Archive for July, 2010

“Culture of Outlets” — Ban this Word!

And when was the last time you said, “Let’s go eat at an outlet”? I’ll bet you’ve never heard this dialogue:

Spouse A: Honey, it’s Saturday, let’s go out to dinner.

Spouse B: Sounds great. What kind of outlet are you thinking about?

Spouse A: What? I said dinner.

Spouse B:  Got it. At the hotel we call them outlets. Hey after dinner at an outlet, let’s go to an outlet for drinks.

Spouse A: I don’t want to eat at an outlet, I want to dine at a restaurant, then drink at a bar.

Spouse B: Sounds a little strange to me, but OK.

Also an Outlet

So, “B” works at a hotel. Why don’t we say “restaurants & bars” when we work at hotels? Well, it’s convenient to say outlets if you want to encompass every type of service in one word. Room Service is not the same as restaurant, and a mini bar is not the same as a Bar. But both are “outlets”. I suspect the term emanated from accounting where analysis often requires lumping the non-banqueting areas together.

Well, lump them together all you want, but don’t call my restaurant an outlet. Or my bar. Guests don’t eat at outlets – just ask them. I can see the intercept survey now: “Sir, would you mind sharing some of your opinions about the outlet you dined at last evening?” Restaurants, Bar/Lounge, Room Service and Mini Bars all work for me. Let finance people refer to Eating & Drinking Revenue Centers.

Cute Outlet, but not a Restaurant

So I pledge here and now: stop what this “culture of outlets”. This culture supports a second-class image for hotel restaurants and bars. Language both reflects and reinforces culture:  ban the word “outlet” from your hotel. Hold your F&B head high.

And while we’re at it, here is some more “culture of outlets” behavior we should put to rest:

  1. Using the hotel logo on bar and restaurant promotional materials. Your restaurant has a name, right? Your bar? And logos? [Note: I’ve seen hotel restaurants and bars without logos – you can design a useable logo on line for a couple hundred bucks. Do it.]
  2. Room Service should be positioned as a service of the restaurant, not a service o the hotel. Yes, in some instances Room Service is truly unique, with a different staff and different kitchen than the restaurant. But in most cases, when it comes to Room Service, we fail to leverage all of the internal marketing we’ve done for our restaurants and bars. We don’t use restaurant and bar logos, we don’t talk about the restaurant Chef and we don’t do anything to indicate that the Chef even knows that his or her food sometimes goes to the rooms (how about: “We have prepared this Signature from our restaurant kitchen specifically for our Room Service Guests”, etc.)

    This is Also an Outlet

  3. Performing “competitive shops” at other hotels. So you really think your guest leaves the hotel for dinner and walks or drives…to another hotel? A competitive survey should determine where guests eat and/or drink when they don’t eat/drink at your bars and restaurants. Your employees and your regular guests can both tell you this. Ask them.
  4. Hotel web sites. My recent “Banana” blog addresses the need for independent web sites for your bars and restaurants. But how about the hotel web site? I actually think that the driver of “culture of outlets” here is space: “dining” is a 6-character word. “Restaurants & Bars” is 18 spaces. The same culture at work, I think, that figures it’s OK to use “Events” as a placeholder for “Weddings”. Reorganize the site, make the space.

Please let me know what words or phrases you think might work better than “outlets”.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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When Selling the Right Thing is the Wrong Thing

Once last month I was thinking too hard and managed to work myself right into a contradiction. I was at a property roughly 75 miles from Wine Country.  I was congratulating management on their wine promotion, a simple but effective Best Practice, how I reported it. I was also congratulating myself on congratulating management as this would reinforce the Company’s excellent wine sales culture that I had supported in previous reports and meetings.

Regrettably, while compiling the report I encountered a sinister force trying to destroy the superb writing and brilliant conclusions of my masterful report: data. Oops. 

Turns out, the customer didn’t follow the well-merchandised direction: “drink more wine…drink more wine…” This is the thing about customers, that just when you expect them to do just one simple thing…well, you know.

Previously I had looked at sales, or the beverage mix. So, the spirits-beer-wine mix might be 30% – 32% – 38%. Great, we’re selling more wine. Keep it up. Promote wine. Good job. Report emailed.

Then I stumbled across some additional information. By “stumbled across” I mean I decided to look at the other data contained in the sales mix report. The other data was “number of items sold” though it wasn’t labeled clearly and this will continue to be my excuse for missing it first time around.

So, it turns out, incidents of beer sales surpass, significantly, incidents of spirits or wine sales in the lounge. Of course spirits and wine sales are critical and must be promoted, but promoted strategically. In fact wine sales and incidents of wine sales dominate room service beverage, for example.

But back to beer. Digging some more. Beer at this location wasn’t discounted significantly. Craft and imports were popular. The beer selection paled (pun?) next to the wine selection. There is a wine list but no beer list. There was excess capacity in the beer cooler. Management is smart and open minded. In other words, all of the usual obstacles were gone, and opportunities abound.

The hotel is adjusting inventories, re-writing beverage menus and developing new promotions. Adding some taps in the Lounge. Ratcheting up room service wine promos. All because of some data.

Six months from now I’ll request an updated mix and overall sales analysis,  and we’ll see happened. We’ll see together – I’ll share it here.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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My Banana Has a Web Site

Yup. It does. See for yourself: www.ChiquitaChampions.com. Chiquita is working to associate – to make you associate their product with sports achievement.

My question is, hotel restaurant managers, GM’s, F&B Directors, et al: do you? Have a web site? For your restaurant? And for your bar if it’s a separate concept?

Many have “preached” for years that to be successful, a hotel restaurant must be deemed separate from the hotel, an independent entity. In fact many hotels have a truly independent restaurant operated by a separate company, sometimes a high-profile brand or chef, and to me that seems to work well. Most hotels don’t have the right location or the ability to invest in a high profile third party operation, and/or they prefer to operate F&B themselves for sound reasons. In these cases, the majority of hotel restaurants and bars make attempts to separate their concept(s) visually or functionally: individual name, logo, trade dress; separate entrance; separate phone number; reservations through OpenTable, etc.

So, why not create separate identity in the easiest of all ways: through an independent web site? The data on this is compelling.

As far back as 2007 AIS Media reported that more than half of American consumers look at a restaurant’s web site prior to dining. I’ve seen research more recently suggesting that two-thirds of consumers look at restaurant or bar web sites before they visit. Perhaps surprisingly, the numbers are similar for Boomers and Millennials. Most-often looked at? Menus. At the NRA show in May, Yelp!’s VP for business development stated that the average Yelp! user looks at three sites before selecting a restaurant.

I should mention that there is no data on the percentage of Millennials or Boomers checking the internet prior to purchasing bananas.

And now for a little GVC “research”. Not enough for statistical validity perhaps, but maybe interesting? During a virtual visit to a medium-sized market I looked at the top ten (of 415 reviewed) restaurants on Yelp! Nine had web sites. Then I looked at the bottom ten: only 5 had web sites. Maybe part of the formula for being a top restaurant is maintaining contact with your customer?

OK, more. All ten of the top ten had pictures posted on Yelp!, while half of the bottom ten had posted pictures. Of those who had pictures: top ten restaurants averaged 3 pictures per store, bottom ten 1.2.

And now for hotels. Same market. Eight hotels had 17 different restaurants or bars. Only 3 of the 17 had independent sites.  To their credit, more than a third of the hotel sites had their menus posted.

So, now what? Well, the cost of creating a dedicated restaurant web site is lower than ever. A company at the NRA was charging $1,200. Four others I’ve spoken with will create one for $1,000 – $3,000. These lower-cost sites use templates, but can be made to look fine and serve you well. A few more dollars for SEO accompanied by some strategic social media activity and supported by a social media “champion” within your hotel will get you in the game.

Oh, and we need more research on banana-buying and the Internet.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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