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Innovating in all the right places

The Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit saw hundreds of leaders from 17 countries gather in London earlier this month for the five-event series. Hosted by Propel and Think Hospitality, the event shares learnings, celebrates successes and defines the future of eating and drinking out. During the three days more than 60 speakers and panellists took to the stage to join the conversation. Here are the top ten themes to emerge from the event:


The future is digital, but how digital?


A connecting theme from many of the presentations was data and the opportunity technology presents. As the old saying goes: “What can be measured can be managed.” We heard about cocktail-making technology, the benefits of automated voice reservation systems and the continued importance of takeaway as a revenue driver.


It is likely that “voice” will become the future as a Star Trek producer’s dream turns into reality, although it feels the greatest use of technology in our sector will be one that doesn’t stand between your business and the guest, helping you to measure and manage through the use of inexpensive sensors. We saw fascinating insights into the way sight, sound and smell can change human behaviours, which in turn generate improved sales. It might seem a bit 1984 to some, but to others this presents a dream opportunity. I lean towards the latter yet have an increasing sense it’s worth covering my webcam and turning my phone off more often – if restaurants are watching, it’s likely others are too.


Are you measuring what matters?


As we’ve said we have data galore at our fingertips, much more than ever, and the question is knowing what matters. Consider what’s important to your brand, what moves the needle on sales and how you can use this to make an impact. Make key performance indicators simple and track them. Aim to have your data interconnecting and easily accessible – live – to drive changes as they’re required rather than waiting until the end of each month. It’s important to gain feedback from your customers and use it to improve the way you operate and your proposition. Make your decisions based on data, not gut.


Is loyalty dead?


The idea of swiping a card to collect points is a thing of the past but the need to retain and grow business from existing customers remains as important as ever. Use technology to make customer interactions easier, communicate with them more effectively about what they want, and understand them on a much deeper level to enhance their experience at your venue.


Do you have the right skills in your team?


Acting both locally and at brand level is a hard balance to strike that requires new thinking, with three different skill bases – the need for geeks to analyse and decipher data, marketers to interpret this, and operators on the ground empowered to think locally. Your marketing team will need to be far more digitally focused too, with the skills to deliver on-story and be brilliant content creators.


Where should good ideas come from?


Marketers and operators need to work closer than ever to drive trade, especially during tough trading periods. Ensure everyone is up to speed with your brand direction based on a clear strategy then encourage everyone to bring ideas to the table. This will drive engagement. Once you’ve created an initiative, give someone a clear remit for its delivery and keep communication lines open. It’s important to have marketing and innovation plans mapped out well in advance so everyone is on the same page and knows what is happening. However, don’t let this restrict those last-minute revenue-driving initiatives.


Are you adapting your business to a mobile-first world?


Customers are deciding where to dine much closer to the experience, within 90 minutes we’re told. The vast majority of searches are now carried out on a mobile and people expect to be able to do everything they would on a desktop on their phone. Consider making your site mobile first, think about usability and make it fast. Consumers are increasingly micro-researching before making every little decision. This is going on when they’re standing outside your restaurant deciding whether to enter or go elsewhere and at the table when deciding what to eat from the menu. Consider content that has a quick visual impact and actively manage review sites to gain this last-minute trade.


Are your social team sharing more than pretty pictures?


Instagram is still the stand-out social channel for driving engagement for your restaurant or bar brand, but make sure you give people a reason to come. Don’t just think about what you are sharing, consider “gramability” in your interior design and product development. That said, don’t share user-generated content only and tell more of a story – that means posting more than pretty pictures of food. Consider in-house content producers for maximum impact but make sure they are clearly briefed and well managed so they drive the required impact.


To influencer or not to influencer – that is the question!


YouTube star, Instagrammer or Facebook legend, online influencers can help capture certain audiences and build queues around the block. There was some debate as to whether this tactic suits everyone, with some feeling it feels overly orchestrated and lacks authenticity while others see it as a magic potion to success. Trying to strike a balance, I feel the best advice is to consider your brand and what you stand for and then consider who, if anyone, would help you tell your story or enhance your exposure to the right audience. One strong message that came through is to be careful when you activate large-scale influencer and social campaigns – make sure operating teams are ready to deliver.


Is marketing the glue in your business?


While many other departments in our business look after aspects of a guest experience and the way we look and feel, the marketing team is the glue that bonds it all together. The role of marketing is to keep and satisfy the customer, putting them at the centre of decisions, thinking of brand and every touchpoint with it beyond the time they spend in your outlet. Customers will increasingly expect customisation, they get it in every aspect of their lives. Not doing so will mean your customers will go elsewhere. Only a specific group of upper-end restaurants can truly use the excuse of “chef knows best”, otherwise this feels like an arrogant excuse or a way to ease operations. To deliver the best for customers the team has to be behind the brand. Remember that to achieve the best result it requires teamwork and engaging and inspiring the broader team in the process, working closely with your operators and people teams to make this happen.


Simple steps count


Alongside big brand campaigns and innovations, it’s also important to focus on the detail. From ensuring your teams answer the phones to getting to know your neighbours through local business development and marketing efforts, the simple steps can count the most.


 First published in Propel Friday opinion.