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Experiment! As Long As It Tells Well, It May Not Matter If It Sells Well

Or, just lie back and keep doing what you’re doing (like this restaurant that was closed and being dismantled when I took this photo).
Or, just lie back and keep doing what you’re doing (like this restaurant that was closed and being dismantled when I took this photo).

Every issue of Food & Drink since Summer 2011 has contained one of my columns. Here’s the latest one, from the Fall 2016 issue. (NOTE: The image is unique to this blog entry.)

Sounds like Taco Bell is launching a Triple Double Crunchwrap soon—and the internet is buzzing. For whatever reason, people love acting as if they have no self control and abandon cautious healthy eating anytime they encounter something excessive and new.

Obviously, Taco Bell wants this to make money. But the attention it’s generating is already a success.

In India, Domino’s is promoting a BurgerPizza, and Instagram is full of pictures of the monstrous hybrid. In Hong Kong, KFC released two limited edition nail polish colors flavored like chicken, Original Recipe and Hot & Spicy—“finger licking good,” you see. KFC admits it was executed (it’s a real product) so they could talk about it on social media, and are currently having Hong Kong customers vote on which color (or “flavor”) should be mass produced.

KFC, of course, is the same company that a couple years ago in Europe introduced a tray liner with the ability to charge your cell phone as you ate. As you might imagine, bloggers blogged the heck out of that one.

What’s happening, of course, is that companies are realizing how important it is not just to define the brand, maintain the standards of the brand, and put processes in place that will ensure consistency of execution of their brand—they also want chatter and enthusiasm around the brand.

They want people to notice. To not see them as “just another company,” but a group of energetic, like-minded souls with senses both of humor and adventure. Social media wants to view your restaurant as collection of humans with more than an interest in quarterly sales.

Are you fun? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s five ways to start thinking about how you could be:

1. Write down three words that describe your best customer.

Just jot. This doesn’t have to be in a deck you present to your founder. Focus on the personality of the people who seem to be your regulars. Are they smart alecks? Worn-out parents? Distracted businessmen?

Those three words can help you aim at ideas that your customers might find fresh enough to talk about. Because once they share the idea, it’s as if they’re endorsing whatever it is, whether it’s extreme (a burger and a pizza), or funny (chicken-flavored nail polish), or surprisingly useful (a placemat with simple tech that can charge a phone).

2. What are you known for that others aren’t?

Ah, here we are. Back at the ol’ branding discussion. Do you have anything about you that differentiates you from your closest competitors? I hope so. Write down that thing. It doesn’t have to be totally unique—few restaurants are 100 percent different from all other restaurants. Still, there’s something you do, right? Is

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