Jo Vyvyan-Robinson looks at the reasons some casual dining brands are taking a battering…
It’s not been a great week for the UK high street, with the demise of Toys R Us, Maplin, and casual dining restaurant Prezzo.
[Maplin, not a surprise – its Oxford Circus store has a disco ball display in the window… who ever wants to buy that tat, let alone for their office supplies? Meanwhile, poor Toys R Us has failed to keep up with the competition; sad, as its new store formats are interactive, fun and well thought through. Too little too late I suppose. The rot had already set in.]
But it’s the ongoing ‘casual dining crunch’ saga that caught my eye this week; an incredibly oversaturated market that has grown too quickly, suffering from Brexit, rising food costs, increased business rates, increased staff costs, and changing consumer habits… according to commentators. But I am not so sure it’s purely down to those external factors. Of course, they’ve not helped, but it seems to me that the likes of Byron, Prezzo, Jamie’s Italian, and Strada have fallen foul to not knowing their audience well enough, and from underestimating the importance of the strength of their brand to drive relevance and, of course, frequency.
Restaurants, like brands, go through a natural cycle. With newer, cooler options available, being idle is a sure-fire way to become forgotten and lose relevance. Loss of focus on the brand results in loss of sales. Here’s what went wrong with those brands:
- Know the audience – Byron took a growth model that worked in London, and went into the regions with a brazen restaurant opening schedule that would have looked ambitious even in fairer trading climes; they simply did not understand the casual dining market and their target audience enough outside of London.
- Be authentic – Jamie’s was launched as a genuine ‘local’ Italian, which Jamie was proud of and involved with, but it quickly became a mass brand and therefore lost its authenticity. Rapidly expanding chains can forget the principles that made them fantastic in the first place. Also, it’s hard to believe that one man can be involved in over 40 sites in the UK… It’s also interesting that Gino D’Accampo is opening five new restaurants focusing on the north of England.
- Be distinctive – Strada is a mid-market pizza joint with a poor image, which has been attacked by better competitors with a distinctive and memorable brand (from Franco Manca, to Pizza Pilgrims). It’s well documented that the London casual dining market is ‘saturated’ but there are new restaurants popping up daily (I see it where I work – Shoreditch, and where I live – Tooting). The secret is building something that has longevity, but also doesn’t feel like a chain.
- Be targeted – Targeted campaigns drive footfall; brands need to ask: who is the consumer, and what is the occasion? Trying to be all things to all people just dilutes your proposition.
On the flip side, casual dining brands such as Five Guys, Nandos and even pub Wetherspoons are bucking the ‘casual dining crash’ trend – why? Because they are genius at knowing their audience, or adapting their brand to changing tastes, and trends. They listen to their audience and provide a dining experience, which is relevant to their needs.
In harsh trading environments, it’s even more critical for brands to invest in connecting with their audience. And it doesn’t have to be delivered via big budget activations; clever, authentic personality-led activations drive brand love. At a time when there are so many factors you can’t control, it’s more important than ever to act on those you can. And if all else fails, launch halloumi sticks…