QSR, NRN & Campaign all publish new articles penned by Joseph
01/02/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , , , , , , , , ,

QSR, NRN & Campaign all publish new articles penned by Joseph

2017 has started off with a bang. Our work has been recognized by industry leading publications, GD USA and Print, and over the last couple weeks restaurant and advertising industry publications have shared our thinking. We’re constantly pushing the envelope here at Vigor, and part of doing that is having a finger on the pulse of people’s behaviors and how it affects the restaurant and beverage industries. Both industries are constantly fighting in a sea of sameness; vying for just a modicum of attention from key markets. Whether startup, or growing brands, understanding how your brand fits into their world is paramount for success. The three articles recently published cover some key issues facing restaurant and beverage brands, today. Have a read, and please share if you enjoy.

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Why Are Beer Brands Still Ignoring Women?

Campaign Magazine

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4 Ways Restaurants Can Win Over Generation Z

Nation’s Restaurant News & Restaurant Hospitality

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The New Rules for Naming Your Restaurant

QSR Magazine

 

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GD USA recognizes our work for Smoke & Duck Sauce
27/01/17 Agency News , In the press # , , , , , ,

GD USA recognizes our work for Smoke & Duck Sauce

When we set out to help our friends over at Smoke & Duck Sauce get into the world, we had one focus: Get people to pay attention to things they thought they knew. For us the opportunity came in Americanizing common Asian food items like the zodiac placemat and takeout menus. Our big thinking led to a redesign of the zodiac mats bringing it up to today’s world. The takeout menus serve as the perfect shape for folding 1 of 1000 origami cranes.

GD USA recently recognized this work via their website. “We’re honored to have the work recognized by such a renowned publication. As readers of GD, we have found the content shared to be of the highest quality and greatest value for the design community. Now, we have a little piece of our hearts and minds contributing to that level of design,” chirped Joseph Szala, Principal and Brand Strategist of Vigor.

From all of us at Vigor, to the GD USA team, thanks a million, friends!

View the full case study for Smoke & Duck Sauce here.

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Featured Article in QSR Magazine: The New Rules for Restaurant Naming
07/01/17 In the press # , , , , , , , , ,

Featured Article in QSR Magazine: The New Rules for Restaurant Naming

Our principal and creative director, Joseph Szala, authored an article focused on successfully naming a restaurant. It starts with the passion driving the restaurant forward. Passion deeper than “good food, good service” table stakes. QSR Magazine picked up the article as an Outside Insights feature. Read it here.

Although published in QSR Magazine, the foundations for name remain relevant for other restaurant formats including Full Service (FSR), Fast Casuals, Casual Dining, and others. Furthermore, the beverage industry from craft beer to spirits and wine can glean the basics of good brand strategy and naming from the article.

Here are some quick quotes to spark your interest:

 

…you’re probably sitting in a room with a committee throwing the proverbial spaghetti on the wall and hoping that something sticks. Design by committee usually ends in a frustratingly boring result. When you have to appease multiple personalities with varying opinions the common result is vanilla.

The strongest brand names are bolstered by detailed, visceral meaning beyond product and service. In today’s world, “good product, good service,” are tablestakes and bottom line expectations. They’re not differentiators by any stretch.

 

Read the full article by Joseph on QSR Magazine’s website »

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Erasing the Line: Why linear thinking is a fast-track to failing
29/04/16 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , ,

Erasing the Line: Why linear thinking is a fast-track to failing

When speaking with marketing professionals and restaurateurs conversations inevitably turn to new medias, or discussion of which medias are more successful than others. It’s easy to fall into these chats because the landscape of marketing tactics is an ever-changing world. Focusing on new medias or traditional tactics with new features isn’t wrong, but it does play into a large problem commonly found in the world of marketing restaurants and beverage brands: Linear thinking.

Often times marketing strategies take a media-first approach. Brands hear the latest and greatest thing, or a sales person sells them on a “magical silver bullet” media. They take the bait and run with implementing creative specific to said media and anxious await the results. The results rarely show up, and when they do they are almost never up to expectation or promise. Immediately, it’s the fault of the media because “it doesn’t work” and “not worth the money.”

The problem isn’t with media, it’s in the thinking. See, successful marketing isn’t a linear process. Each consumer has a different journey he or she takes to land with food on a fork or drink in hand. We’re a dynamic people who are affected differently by different things and influenced at different moments of our lives. With this kind of ebb and flow, it makes sense that no singular media outlet or tactic can claim to be the end-all, be-all. Nor can you expect it to delivery on such lofty promises.

Instead of attempting to draw a line between a media and the end result of butts in seats, heads in beds, and/or drinks in hands, you need to retrain your brain to think of marketing as weaving a net. Successful marketing is an interwoven, interlocking team of many touch points that work in unison to create many opportunities for conversion. Collectively it is powerful and successful, but only as powerful as what’s locking them all together: The idea.

It’s the idea, the passion, and the “why” that matters most for a brand. That idea must be communicated concisely and with passionate fervor across every single interlocking moment. The idea should dictate the media that delivers it and the results can vary. It’s not always leading directly to a conversion of sale. Sometimes it’s building awareness, or boosting word of mouth. Sometimes the idea is meant to alter understanding or clear misconceptions. Even these semi-intangible results have undeniable benefits to the brand’s bottomline. It’s just extremely difficult to measure because the customer is on a journey that’s far from a straight point A to point B line. Instead, it’s a multiple destination experience. And, yes, it should end in sales. The “end” is just farther away than you think most times.

My advice is to destroy the idea of a straight line, and start thinking about each destination as opportunities to bolster brand love while ushering them towards the ultimate, but not final, destination of conversion.

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Vigor takes Silver in Graphis Design Annual
08/09/15 Agency News # , , , , ,

Vigor takes Silver in Graphis Design Annual

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of winning. Especially when the competition is fierce. We are honored to announce that Graphis, a renowned design publication, has saw fit to award Vigor silver in their 2016 Design Annual. The design and branding work for the Burger Radio food truck has officially been recognized as best in class.

We knew from the first call with David Levine, owner and visionary behind Burger Radio, that this project would be something special. There was immediate chemistry and alignment on the vision and idea from the beginning which led to an amazing working relationship. The results are a thriving burger business that’s looking to move to a brick and mortar location while receiving many accolades over the past couple of years. For us, we get recognized for a job well done.

Special thanks to David for letting us be just as crazy and he, and to giving us the opportunity to do excellent, now “award-winning,” work.

View the work »

View the annual »

Pre-order the annual in hardback or digital versions »

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Consumer connections are the key to impactful restaurant marketing
17/03/15 Uncategorized # , , ,

Consumer connections are the key to impactful restaurant marketing

Originally published in Restaurant Hospitality Magazine, read the article here.

The other night a new commercial for a restaurant chain caught my attention. It wasn’t the content nor was it the offer that snatched my curiosity, but rather the utter monotony and lack of anything new. The moment sparked a dive into my mental catalog of restaurant advertising and marketing, and one glaringly blatant commonality sprang out: Something vital is missing.

Restaurants are pretty good at following the “rules” of advertising and marketing. Show your product to create enticement. Offer a deal to woo a new trial or lukewarm previous customer. Create excitement and put it on for a limited time to “act now before it’s too late.” For decades this playbook was successful, but the game has evolved. It’s no longer enough, and the reason is both simple and complex. It’s devoid of any emotional tie or offering beyond the restaurant’s core offering: food.

Things have changed in consumer perceptions of brands. In general, they don’t trust advertising. Scandals in ethics, poor quality of food and the proliferation of the effects of processed products have corroded the legitimacy of restaurant brands. Traditional advertising has become akin to listening to a politician on his podium. It invokes skepticism and, as a result, gets tossed aside as mostly false or a downright lie in some extreme cases. One thing is left floating in the consumer’s mind: “So what? Prove it.”

Furthermore, product-focused advertising is all about the brand and not about consumers and their lifestyle. It’s an entirely selfish, “me-me-me” mentality, which makes it easy to ignore. Think about it. When is the last time you ever engaged with a person who told you how amazing they were? “Hi, I’m Joseph. I’m the coolest guy you’ll ever meet.” I’m surprised you got through that sentence without wanting to walk away. Restaurants must shift their focus to the consumer’s lifestyle and attitude, and what their product does to enhance them. Brands that do this successfully—such as Chipotle, Starbucks and Apple—have created a connection that’s hard to break, thereby fostering loyalty and brand evangelism.

Something bigger must be present beyond the latest ad campaign to not just attract, but also connect with consumers. Having a passion for something beyond the core product helps brands rise above competitors that focus on price and product alone. In the extremely aggressive and saturated restaurant industry this passionate purpose elevates a brand above the din.

A passionate purpose creates an emotional connection engrained in the company’s culture from the top down, inside to the outside. It permeates through every part of the business. In order to follow suit, a brand has to stop squawking flimsy promises and start walking the walk. That’s a tall order for any company, but one that is vital for gaining market share or halting a decline in some severe cases.

So, where does a brand start? Here are three tips to start the shift from product-centric marketing to emotional communications that are driven by a passionate purpose.

1. Toss the food focus and dig deeper to focus on people.

Although a good product is important, and showing your delicious glory shots of food shouldn’t stop, people are attracted to brands that reflect core values and beliefs that align with their own. They buy from brands that bolster and communicate their lifestyle and attitude. When someone buys a Starbucks coffee, it represents his or her busy lifestyle and concurrent need for catering to his or her specific demands. Think of the person who orders a double grande latte, skinny, heated to 130°. That is someone with demands and little time. The Starbucks brand represents a status that consumers wish to convey to the world, and that statement is what attracts and retains their loyal patrons.

2. Pinpoint a passionate purpose that connects with consumers.

Finding and pinpointing a passionate purpose may be something that comes easily to some brands, but can be much harder for others. It’s not as simple as brainstorming ideas in a room. It has to make sense and connect with people, while being legitimate and authentic. That only comes from in-depth consumer insights, brand strategy development and a dedication to threading the passionate purpose throughout the organization. Missing the mark won’t necessarily hurt a brand much, but sticking the landing will make all the difference.

3. Inject that purpose throughout every part of the business.

Chipotle’s renowned dedication to sustainable products, sourcing and the fair treatment of livestock connects with consumer interests because they live that passionate purpose. Chipotle has done little on-air advertising, instead relying on their actions to spark word of mouth. Actions do speak louder than words, especially in a situation where credibility is in question. Chipotle’s actions across the board add weight and credibility to their passionate purpose.

Considerations for purchase have increased in complexity. They have less to do with a restaurant’s product or deal, and more to do with what buying the brand communicates to world on behalf of the consumer. While good food and service are important, they have reached parity, leaving people looking for a larger reason to patronize one brand versus another. Brands like Starbucks and Chipotle convey a status that connects with consumers beyond utilitarian food offering. They tap into emotions that are bolstered throughout their respective companies, and it’s that emotion that needs to be injected into restaurant brand marketing. That’s the missing ingredient.

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Consumer connections are the key to impactful marketing
17/03/15 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , ,

Consumer connections are the key to impactful marketing

Originally published in Restaurant Hospitality Magazine, read the article here.

The other night a new commercial for a restaurant chain caught my attention. It wasn’t the content nor was it the offer that snatched my curiosity, but rather the utter monotony and lack of anything new. The moment sparked a dive into my mental catalog of restaurant advertising and marketing, and one glaringly blatant commonality sprang out: Something vital is missing.

Restaurants are pretty good at following the “rules” of advertising and marketing. Show your product to create enticement. Offer a deal to woo a new trial or lukewarm previous customer. Create excitement and put it on for a limited time to “act now before it’s too late.” For decades this playbook was successful, but the game has evolved. It’s no longer enough, and the reason is both simple and complex. It’s devoid of any emotional tie or offering beyond the restaurant’s core offering: food.

Things have changed in consumer perceptions of brands. In general, they don’t trust advertising. Scandals in ethics, poor quality of food and the proliferation of the effects of processed products have corroded the legitimacy of restaurant brands. Traditional advertising has become akin to listening to a politician on his podium. It invokes skepticism and, as a result, gets tossed aside as mostly false or a downright lie in some extreme cases. One thing is left floating in the consumer’s mind: “So what? Prove it.”

Furthermore, product-focused advertising is all about the brand and not about consumers and their lifestyle. It’s an entirely selfish, “me-me-me” mentality, which makes it easy to ignore. Think about it. When is the last time you ever engaged with a person who told you how amazing they were? “Hi, I’m Joseph. I’m the coolest guy you’ll ever meet.” I’m surprised you got through that sentence without wanting to walk away. Restaurants must shift their focus to the consumer’s lifestyle and attitude, and what their product does to enhance them. Brands that do this successfully—such as Chipotle, Starbucks and Apple—have created a connection that’s hard to break, thereby fostering loyalty and brand evangelism.

Something bigger must be present beyond the latest ad campaign to not just attract, but also connect with consumers. Having a passion for something beyond the core product helps brands rise above competitors that focus on price and product alone. In the extremely aggressive and saturated restaurant industry this passionate purpose elevates a brand above the din.

A passionate purpose creates an emotional connection engrained in the company’s culture from the top down, inside to the outside. It permeates through every part of the business. In order to follow suit, a brand has to stop squawking flimsy promises and start walking the walk. That’s a tall order for any company, but one that is vital for gaining market share or halting a decline in some severe cases.

So, where does a brand start? Here are three tips to start the shift from product-centric marketing to emotional communications that are driven by a passionate purpose.

1. Toss the food focus and dig deeper to focus on people.

Although a good product is important, and showing your delicious glory shots of food shouldn’t stop, people are attracted to brands that reflect core values and beliefs that align with their own. They buy from brands that bolster and communicate their lifestyle and attitude. When someone buys a Starbucks coffee, it represents his or her busy lifestyle and concurrent need for catering to his or her specific demands. Think of the person who orders a double grande latte, skinny, heated to 130°. That is someone with demands and little time. The Starbucks brand represents a status that consumers wish to convey to the world, and that statement is what attracts and retains their loyal patrons.

2. Pinpoint a passionate purpose that connects with consumers.

Finding and pinpointing a passionate purpose may be something that comes easily to some brands, but can be much harder for others. It’s not as simple as brainstorming ideas in a room. It has to make sense and connect with people, while being legitimate and authentic. That only comes from in-depth consumer insights, brand strategy development and a dedication to threading the passionate purpose throughout the organization. Missing the mark won’t necessarily hurt a brand much, but sticking the landing will make all the difference.

3. Inject that purpose throughout every part of the business.

Chipotle’s renowned dedication to sustainable products, sourcing and the fair treatment of livestock connects with consumer interests because they live that passionate purpose. Chipotle has done little on-air advertising, instead relying on their actions to spark word of mouth. Actions do speak louder than words, especially in a situation where credibility is in question. Chipotle’s actions across the board add weight and credibility to their passionate purpose.

Considerations for purchase have increased in complexity. They have less to do with a restaurant’s product or deal, and more to do with what buying the brand communicates to world on behalf of the consumer. While good food and service are important, they have reached parity, leaving people looking for a larger reason to patronize one brand versus another. Brands like Starbucks and Chipotle convey a status that connects with consumers beyond utilitarian food offering. They tap into emotions that are bolstered throughout their respective companies, and it’s that emotion that needs to be injected into restaurant brand marketing. That’s the missing ingredient.

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Why Olive Garden can’t be saved by branding
03/10/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , ,

Why Olive Garden can’t be saved by branding

Originally published on Branding Magazine. Read the full article here.

A few weeks ago Olive Garden experienced the beginnings of what could quickly turn into a coup. Starboard Value Partners, a firm that owns an 8.8% stake in Olive Garden’s parent company, released a 294-panel slide show on the poor performance of Darden’s Olive Garden brand. It was brutal, but undoubtedly honest. In this report the investor group viciously tore apart many of the problems that have been allegedly causing the decline of the restaurant, citing both product and branding as issues. Yet they failed to note the intrinsic relationship between the two: branding in the basic sense won’t fix a subpar product offering. Unless strategists are allowed to be actively involved with defining and changing the brand’s offering, a company is just prolonging and inevitable decline.

It’s easy to see why Starboard Value Partners is up in arms as the report points out critical issues like “salads are overfilled and regularly dressed with more than the recommended amount of dressing” and “breadsticks get cold as they sit stale on the table.” It seems to reach a pinnacle when they point out that salting pasta water, an Italian cooking basic, isn’t even a standard practice at Olive Garden. Starboard’s presentation goes further into the dynamics of the restaurant, including it’s marketing and branding practices, tearing it part limb from limb.

It’s well known that Olive Garden has been sinking over the last few years, and that brand changes were made earlier this year to stave off decline further. For a lot of failing restaurants, brand is the usually the first thing analyzed and changed. Maybe it’s because it’s relatively easier and quicker than a complete overhaul, or simply because the burden of sales is commonly thrown on the back of the marketing department. There is an underlying problem to this train of thought: Branding can’t save a business without the truth to back it up.

As we delve into the process of extrapolating key ideals, consumer focuses, need states and the multitude of other elements that go into the proper development of a brand, there is one core piece of the puzzle cast aside – the product. When it’s all stripped down to the nitty gritty, the product is what matters most. The product, and the purpose behind it, of any company is the epicenter of its existence, and too often the brand development team is left out of any key decisions regarding it.

During the discovery and distillation of the brand development process a litany of information is gathered and analyzed. The information isn’t just focused on advertising, marketing and design. It delves deep into every part of a company. With all of the information garnered and distilled in brand strategy exercises and research, the value of a restaurant’s product and potential of what it could be become quite clear. Ignoring those insights is negligent, but something operations teams often seem to do. The results can be seen in Olive Garden’s current situation. They made a half-baked attempt at altering the food, yet ran directly into overhauling the look of the brand’s identity.

Starboard’s report isn’t an amalgamation of information created out of thin air. It’s all based on market research, consumer polling, and other resources to get an in-depth understanding of the situation. Those tactics are exactly what a true brand strategist would orchestrate as they go through the brand development process. If those in charge of operations worked in tandem with teams tasked with developing a brand, the company could alter the core offering so the brand development team can convey something of substance.

My suggestion to the world of restaurant operations professionals out there is this: Work with the branding team to share the information divulged in their process, then make positive changes based on that information. Hold off on any design, marketing or “branding” work until changes are appropriately implemented. Only in that scenario can a company, restaurant or any other kind, honestly be ready for a brand facelift.

The good news for the Olive Garden is they do have some elements of their product that define the brand. Despite being blasted for their breadsticks and salads, those two items are iconic for the restaurant chain. They obviously need a bit of work on some of their menu items, but let’s give them a little bit of leeway. 2014 has been a year of positive changes for the restaurant brand from kitchen to redesign. Maybe Starboard can ease up a little bit and let things take effect. I know it’s easier said than done when staring at an ever-decreasing stock value, but rebuilding a brand to be a meaningful part of culture again takes time.

http://shareholdersfordarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Transforming-Darden.pdf

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What’s causing TGI Fridays downfall?
10/07/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , ,

What’s causing TGI Fridays downfall?

This article was posted to LinkedIn by request from their team, you can read it on that platform here.

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking with Alexander Kaufman from the Huffington Post about TGI Friday’s new promotion (AYCE Appetizers for $10) and the ramifications of it on their brand.  The article covers a lot of my opinions which were naturally confirmed by other restaurant experts, but I wanted to take the time to dig a little deeper.

For those that don’t know, TGI Friday’s launched a new, aggressive promotion where customers can get all the appetizers they can eat for only $10. It’s analogous to the slimy used car salesman. TGI Friday’s is pandering, peddling and pushing it’s low quality food at any cost. “What’s it gonna take to get you into an appetizer today?!” They might as well put a inflatable flailing arms guy out front of every location.

Although the promotion seems like it’s in the same vein as other promotions they’ve run in the past* this one seems more like a last ditch effort to stave off the inevitable: TGI Friday’s is failing. There are a number of drivers pushing towards this inevitable decline:

  1. They’re known for processed and frozen foods that aren’t great and definitely not healthy
  2. Their atmosphere is no longer unique and devoid of the attitude it once had
  3. Run on a business/operations model to which the market no longer responds

We all grew up eating at Casual FSRs whether it’s an Olive Garden, Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday. These approachable restaurants touting fun-times and new experiences popped up all over the place decades ago. Their rapid growth could be attributed to a multitude to their new dining experiences, but that would only take a restaurant so far. The main reason places like Friday’s were about to replicate their concepts was the creation of processes that controlled consistency from location to location.

You could go to a Friday’s in New York and have the same experience you’d have in Florida. The food would be the same, the people, atmosphere, and so on. This assembly line approach to creating a restaurant experience was the foundation for their rapid growth. This strong backbone continues to keep things running, but a few recent trends have taken root and they’re directly chopping away at the core of the Friday’s model.

Farm-to-table craze hit the US market and with it came an ever-growing awareness around fresh ingredients and responsibly grown produce. Processed foods are now constantly demonized, and the rush towards eating better continues to skyrocket. Eating “healthy” isn’t about dieting any longer. It’s about eating fresher across the board and taking an acute interest in how animals are raised, how food is grown, and the effects of additives on the human body. Terms like “all natural”, “locally sourced” and “responsibly grown” are now apart of our vernacular.

People don’t want processed foods. They don’t want to eat frozen garbage that’s dropped in a fryer, or a bag of pasta heated in a boiling pot of water. It doesn’t matter how cheap you make it. That pushes the quality further into the gutter in the consumer’s mind. TGI Friday’s compounds their dedication to frozen, non-fresh foods by selling said food in a freezer at your local grocery store.

The second reason for the downfall of brand giants like Friday’s is their dining experience is worn out. The atmosphere of TGI Friday’s was always a zany, high energy, fun-time spot. Jokes about the amount of flare worn even made it into cult films like Office Space. It was a spot to go in the neighborhood because the other spots were rundown independent bars that were smoky, dingy and depressing. Casual FSRs brought a clean spot with a great vibe and changed the game.

However, with growth comes dilution of the restaurant’s brand. TGI Friday’s can’t be a neighborhood spot because neighborhoods have attitude, character and personalities that are different from anywhere else. TGI Friday’s is the exact same at every location. It’s been the same for decades. Nothing has changed which means we’ve all been there, done that.

In order to stay interesting and keep new trials and loyalty at a high, you have to grow and reconfigure the brand naturally. This means creating new ideas that reinvigorate the experience and interrupt the norm customer have come to expect. TGI Friday’s is the same today as it was yesterday and the only changes are the new promotions for cheap food.

Finally, the third reason Casual FSRs are declining and failing can be attributed directly to the Fast Casual movement. Independents and new small chains built on the fast casual format have sprung up with amazing atmospheres Their experiences have new character and authentic personality. These guys are fulfilling a desire in the market for higher quality food at a good price. Most Casual FSRs can’t offer the same.

The fast casual format alone has eliminated the need or desire for a full service casual experience. New fast casuals serve craft beers, craft cocktails and amazing food. They meet the markets demands for fresher ingredients and more sophisticated flavor profiles. What’s more is this format can keep prices low on the food because there isn’t the need for a large staff to run the ship. People aren’t concerned with having someone wait on their table. In a fast casual format the food is brought to you and you’re left in peace to enjoy the meal which is all most people ever wanted anyway. Save the waiters for a night out at a fine dining restaurant.

The very things that constructed the backbone of casual FSRs behemoths are exactly the things crushing them. This traditional model is dying quicker and quicker. Unfortunately, the only way these slow casual restaurants will change the inevitable is with a full overhaul of the business model, operations and food. It doesn’t look like any of them are even considering it.

What are your thoughts on the promotion and the future of TGI Friday’s and/or the slow casual restaurant model?

* – TGI Fridays ran a promotion pushing 2 for $20 in 2012.

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Joseph chimes in on Friday’s “Endless Appetizers” for Huffington Post
09/07/14 In the press # , , , , , ,

Joseph chimes in on Friday’s “Endless Appetizers” for Huffington Post

TGI Fridays launched their controversial Endless Appetizers promotion in what looked to be a desperate effort to boost sales. Alexander Kaufman reached out to me to get my opinion on what this means for the brand and how it can negatively affect it. My comments were right beside notable brand strategists like Aaron Allen and TGI Friday’s CMO, Brian Gies. The full article is reposted below, and you can read it on the Huffington Post website. The conversation continued on Linked In after I was asked to embellish by LinkedIn staff.

TGI Fridays is so hungry for new customers that it’s giving food away.

The chain restaurant launched an all-you-can-eat deal on Monday, offering endless helpings of any one appetizer — potato skins, mozzarella sticks, spinach dip and other options — for $10 per person. The promotion is meant to draw new customers, and it’s getting heaps of press coverage of the sort not seen since the chain’s 1990s heyday.

Yet analysts say the endless apps deal is basically Fridays’ swan song, a last-ditch move that ultimately cheapens the company’s brand. The apps may be endless, but Americans’ desire to visit a so-called “casual dining” chain restaurant is just about over.

“In the short term, [Fridays] will definitely have more traffic, but in the long term it damages their plan and will really destroy them,” said Aaron Allen, founder of Aaron Allen & Associates, a restaurant industry consulting firm. “It’s the signal of a desperate brand.”

David Letterman devoted the Top 10 segment on his show Monday to the promotion.

Sales nosedived at casual chain restaurants during the recession, sending once-popular eateries like Bennigan’s and Friendly’s into bankruptcy. Even as the economy has recovered, most of these restaurants have struggled to regain customers. Millennials want fresh, cheap fastish food from chains like Panera and Chipotle. The Mexican chain’s revenue more than doubled to $3.2 billion from 2009 to 2013. The days of young “singles” flocking to TGI Fridays happy hours are long over.

Even Brian Gies, Fridays’ chief marketing officer in the U.S., said the company was stuck in a “combo-meal malaise” and admitted it needed to adapt to modern tastes.

“There are no silver bullets in this business,” Gies said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “The economy and consumer behavior are constantly changing, you’ve got to change with it.”

Sales are anemic at the 49-year-old company, which has more than 900 restaurants in 60 countries. The chain was sold in May by its longtime owner, hospitality firm Carlson Restaurant Inc., to two private equity firms for upward of $800 million.

Annual revenue at company-owned stores dropped 2 percent to $1.1 billion in 2013, according to numbers shown to HuffPost by PrivCo, a financial data provider on privately held companies. Including franchisees, sales revenue hovered at $2.7 billion last year, the same as the year before.

Gies declined to comment on those figures.

The “endless appetizers” promotion, which runs until Aug. 24, may eat into sales. But for the restaurant that claims to have popularized the term “happy hour” and the Long Island Iced Tea, the real money-maker may be alcohol.

“They’re probably hoping they can make it up on drinks,” said Joel Cohen, a restaurant marketing expert.

But a quick boom in booze sales may just further erode the struggling brand.

“If they’re just up-selling the alcohol, the promotion just looks like a ploy,” said Joseph Szala, a restaurant branding expert at the marketing firm Iris Worldwide.”They’re saying, ‘We’ll do anything to get you into a Fridays for a meal’ — it’s too kitschy, too car sales-y. It’s low class.”

To survive, Fridays may have to raise prices, Allen said.

“That’s the only way you can compete,” he said. “A casual dining restaurant can never be as casual and as fast and convenient as a fast-casual one.”

Or it can jazz up its menu. Sure, Gies said the mozzarella sticks now include asiago cheese and a dusting of parmesan. And, yeah, the potato skins have more cheese and are “more potato-y,” he said. But, according to Jeff Fromm, an advertising consultant at Barkley who co-authored the book Marketing to Millennials, the key to attracting the coveted 20-something consumers Fridays is losing to fast-casual chains is offering some culinary pizzazz.

“They’re going to need to look at creating experiences — creating flavor adventures,” Fromm said. “Less uniqueness means bigger problems for Fridays.”

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