons-units

They aren’t moving up or down market – they are trying to create a mental link with a more local and seasonal-type menu and  insulate themselves from the image of being a “chain” (Houston’s is a venerable brand but is seen as just another mass-market chain in a sea of mass-market chains). This is always fraught with danger, especially when you tamper with a chain that has seen massive success and is perceived as a restaurant that provides a certain level of consistent quality. Houston’s is leveraging this danger by not converting all of its units to Hillstone. There will still be Houston’s in certain places, but I suspect that if the rebranding is successful, the Houston’s brand will eventually disappear from the face of the Earth.

On the other hand, you have what I would term a “refresh”. Three years ago, Ruby Tuesday’s “rebranded” but I think that  it was really closer to a refreshing. the name only changed by removing “Bar and Grill” from the title. One could argue that, by moving upmarket with some pricier items, this was a rebranding, but I don’t think that they did a substantial change to decor (this had already occurred. They kept most of what was good about the restaurant (the salad bar, the upscale bar food like premium burgers, etc.) and tried to push check averages up and attract a slightly more affluent crowd.

So why would I term this a refresh and what is a refresh? In my mind, a refresh is when you retain more of the original concept. Instead of going up or down market, you introduce aspects of those markets which you haven’t really captured. For instance, a trend in steakhouses is to incorporate value meals, prix fixe specials, more modern drink offerings, etc. Another restaurant might revamp their platewear, plate presentation, do a dining room remodel, expand a wine list and premium liquor brands or offer only premium brands as their well brands. They might design a new logo. They might aggressively seek to-go and meal replacement business. One of the most common refresh items is the uniform. It’s relative cheap and can give the impression of a freshened decor without doing a lot of demolition.

One example of a refresh that appears to have possibility for success is the Palm Steakhouse. I have a friend who is a long-time regular in one of the East Coast restaurants who pointed me to their new website. Having been to the previous website when doing posts on other subjects in the past, I knew that it was in desperate need of renovation. It was ugly, unwieldy and not particularly informative or evocative. It was basically a placeholder. However, the new website has a timeless sort of look that reflects the heritage of the long-standing restaurant chain (which, oddly enough is still privately owned). It has a burnished look that fits the decor (sort of a men’s clubby look that doesn’t seem or feel ‘exclusive”). digging deeper, I found this statement from Libretto, the company which worked on the redesign:

September 2010 – Libretto is pleased to announce the launch of the redesigned Palm Restaurant website. Libretto and Korn Design were engaged by The Palm to revitalize the classic American steakhouse’s brand, messaging, and website. During an extensive discovery process, the two firms worked closely with The Palm to surface and reinterpret the authentic brand attributes that distinguished the restaurant prior to its national expansion. Libretto then developed new messaging and Web content to support The Palm’s polished identity. The resulting site features clear navigation, engaging content, and a vibrant mix of contemporary and historic photos.

Clearly, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. They focused on the heritage of the 80+ year old restaurant and did a virtual steam cleaning which didn’t alter the character or the restaurant but made it sparkle.

Here’s the new website:

http://www.thepalm.com/

There are moving parts without it being distracting. There are multigenerational shots, showing younger and older people enjoying dining together. There is a requisite number of trendy ear-length closely cropped sideburns and more than a fair share of modern pricey eyewear while retaining more than a few receding hairlines, pin-striped suits and grey haired, well-tended older types as well. This seem quite intentional. The Palm is known for having an older clientele and so, it would seem incumbent on them to try to steal market share from hipper, more trendy expensive restaurants. There’s enough food porn to caress the eye and the site is fairly logically laid-out and easy to negotiate.

My friend wasn’t too specific but she implied that there were going to be some menu refreshes as well as some changes in presentation. She said that she actually went to one of the restaurants that has started the change and was pleasantly surprised. She said that the plates had changed but didn’t get too specific about any other changes.

I tried to find a cached version of the old website but didn’t have any success. Trust me when I say that it was bleak. I can’t really comment on whether or not the menu needs refreshing as I’ve never dined out there (it’s a bit out of my price range). Having reported on some of their menu changes, I’ve seen their menu and it seems fairly old-school, so perhaps it could stand to move forward a little. But they are quite successful and have been since the 20s, so I suspect that, as with their website, they will update without losing touch with what has made them the hit that they have been.

The Palm isn’t the only steakhouse to refresh. They’ve all done it during this time of economic crisis. whether it’s offering bar food specials or bundled meals for lesser prices, look for more, not less of this sort of refresh. Other restaurant routinely tweak their product yearly, sometimes doing enough to call it an actual refresh or, more often, just doing enough to call it a tweak. People like familiarity, but they also don’t want to eat in a stale environment. they need just enough change to make them feel like they’re eating in a newly-scrubbed dining room with a modern menu. 

Man, all of this from watching Doctor Who.

One thing though, BBC producers, don’t you think it’s time for a female Doctor? 

From the Palm website.

Pride in your restaurant…

…can help you in your interactions with your guests.

Even if you work in a fairly generic restaurant like Chili’s or Applebee’s, surely there’s something in the history of the organization that can be pointed to to distinguish it from every other restaurant in world; sometimes it can even distinguish it from others in the chain.

I work for neither of the above restaurants, but for example:

Chilihead waiter points to picture on the wall, directing the patron’s attention to it – “Did you know that every Chili’s has one picture that hangs upside down? Have you ever noticed this picture and wondered why it was upside down? It’s a tradition that every Chili’s maintains…” Waiter tells whatever story they’re taught about the way the tradition started. If there’s no “official Corporate version”, they make up something outrageous. They also point out, “We’ll be 35 years old this year. We’re very proud to be one of the oldest surviving restaurant chains in the country”.

Or O’Charley’s waiter says, “Did you know that there’s an actual Charlie? He founded our restaurant and he’s still alive and lives in Nashville. We just turned 40 last year. We’re getting pretty good at cooking by now”!

Or an Applebee’s bartender tells a bar patron, “Did you know that our first restaurant was called T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs? Have I got a prescription for you – my special Cosmopolitan features Absolut Citron, Cointreau and fresh squeezed lime juice. Would you expect anything less from the worlds largest restaurant chain? We might be large, but we’re your neighborhood restaurant, right”?

Yeah, I know, the verbiage is a bit corny. I’m not suggesting that you copy these, but you should know your restaurant’s history and be able to integrate relevant parts of it whenever it seems appropriate. Even if you mock your own corporate restaurant to your friends because it’s “too faceless”, “too corporate”, “too impersonal”, etc., remember, as long as you work there, you should take advantage of whatever advantages the corporate history that you were forced to memorize during your training phase offers because, remember, it’s your income. If you find this onerous, I’d suggest that you’re probably not working at a place that is comfortable for you.

If you work at an independent restaurant, you have an advantage. Simply by reminding your guest that your restaurant is locally owned, you put yourself apart from the competition. It’s likely that the history isn’t formally taught in a structured fashion, so you might have to use anecdotes that has been passed around, or, failing that, ask your ownership about the history of the restaurant. You might be able to find some interesting things to relay to your guests.

There’s always a hook somewhere – whether it’s community involvement, the artwork on the wall, the piano that’s 60 years old that was played by Van Cliburn during a visit in the 60s, the menu item that’s been on the menu for 20 years; the list is endless. Every restaurant has something that distinguishes it from every other restaurant. Sometimes it’s sitting right in front of your face.

Restaurant earnings: Beyond the numbers – from Nation’s Restaurant News

Restaurant earnings: Beyond the numbers

By Mike  Dempsey

(Feb. 18, 2010) Financial results were mixed this week as a cross-section of restaurant companies reported fourth-quarter earnings. Stalled consumer spending and continued traffic declines plagued top lines, while bright spots included positive earnings growth from cost-cutting moves and favorable comparison to year-ago figures.

Beyond the numbers, companies laid out strategies aimed at combating the sluggish economy and igniting sales and traffic.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=379646

The article goes on to list four companies’ results, Darden, the parent of Red Lobster, P. F. Chang’s, which reported a doubling of profit in the 4th quarter of 2009, Denny’s and Jack in the Box. The article explains that there are bright spots in casual dining, while higher end chains still continue to struggle.

Ruth’s Hospitality Group is such a restaurant operator still struggling with profits, although they “cut their losses” in the 4th quarter. According to NRN, they are still struggling with same store sales, falling 11.2%. You can read the whole article here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=379656

This is a long way from 2005, when articles like this from NRN were legion:

Big high-end steakhouse chains are primed for 10% growth

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_9_39/ai_n13251038/

Most steakhouses have struggled to fill seats and stem bloodletting from eroding covers. Some, like Palm Steakhouse, are expanding to foreign and other markets. Palm has recently opened a London restaurant and is planning several more in Europe and are eying the Pacific Rim. They are also opening Palm Bar and Grill, a micro version of the venerable restaurant, in JFK’s Terminal 4 (slated for opening last month) and, by all accounts, plan more in the future.  Morton’s is reaching even higher, announcing in-flight offerings from their famous brands. They’ve also offered a Filet & Lobster Tail Dinner via Lobster Gram, a full dinner for 2 delivered to your door for $149.00. You still had to cook it, but they tossed in a couple of “signature engraved steak knives” and Morton’s Signature Grilling Salt and clarified butter.  This program, started in November 2008, has since been discontinued. Guess it wasn’t the hit that they hoped for. 

Independent restaurants have also struggled. One ingenious thing that has been done in Nashville is Nashville Originals, an organization of like-minded indie restaurants designed to promote dining locally as well as offering the benefits of increased scale. While it’s been around for several years, it’s still a nascent organization. Its on-line presence is still a bit primitive and the promise hasn’t been fulfilled quite yet. When they first started, there was talk about possibilities like shared purchasing in order to get better prices, but I’m not sure that this promise has ever come to fruition (it’s probably logistically difficult). About the only shared thing that’s really evident other than the occasional press release is a gift certificate that can be used at any of the member restaurants. I hope that they can get some traction, but it looks like the day-to-day challenges of running an independent restaurant are preventing some serious traction. It’s probably like trying to herd a clutch of cats. Here’s their website:

http://www.nashvilleoriginals.com/index.php

As you can see, there’s definitely improvement to be made there.

I’ve noticed that there are such organizations in various communities throughout America. Hopefully, they can offer some benefits that will help indie restaurants through this challenging economic landscape.

Image found at http://positivesharing.com/2006/03/make-your-business-happy-and-rich/

Steakhouses work the bar angle to attract guests

Premium steakhouses are using expanded bar offerings, in both the food and drink realm, to bring guests back to their dining rooms and bars. They are offering smaller and less expensive variations on their normal fare, almost in a tapas style. They are also rolling out signature drinks in order to capture a younger demographic.

mortons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morton’s has their “Power Hour” in selected locations. They have some value-priced $5 glasses of wine, $7 “Mortini’s” (selected Martinis, Cosmopolitans and Mojitos) and they are offering $6 “bar bites”, including miniature crab cakes, trios of little burgers, four tiny filet mignon “sandwiches” and “iceberg wedge bites”.

Palm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palm Steakhouse has upped the ante with their “Prime Times Bites” bar menu. They also have trios of “sliders”, theirs being Kobe beef. They have a smaller version of their massive fried calamari bowl, plus they have mini crab cakes, a trio of steak “capri” sliders (steak, basil and mozzarella) and little Philly steak bites. Prices range from $7 to $12  but from 5-7pm and after 9pm, they sell for the unheard of price of $3.50 (three Kobe beef sliders for only about 50 cents more than Krystal or White Castle burgers?!!??) They have also done an upscale makeover of the look of their bar tables . This is rolling out nationwide as I write this, having been tested in certain locations.

flemings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleming’s Steakhouse has their “5 for $6 ’til 7” promotion in their bar. For $6, they have 5 premium cocktails, 5 value priced wines and 5 appetizers such as “tenderloin carpaccio”, seared ahi tuna and “wicked cajun barbecue shrimp”. This is served from 5pm to 7pm.

These are examples of fresh thinking in the steakhouse sector. They augment the usual summer special dinner deals that chains have been offering during their slower months and are intended to expand their demographic.

How things have changed since 2005 when Nation’s Restaurant News ran an article entitled “Big high-end steakhouse chains are primed for 10% growth”. Here’s a snippet of that optimistic report:

“Demand for high-end steakhouses seems to have continued to rise in many markets across the country. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in 25 years,’ said Dave Cattell, chief development officer for Ruth’s Chris, the 86-unit chain based in Metairie, La. ‘There are lots of opportunities, and I don’t see any end in sight.’ “.

You can access the rest of the article here:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_9_39/ai_n13251038/?tag=content;col1

Blackberries are the new black

Apparently, blackberries are the culinary rage of the summer of 2009.

http://www.nrn.com/landingPage.aspx?coll_id=616&menu_id=1380

Apparently Palm Steakhouse predicted this last year when they introducted their “Gentle Palm” cocktail, the marriage of Jack Daniels and blackberry (with a generous amount of the perennial favorite, strawberry).

http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/food/2008/04/14/2008-04-14_recipes_healthy_cocktails_to_refresh_you-1.html

Personally, I’m intrigued by the idea of adding blackberries to barbeque sauce. And, having experimented with whole strawberry tempura back in 1980 (they are awesome especially when slathered with a sweetened cream cheese dip but a little hard to eat because the battered and fried strawberries are insanely hot when you bite into them) , I’m now officially wondering if it’s possible to do the same with blackberries. If they were able to be fried quickly without losing their integrity, they might be great little things to pop into your mouth.

blackberries3721L

Photo courtesy of http://altnature.com/

© Karen Bergeron