Sharing Success

The Quality Opportunity

Last time, I described “The Service Opportunity” which I believe many Independent restaurateurs have to attract and keep additional patrons by further enhancing service levels. That is because tough times have caused consumers to expect greater dining value (i.e., higher quality service and food). Meanwhile, service levels at cost oriented chains have slipped as they try to achieve the same output with fewer employees. So, as disappointed chain customers seek greater value elsewhere, the operators best positioned to attract them are those with service (and food) quality which is “best of the best” relative to area competitors.

This time I want to explain why I think that “tough times” have created an even larger “Quality Opportunity” for those Independents who find ways to further widen their food quality advantage.

Let me explain further. Tough times have a way of changing how customers and competitors behave over time. Here are four reasons why it makes sense to keep elevating your food quality:

1) Upscale patrons are “trading down.” One outcome of tough times is that “upscale type” consumers who used to frequently dine at “high ticket” establishments (fine dining, steakhouses, etc.) are now trading down to more moderately priced restaurant types. What makes these patrons especially attractive is that they are accustomed to paying more for superior food and can recognize it when they experience it. Furthermore, quality oriented patrons tend to be extremely loyal to restaurants that consistently meet or exceed their expectations.

Luckily for family style Italian restaurants and pizzerias, many traditional Old Country foods (especially entrees like pasta and pizza) are perfectly positioned to fill this need because they offer higher flavor/lower food costs relative to protein-rich entrees like steak or seafood. The key to taking full advantage of this “trade down” opportunity is to successfully transition this new patron into being one of your regular customers, which can only happen if the quality of your food consistently meets their elevated expectations.

2) Today’s consumers expect better food. As I just mentioned, consumers are seeking greater value (better food, better service) for their dining out dollar. So even a typical family dining out expects the food to taste not just good, but great. If it does not, they will try someplace else next time. So further widening your quality advantage can help you better keep existing customers and attract new ones.

3) Price oriented chains are reducing food quality. By definition, price oriented chains are hardwired to continually seek ways to cut food costs, even if food quality suffers in the process. Tough economic times have only accelerated their focus on cost cutting. This has resulted in a downward quality spiral, driving more of their customers to search for better dining options.

4) Some of your competitors are getting better. Finally, some operators (especially other successful Independents) are also responding to increased competition by further improving their food too. (Competition never sleeps.)

My point is that tough times keep changing the competitive landscape. So it makes sense that the restaurants who are best positioned to benefit from those changes are those whose food quality is recognized by consumers as not just “better than most”, but as “best of the best” relative to every other competitor in the area. (In other words, no one ever bragged to their friends about finding the second best restaurant in town.)

That is why, even if your food quality is very good, it is probably still worth striving to further enhance the flavor and consistency of your offerings over time.

As for how to go about improving quality, you might start by asking yourself the following question:

“Are each of the key ingredients I purchase ‘best of the best’ or just ‘better than most’?”

If you are confident that all of your key ingredients are already “best of the best,” congratulations! You can probably focus on fine tuning consistency in the kitchen.

Otherwise, you can begin objectively evaluating and upgrading those ingredients which offer the greatest potential for improvement. Either way, you will be giving your customers even more reason to remain loyal to you!