A few weeks back Advertising Age honored what it deems are the year's top brands because of their innovation. Two restaurant names made the list: Panera Bread Co. and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. It's always interesting to hear from those outside the industry because you just may learn something.
In the case of Panera, Ad Age applauded the fast-casual chain for keeping its eye on the ball. While other restaurant companies focused on penny-pinching customers looking for a deal, Panera took the approach that not everyone is unemployed and looking for a value meal.
Think about that for a second. Cooler heads prevailed at Panera because they realized that most of their customers still have a job and, if they are cutting back, they're likely doing it on the top end by reducing fine-dining visits. And if they are cutting out fine dining, they're looking for decent, better-quality food. Panera jumped all over it.
The chain did not cut prices, but instead focused on providing better value. Ad Age cited two examples: Panera now manages production of lettuce from field to plate, which resulted in the chain using only hearts of romaine in their salads. It also introduced china for customers choosing to eat in the restaurant.
In the case of Five Guys, Ad Age applauded the chain for its narrow, laser-like focus. It does little or no marketing, relying instead on creating a cult-like following by simply doing a few things right (hamburgers, fries and three or four other items). What puts it ahead of the pack is that it offers exceptional toppings, such as grilled mushrooms, green peppers and jalapenos, for free.
What also helped Five Guys make the list was its focus on service. Rather than advertise, the company invests in an intensive secret shopper program. Crew members can earn bonus pay of hundreds of dollars if they get high scores from secret shoppers.
Clearly, the selection of two fast casual restaurant companies as hot brands comes as no surprise. Fast casual is the sweet spot for people who don't want to spend a ton of money, but still want better quality food. Panera and Five Guys stand out in the pack because they dare to be different. But not wildly different. They simply thought things out better than most. And isn't that what gives them (you) the edge over competitors?
In the last year, this magazine has been burried by one report after another that says consumers are dining out less and spending less. While that may be so, people still see dining out as a form of entertainment and socializing. Fewer customers eating out means you have to get smarter — smarter than your competitors. That's what Five Guys and Panera have done.
If you've done something simple, yet clever, like the two players mentioned, let me know. I'd like to share your success in upcoming issues.