Community matters

Community matters

Should you doubt the payoff of local-store marketing, consider this rousing endorsement. At an elementary school dinner during a simulated quiz show, a group of enthusiastic fifth graders was asked, “What two companies supply the pizza for school lunch on Thursdays?”

Without missing a beat, the group shouted out to a cafeteria crowded with parents, teachers and other adults that can be swayed in their purchasing decisions, “Domino’s and Papa Gino’s!”

The answer was correct, proving that the efforts of the two brands are making a memorable impression. On the monthly cafeteria menu, Domino’s and Papa Gino’s, both of which have outlets in my town, alternate week to week in providing the pizza offered each Thursday. More importantly, both the kids and their parents know it. In my house, the familiarity engendered during the school week often influences our pizza purchases on the weekend.

The effectiveness of local-store marketing re-emerges in several articles throughout this issue. In the Growth Chain profile, 22-unit Barberitos is upping its community efforts as a way to build sales. And in the Marketing section, we explore best practices in promoting local products and sustainable efforts to emphasize—and profit from—a sense of community.

Jim Sullivan in his monthly column in the Operations section extols the importance of revisiting local-store marketing, a practice recently neglected as restaurateurs focused on streamlining operations to wend their way through the lows of the economic downturn. He suggests eight tactics intended to improve your knowledge of the opportunities in your marketing area, ways to better monitor what’s being said about your business and how to tap into one of your most powerful resources—the crewmembers that live in your community.

Speaking of benefiting from the experiences of employees, the dining services department at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., has done just that. Recognizing the importance of ethnic cuisine to their young-adult population but being short on resources, officials turned to their diverse workforce to create authentic dishes from around the world. The practice, now formalized, not only expanded the college’s menu offerings, but it also built pride by giving employees a chance to showcase their heritage. You can read more about it in the Operations section.

On the topic of heritage, few foods are more closely associated with this country than the hamburger, which is enjoying renewed interest from increasingly sophisticated but comfort-seeking legions as the All-American sandwich takes on an array of gourmet accoutrements.

In this issue’s special report, which begins on page 1 and continues in the Business Intel section, we study the proliferation of fast-casual better-burger purveyors and their ability to continue on an economy-defying growth streak. According to research firm Technomic, fast-casual better-burger chains were a $1.4 billion category in 2009, up 21 percent in unit counts compared to 2008. Strong unit growth also helped to push sales up 18 percent in 2009, a year we all know was none too kind to restaurant expansion.

Also notable, we delve into the ramifications of the health care reform measure recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. Reflecting the controversial nature of the legislation, operators are divided about the impact reform will have on their businesses and passionate in their convictions. When the bill was passed, NRN.com asked readers how they were feeling about reform, and a surprisingly sizeable number of people weighed in. Some of those responses can be found at NRN.com in the Special Reports section along with up-to-the-minute breaking news on this topic and others.

By the time today’s fifth-grade class enters college, we should all have a good idea as to what kind of impact this landmark health care reform effort will have had on the foodservice industry. At the same time, we’ll also know how effective local-store marketing efforts are long term, and whether those former fifth graders are still shouting out their preferences for Domino’s and Papa Gino’s pizza.