This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2011 Multi-Unit Foodservice Operator conference, or MUFSO. The conference is taking place Sept. 25-27 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas. Follow all coverage on NRN’s "At the Show" section, check out NRN blogs, The Reporter’s Notebook, and Tweet with us using #MUFSO.
Restaurants looking to win in today’s tough economy must focus on delivering attributes consumers want most, whether the right food and value, or an immeasurable brand feeling, restaurant executives attending this year’s MUFSO conference said.
Opening sessions of this year’s conference, which has attracted more than 400 operators to Dallas, explored today’s consumer preferences through the analysis of NRN’s inaugural Consumer Picks results. The Consumer Picks special report surveyed thousands of customers who then ranked restaurant chains based on attributes like menu variety, cleanliness and service. MUFSO attendees also heard from the 2011 Hot Concepts! award winners, which showcased entrepreneurs behind some of today’s dynamic growth brands.
“The most important thing we do is connect with our guests,” said Sam Fox, chief executive of Fox Concepts, parent company to True Food Kitchen, which was one of this year’s Hot Concepts winners. “Our guests come to our restaurant and they get something they can’t get at any other restaurants. We have such brand loyalty from the people using our concept and our employees. That's sort of our secret weapon.”
That intangible connection with guests was what many restaurant operators highlighted as a secret to success. Above the right pricing or correct menu execution, winning restaurant brands offer customers a sense of belonging.
“We’re providing something more than just satiating their stomachs,” said Jason Boso, proprietor of Twisted Root Burger Company, another Hot Concepts winner. “We’re providing something that they feel, that they’ve gone out and done ... and it gives them something to tell their friends about.”
RELATED: Meet the Hot Concepts winners
Once a restaurant brand develops a following, however, it is the execution of the restaurant’s offerings – from food to service to cleanliness – that will keep customers coming back. Dennis Lombardi, vice president of foodservice strategies at WD Partners, a consulting firm that partnered with NRN in the Consumer Picks study, said customers today want a higher level of food quality first and cleanliness second.
“In terms of [consumer] ratings, food quality and cleanliness always trumped value,” he said. “Don’t ever sacrifice those two attributes or things that make up those attributes just to get better value.”
He pointed to Consumer Picks top scorers Chipotle Mexican Grill and In-N-Out Burger as examples of restaurant chains that marry the unique brand feeling customers want, with old-fashioned execution that customers need.
“They are distinct and they are different,” he said. “They are focused [and] they don’t have strategies-du-jour…and they execute incredibly well.”
RELATED: Consumer Picks special report
MUFSO continues through Tuesday, with topics including social media and how to measure return on investment, international growth strategies and a look at private equity activity in the restaurant sector. More information.