This is part of Nation Restaurant News' special coverage of the 2012 MUFSO conference, taking place Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas. Follow coverage of the event on NRN.com's ‘At the Show’ section, read onsite blogs from NRN editors at Reporter’s Notebook, and Tweet with us using #MUFSO.
Keeping things simple, in everything from menu development to mobile marketing, is one of the ways restaurateurs can increase guest frequency, a panel of representatives from companies that work with the foodservice industry told MUFSO attendees.
Simplicity, clean favors and edible garnishes are trends operators can follow to make their center-of-the-plate offerings more appealing and build orders, explained Dave Zino, executive chef of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and The Beef Checkoff, during the Ideas and Innovations to Increase Customer Traffic panel discussion.
Operators also can increase sales by acknowledging the popularity of small plates and growing ethnicity of the U.S. consumer on restaurant menus, and by creating thoughtful fusion dishes, Zino said. Restaurateurs, he said, can keep down costs for beef and other commodities with rising price tags by trying different cuts and using smaller portion sizes presented in new ways.
Brad Taylor, vice president of customer marketing for foodservice and on-premise for The Coca-Cola Co., said research into smartphone and tablet computer usage shows “there is no question that is where consumers are going.” He said that trend has important implications for mobile marketing and noted that trials by his company and business partners have confirmed that if you want consumers to engage with you in the mobile world, “simplicity is key” and “you have to keep it to three (touchscreen or key) clicks” in designing a digital call to action.
Taylor said that in a recent trial at 17 Wendy’s restaurants in the Atlanta area consumers could download to their smart phones a bar code that could be scanned into a Freestyle beverage machine at the participating locations to unlock a unique beverage flavor not available to the general public and collect loyalty program points. About 16 percent of the people who visited the promotion website traveled to one of the restaurants to redeem the beverage and points, he indicated.
Consumer participation with social media websites is giving business “unprecedented access” to customer personal information, but companies should use that data to provide users with something of interest or value to them and not for “gratuitous self promotion,” Kathleen King, vice president of U.S. merchant marketing consultation for American Express, said. She said the businesses that are successfully leveraging social media “are thinking of these channels as part of their overall, integrated brand strategies and not a one-off tactic.”
King advised MUFSO goers to “listen to customers and talk to them in their [communication] channels of choice” and at the right time. But, she warned, “the right message doesn’t always have to be a discount.”
When it comes to marketing through newer channels, King added, “it’s important to test and learn.”
Brian Kane, vice president of client Services for PRO*ACT, a national produce distribution management company, pointed out that operators can answer consumer demands for variety, while lowering food costs, by using seasonal produce for center-of-the-plate dishes.
Efficient distribution systems that keep freight and other costs as low as possible are important to operators, he indicated. But increasingly, he added, both operators and consumers want to know where agricultural products are from, what their carbon footprint is and if they are safe.
Along those lines, Kane said, PRO*ACT and its suppliers have developed a Greener Fields Together initiative that, among other components, pays for safety audits at smaller farms and educates end users about the importance of dealing with suppliers who can best trace their product from the farm to the table because increased testing for dangerous contaminants means more recalls in the years ahead.
The Ideas and Innovations to Increase Customer Traffic panel was moderated by NRN online executive editor Sarah E. Lockyer and NRN associate publisher Chris Keating.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and The Beef Checkoff, PRO*ACT, American Express and The Coca-Cola Co. are Title Sponsors of MUFSO 2012.