Each year I visit nearly a thousand restaurants in the United States, writes Kevin Higar. While operators are certainly keeping a vigilant eye on price points, many customers have made it clear other dining experience elements also play an important role in their overall value definition. The result: innovative operators are jumping on this changing mindset as a great opportunity to showcase their differentiating food and service attributes. In fact, my research and travels have uncovered over fifty unique value strategies operators are using to take the restaurant dining experience beyond mere price.
Here’s a taste of some of the unique strategies anyone visiting the United States can expect to experience.
Creating food that speaks to the soul
Folks in the US are in love with comfort food. Cutting edge concepts are seeking out these traditional dishes and re-interpreting them to fit their own menu positioning. Do you like waffles, eggs, ham, and pesto? How about when the waffle is folded like a taco and a fried egg, shaved ham, and pesto sauce is lovingly placed inside? Bruxie’s, in Orange, California, has become a local cult favorite by offering this sandwich, known affectionately as Green Eggs and Ham. Comfort food value can be created in either a traditional or contemporary manner. This dish captures a little bit of both.
Fast casual meets ethnic intrigue
Media outlets such as the Food Network have made consumers much more comfortable with the idea of trying ethnic cuisines. Fast Casual concepts continue to emerge across the United States offering high quality, unique flavour profiles featuring ethnic cuisines such as Latin American, Mediterranean, and Asian. Given the approachable price points offered by Fast Casual concepts, as well as their positioning as ethnic cuisine experts, expect consumers’ demands for international cuisine to continue to be met by this innovative segment.
In a 2012 Technomic US Generational Trend report, only 39% of millennials, 27% of gen xers, and 28% of boomers agreed with the statement “I believe I’ll have more time to cook in the future”. Translation: Most folks are busy. Pie Five, a fast casual restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, offers guests the opportunity to create and enjoy a customised, fresh, high quality personal size pizza in approximately three minutes via a high-tech conveyor belt convection oven. This model creates major value for on-the-go individuals in non-traditional locations such as downtown office buildings and airports.
Offer flexible “blurring daypart” solutions
There is often a fine line from the consumer’s perspective between a traditional meal and a snack, and this distinction grows fainter each day. Concepts are creating smaller sized menu options at lower price points that can be consumed singularly as a snack or in combination as an entire meal. For many consumers, the decision of which way they will go doesn’t occur until the order is placed. This puts a premium on a restaurant’s ability to offer such menu flexibility.
Quality of life becomes a tastier proposition
Historically, menu items incorporating “better for you” ingredients and cooking techniques were often viewed as flavour deficient. Today, restaurants are breaking through these taste barrier perceptions. Native Foods Café, founded in Palm Springs, California, offers a 100% plant-based menu that pleases the palates of vegans and non-vegans alike. All food is made fresh daily and often includes seasonal and local offerings.
“Dietary balance” is the motto for many. This means not every meal has to be healthy. As a result, fried isn’t necessarily a bad menu descriptor. In fact, it’s finding unique interpretations across multiple menu categories. At Sambuca 360, a restaurant nightclub in Plano, Texas, one of the most popular and delicious items on the menu is the chicken fried ribeye. This certified Angus beef ribeye is battered and fried, creating an amazing entrée that’s golden brown on the outside and moist and tender on the inside.
No one wants to be just another source of dollar bills. Even if it’s only for thirty seconds, customers like it when they feel staff members are genuinely glad to see them. I was recently in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a speaking engagement. On the way back to the airport I stopped to gas up my rental car at WaWa, which is a convenience store chain known for its stellar foodservice operations and welcoming atmosphere. I decided to grab a sandwich for the flight. Stressed, hurried, and hungry, what I found inside was a staff member that briefly engaged me in casual conversation while making my Italian sandwich. I felt appreciated, and that’s a powerful value equation perspective.
So what is the moral of the current US Foodservice story? Successful concepts are incorporating strategies beyond price. Restaurants truly seeing things from their customers’ perspectives are creating unique, appealing value propositions that set the stage for long-term success.