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Can High-end Independent Concepts Learn from Fast Food Service?

  • Fast Food Service

The average UK restaurant has a lifespan of about five years. That figure hides all kinds of stories of course, from pop-ups and short-lived experiments to stalwarts of the restaurant trade. But there’s no doubt that building long-term success is tricky, and requires hard work and planning.

So, what is the secret of longevity for restaurants? You might not think that high end or independent concepts have anything to learn from decades-old fast food concepts, but we think there are some general principles that can be extracted and put to good use.

McDonald’s, marketing and adaptability

The king of the fast food industry carved out its kingdom in the UK very quickly after opening its first restaurant in 1974 in Woolwich, with the initial proposition based on value, speed and convenience. Marketing has been a major element of its success: customers know what to expect from a McDonald’s meal, and the company regularly reminds them about it.

But adaptability has been equally important and the chain has been adept at tweaking its menu to reflect changes in its customers’ habits and concerns. The lesson is to understand your customers. McDonald’s hit a rocky patch a few years ago, with menus lacking focus and customers switching to younger, fresher alternatives. The company has responded by trimming its menu, adding regional variations and paying more attention to quality – chicken is free from antibiotics and eggs are produced by cage-free birds. The results have been promising, with its market share growing at the end of 2016.

Domino’s and the art of convenience

The US pizza chain has been in Britain since 1985 and a major plank of its success was the introduction of pizza delivery. The brand was all about convenience: people no longer had to go to a fish and chip shop or a hamburger joint – they simply had to pick up the phone and dial.

Domino’s has had to adapt to a rapidly changing world to survive. Delivery is commonplace for all kinds of food through firms like Deliveroo, while technology is on a change curve that gets ever faster. The response has been to innovate, from text messaging to apps and now their latest idea: zero-click ordering. The idea is that customers store their menu preferences in a mobile phone app, and when they want to order pizza they simply open up the app. After 10 seconds, the order is automatically sent.

The lesson here is about removing barriers for customers – an independent restaurant may not have its own app, and may have an entirely different proposition for customers than convenience, but payment, reservations and ordering are usually barriers to the customer experience.

KFC and customer engagement

It’s one thing for restaurants to market themselves, but the best marketing is always customer recommendations. Social media has changed the talk-about dynamic – posting pictures of your meal on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter is still a thing. One of KFC’s latest innovations is all about social: ordering by facial recognition. The chicken chain has introduced a facial recognition booth to one of its Beijing restaurants and customers can order simply by looking into the camera. The software comes up with recommendations based on what it thinks the customer’s mood is.

It’s a gimmick – but the ordering process is also turned into a social media post, so that customers can laugh with their friends about the options on offer. The result has been major amounts of free publicity. Everyone can benefit from events, gestures and novelty are options for every restaurateur, whatever their budget.

Whatever you think of outlets like the above, there’s no doubt that independent, high-end operators have something they can learn from them. If you’re looking to purchase your first – or next – restaurant and would like advice on how to implement any of the above ideas, or indeed others, get in touch with our restaurant property agents today.

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