Am I losing out on business because I am not embracing new trends and products?

23 November 2006
Am I losing out on business because I am not embracing new trends and products?

I own a destination food pub and feel that I might be losing out on increased business because I am not embracing new trends and products. Is this the case?

The solutions

Hugh Cade, Deterministics

Pub food sales have increased significantly in recent years. Good news. However, growth in demand is being accompanied by growth in supply, not only as operators strive to meet increasing consumer demand but also as a result of repositioning of pub offers as a result of smoking bans.

If you are to benefit from growth in demand in the face of increased supply, then your food operation must be "best in class". So what can you do to ensure you are the best?

As customers become increasingly sophisticated they are seeking greater professionalism in service. No longer is it acceptable to queue at the bar to place a food order and then wait 30 minutes or more for the food to arrive.

Good service requires rhythm, tempo and timing. Many operators design their service system to deliver food within 12-15 minutes. Service staff pagers warn when food is on the hotplate and, in some cases, inform kitchen staff of the exact timing of their work so they can deliver all the orders to the same table at the same time.

It is at peak times that service can suffer. Accurate systems for forecasting demand, and labour scheduling at the quarter-hour, are now used by many operators, often based on data from point of sale systems.

Menu engineering techniques are used by many of the major players, and knowledge of these techniques is beneficial at all levels. This involves an understanding of the processes and labour input required for each menu item. For example, dishes with a preparation time of 20 minutes don't sit comfortably with a target service time of 12 minutes.

Our management check list, 10 Ingredients for Successful Pub Food, is available on request.

Carl May, Catered4

There can be a tendency to feel that innovation is passing you by. Brand awareness, super-chilled dispensers, fruit-based drinks, technology… there's a seemingly never-ending list of must-haves to save your business from impending doom.

Don't get me wrong, I am all in favour of developing the product, but we must stay focused on the customer. You might already be offering exactly what it is that keeps your customer base happy, but how do you really know?

Seek their feedback through small questionnaires. Ask them if there is anything extra the business can offer.

Introduce a "no" book. When you have to answer a customer enquiry with a no, write it down. You might start to see a pattern arising, helping you to introduce products and services that you don't yet offer.

Make a list of all the problems you have and try to ascertain if new products will solve them or whether they can be corrected by staff training and development. You might keep the best pint of ale, but if your staff don't dispense it correctly, no new product will overcome that.

Reading trade journals can be beneficial; and use the internet to research new products and ideas that you think might be of value. Mention them to your staff and customers and listen to the feedback.

Visit market leaders that are your competitors and see what they are doing. Take on board their product offers and twist them to suit your own business. Don't try to reinvent the wheel; just put your own shine on it.

Richard Negus, Fleurets

It is always important to keep abreast of what's happening in the market by way of trends and new products - magazines such as Caterer are good reading for this type of information. However, it's vitally important that you build an offering based around your existing and potential trade. Understand who your consumers are, and ensure you set out to exceed their expectations.

Just like other consumer markets, eating out has its fashions and trends, but embrace and follow these with caution. By their very nature, most trends are short-lived. Those that are successful in this business carefully manage their offering over a sustained period, with one eye on the "next big thing" and the other on doing what they do at present to perfection. To keep current customers and build on your trade you need to take customers on a journey, a seamless path of evolution through a constantly changing offering.

For most food-led businesses the answer to how to increase trade is under their nose, and it's down to the ability of the owner to understand and engage his or her clients.

Recognise why a customer chooses you over a competitor, or a competitor over you - it's more than likely for reasons related to quality of food, range of wines and beers, friendly service and the enjoyment of spending time at a place they like. Ask yourself, is the venue and its offering the best it can be and suitably differentiated from the competition?

Give the customer what they want at a price they are prepared to pay. But in order to do that you have to know your customer and the market you are trying to attract. Decide a path; be open to suggestion; and think carefully about the trends you embrace.

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