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NRA Show begins with focus on sales strategies

The National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, officially kicked off Saturday morning with a Restaurant Executive Breakfast focused on operators who have successfully built new revenue streams during these tough economic times.

The annual foodservice show in Chicago, which is hosting tens of thousands of attendees from more than 100 countries, is the largest industry showcase, with operators this year looking to score strategies for success, including sales-building tactics, cost control solutions and the newest marketing tactics from social media and beyond.

At a breakfast at the McCormick Place, executives from Jamba Juice, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and Street-Za Pizza, a food truck, shared their experiences with licensing, educational offerings and catering.

“New revenue streams developed during tough times may become a powerful part of your regular business operations,” said Peter Romeo, the session’s moderator, and blogger-in-chief of Romeo, a long-time industry observer noted that some of the standard operations of restaurants today, like double drive-thrus or delivery service, were developed during harsh economic times.


Susan Shields, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Jamba Inc., the parent company to the 730-unit Jamba Juice smoothie chain, said the development of the brand’s new retail products, which include smoothie mixes, apparel, frozen bars and a children’s toy blender, was part of the company’s five-point turnaround strategy.

After losing sales amid the recession, especially in California, the chain’s home base and one of the hardest hit economies, Jamba Juice started to focus on disciplined expense reduction, building a customer-fist culture, expanding daypart offerings, franchising in non-traditional locations, and licensing. Each of those items was a main focus for Jamba Juice, Shields said.

“[Licensing] can’t be treated as a hobby,” she said. “Like any initiative, you need to take the time to do it right.”

With already high brand awareness among consumers, Shields said Jamba Juice was able to quickly develop items for licensing that fit with its healthful and active message. In the next few months, Jamba Juice will be introducing another licensed product, fruit and smack mixes, she noted.

Jamba has been able to offer its licensing partners products with strong brand awareness, as well as an already-developed supply chain and distribution channel. In return, Jamba Juice garners more touch points with consumers, helping to build its brand even when customers aren’t in actual Jamba Juice locations.

Food trucks and catering

Scott Baitinger, the founder and owner of Street-Za mobile food truck in Milwaukee, said thinking of your concept as “restaurant 2.0” will enable any brand to garner sales and build a larger consumer following.

His first truck, the only one operating of a planned 56 to be rolling through the Midwest by year end, serves about 2,000 customers per an eight-hour shift. Baitinger uses Twitter to speak with Street-Za’s fans, Flikr to post pictures online, and Venmo to accept payment via text message.

“A brand needs to interact,” he said. “Consumers are out there looking for guidance. You have an opportunity to increase sales simply through listening to what’s happening out there and reacting to customer needs.”

The food truck has been used everywhere for private catering, city festivals, as a marketing tool, a training ground for menu experimentation, and even research on the sales levels of different neighborhoods for a possible brick and mortar restaurant.

“If you can, get a food truck,” Baitinger said.

He noted that his first truck was risk-free at about $35,000. The new mobile kitchens will cost about $100,000, he noted, now that equipment kinks have been worked out. Street-Za garnered investment backing to help with the roll out of the planned 50-plus trucks.

Educational offerings

John Inserra, senior vice president of restaurant operations at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, has worked with the company’s many chefs at its upscale restaurants to develop cooking classes in an effort to increase neighborhood marketing efforts, and in turn, sales.

“Inside the four walls, there is nothing more powerful than the chef as a PR and marketing tool,” he said.

The cooking and educational classes have helped connect customers to the kitchen and have also become a solid revenue source, with 25 of Kimpton’s 50 restaurants now developing cooking class series.

“It’s like taking The Food Network into your home,” he said, “and that can translate to a lot of business.”

Keeping the class price point to about $60 per person for no more than 20 people has helped each class bring in about $300 to the bottom line, in addition to the buzz, customer outreach and loyalty the sessions can create.

Inserra said cooking classes do not have to be for high-end brands only, as lower price point options can still benefit from the customer outreach efforts.

“Your area of expertise is where your classes should be … there is no reason why on any level this couldn’t apply,” he said, noting the possibility for Five Guys Burger & Fries – the well known “better burger” brand – the develop a grilling series of classes, for example.

Contact Sarah Lockyer at [email protected].

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