The UK’s crowded UK F&B space is defined by the rise of casual dining brands, with consumers increasingly accustomed to chain concepts. While some operators ‘cut and paste’ proven formulas, giving the consumer just what they expect on every visit, others wish to grow and retain their USP.
But how do brands looking to create a point of difference balance ambitious growth plans while holding onto the essence of their personality?
The reality is that dining out is not a functional experience. Yes, we need to eat and yes, that food needs to be something we like and of adequate quality. But what we buy into, and what keeps us coming back, is how the place makes us feel when we are there. Having no personality is disastrous.
Interestingly, longstanding brands are also recognising this; Harvester for example, has recently gone to great lengths to drive the emotional connection, with the launch of their new ‘feel good’ dining experience and format.
New entrants to the space often set themselves apart through their personality, offering something new and different, and directly reflecting the vision of the founder. This is articulated through the environment, décor and service, all of which contribute to the vibe and ambience and defines the guest experience.
In our opinion, winning brands manage to retain the right amount of authentic personality and feeling as they expand, bringing together the need to remain different and special, without being too contrived.
So, with established operators striving to stay relevant, and so many new concepts launching, and making it their mission to expand through the UK, how can these businesses retain the essence of the brand as they grow?
1. Know what you stand for
Through the course of a roll-out programme, it can be challenging to ensure that the brand values continue to be expressed and articulated as originally intended - particularly given the need to adapt to different market places and broader customer needs.
Fast-growing F&B brands need to ensure they capture and effectively communicate their brand throughout growth. This means getting to the core of what you stand for and understanding customer behaviours. Then it is more likely they you remain clear on storytelling and enable the brand personality to shine through.
2. Think about the guest experience
Think though how to articulate the brand personality within every component of the guest experience. Be sure to consider all touchpoints - to deliver the right overall message, from décor through to environment. Your website also captures your brand vibe. Brands like Pizza Pilgrim are fully attuned to the emotional connection their customers have with them and recognise how brand storytelling resonates with their customers while Drake & Morgan weave their founding principles of innovation and exploration into their website, sharing stories around their team’s international trips to inspire product launches. Immediately customers see how the bar group is investing in delivering that exciting proposition whilst adhering to its original ethos.
3. Ensure staff know your brand
Recruitment is a focus point for all growing brands. In the hospitality sector, this can be a real challenge; it is hard to attract great people and so important that your staff represent your brand. The right people can help you strengthen what you do, through a shared affinity with your business’ vision.
Operators need to be clear about the type of service they want to offer and how staff should behave with customers. Investing in training is vital, as is leading by example. Great service enhances customer engagement and advocacy. Creating a culture that rewards and incentivises on-brand behaviour could be your biggest win.
4. Be consistent
Becoming established as a favourite eatery in the diner repertoire, relies upon delivering a great experience, consistently good service combined with great quality food. For brands looking to safeguard reputation as they shift from novelty to reliability, the need to execute and deliver consistently becomes paramount.
Or course, as with all business growth, challenges are inevitable; a brand’s promise can often be compromised with initial teething problems in rollout. From a brand reputation perspective, this can be hard to recover from. First impressions matter and set the tone for ongoing performance. Be clear on your brand’s scalability potential and, as far as possible, pace growth at a manageable, considered pace.
5. Be prepared to evolve
All growing brands need to understand who their customers are and why they like you. As a growing F&B business, maintaining that clarity around your proposition and how it is articulated in the guest experience must underpin everything. You can then understand how to evolve the various brand components, adjusting key elements where necessary, to reflect what your audience is looking for. It is through this understanding that you can create an evolving offer, one that delivers a truly reliable and trusted brand promise.
This article was written by Helene Mills at Pragma.