How Becoming a Digital Brand Can Lead to Success in the World of Off-Premise Dining

How Becoming a Digital Brand Can Lead to Success in the World of Off-Premise Dining

By Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins

In my role as CEO of Kitchen United I am constantly in touch with operators of large and small restaurant chains who are all facing the rapidly changing world of delivery, catering, and consumer pickup, collectively called off-premise dining. There are a few restaurant companies who are flourishing with the new demand, but a clear majority is struggling with the changes required to address the new channel.

As I see it there are basically three critical path items that any restaurant must face to achieve sustainable results.

  1. Restaurants must become digital brands.
  2. Restaurants must optimize for off-prem.
  3. Restaurants must be available.

On becoming a digital brand:

Becoming a digital brand isn’t as easy as simply having a website. Companies that have established an effective digital presence have learned to connect with their consumer on a personal basis. The website is just the foundation, it’s what’s on the website and the brand’s ability to actively connect, adapt, story-tell and respond that makes the biggest difference.

It surprises many that the most frequent consumers of products and services via online sources are also frequently the most interested in story. The consumer is interested in the food, but they will become casual brand ambassadors if they like the people behind the company.

In many cases this is easier for smaller, startup brands. Chicago Chef Bill Kim provides a great example with his UrbanBellyChicago.com site. Easily consumable via mobile, tablet, or computer the site tells the story concisely and does a great job of making the food look great. (It helps that it IS great). The Halal Guys site does a great job of telling their story and showcasing food. While the Dog Haus site is formatted differently, it also appeals with delightfully irreverent identity but clear commitment to corporate soul. Note that each site also prominently features the restaurant’s delivery, to go and catering options along with quick access links for those looking to order. With this said, I would argue that among the most important elements on each site are the elements designed to establish a connection between the consumer and the restaurant.

Bigger companies sometimes struggle with this element. I recently had a conversation with the CMO of a large QSR chain. He had asked for some time in looking at their brand strategy and trying to determine what was causing so much challenge for them in expanding their digital channel. We visited the site together. The site is clear, professional and action oriented. It funnels the visitor directly into a store locater. There is a button to download the app. When I suggested we look at the ‘About us’ section he said, “no one ever goes to those pages.” I said I wanted to look at them anyway and he said, “they haven’t been updated for years.”

I have a feeling no one goes to those pages because the brand doesn’t do anything to invite the consumer to view them.  The challenge with that is that if there is nothing special about the brand it’s just a commoditized place to eat. No wonder then that anything related to driving consumer action and adoption was related to specials, discounts or limited time products. Make no mistake, these promotions work. The challenge is that each of them is margin eroding in its own way.

Great examples of larger companies who’ve made the leap to digital in a sustainable way can be found if one takes the time to look. Most recently Chick-fil-A’s Chicken Wire provides a great example. Their combined advertising outreach even makes story telling of product advertising. “Why do you like the new grilled chicken sandwich?” they asked consumers who’d purchased it, and the stories from consumers became the ads.

Choose any fast-growing brand, really in any consumer facing sector, and you will find a company that understands that creating and maintaining a digital connection to its consumer requires creativity, responsiveness, a well-defined corporate ethos, and attention.

Almost without fail, find companies who have let this critical link flounder and you will find companies who are relegated to competing on nothing but price and promotion.

This fact is so powerful that I would make the broad, definitive statement… Find any brand that is succeeding in connecting to the digital consumer, the consumer who drives off premise sales, and you will find a brand that has a strong online personality. It takes some work to get there, but the effort is worth it and when it comes to success in digital markets, this is really step number 1.

In future messages I’ll cover off-premise optimization, the process of establishing or improving the systems, processes, etc., in making the economics of the new marketplace work as well as the concept of availability which is probably the most critical element of driving off premise sales.  For now, take some time to evaluate your own story. Is it strong? Does it create an emotional connection? If so, bravo for you. If not, you know where to start. The rest is up to you.

Jim Collins is the Chief Executive Officer of Kitchen United.

KU offers restaurant brands a turnkey way to expand into new markets and reach the off-premise diner. Subscribe to the KU Insights newsletter where we break down industry trends and give an insider view of what’s happening in the world of KU.

Featured photo by Bree McCool Photo

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