JWT’s AnxietyIndex is designed as a place to discuss how brands and consumers are responding to the global recession. With daily content updates, AnxietyIndex.com includes contributions from around JWT’s network, offering a truly global perspective.
This week we posted on our sister site, JWTIntelligence.com, about Rent the Runway showcasing user photos so customers can see how the designer dresses look on similarly sized, everyday women. New York restaurant Comodo is taking this idea into the dining realm, encouraging customers to share photos of their meals on Instagram using the hashtag #ComodoMenu. This results in a visual menu showing what all the Latin American-inspired dishes look like. The restaurant’s menu includes the hashtag, so patrons can readily find the “Instagram menu.”
By tapping into consumers’ love of photographing and sharing their meals over social media, Comodo simultaneously spreads word-of-mouth and helps to reduce any anxiety among current diners about ordering badly (a more common worry as diners get increasingly budget-conscious). Seeing the pictures, and any comments, can help patrons avoid remorse over ordering a disappointing dish and feel more confident about what to get. The Instagram menu also makes ordering more fun and turns the experience into a collaborative one, giving customers a solution to their concerns and also encouraging them to be a part of that solution.
In a full-page New York Times ad that ran earlier this week, the New York branch of steakhouse chain Smith & Wollensky declared that if it can’t get its hands on customers’ cash, it will take their stock options. Its tongue-in-cheek “Steak for Stock” special calls for steak lovers to swap NYSE and NASDAQ certificates for equally acronymic USDA dry-aged steaks.
While Wall Street bonuses have traditionally funded blow-out meals at such restaurants, this year many bankers are getting company shares rather than cash. The ad pokes fun at the fact that Smith & Wollensky’s core clientele is no longer knee-deep in bonus money, saying that “the effects on the local economy could be catastrophic, leaving large tracts of land in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard undeveloped.” Actual “Steak for Stock” trades are unlikely, as the registered owner of the stock must present the original certificate. But the ad insists customers take the promotion to heart, adding that the restaurant will “even accept GM.”
It’s an over-the-top approach reminiscent of the “Expense-a-Steak” promotion from Midtown steakhouse Maloney & Porcelli, which provided a site that generated fake receipts so that corporate clients could return to the upscale dining venue. This tactic boldly connects not only with bankers coming to terms with a new financial equation but also with other anxious New Yorkers, who can use a good laugh when thinking about the crisis.
Achieving faster turnover is a consistent challenge for popular restaurants—how to get the most diners fed without customers feeling they’re being rushed out. Shabu Shi, one of the popular buffet-style shabu restaurants in Thailand, has turned recessionary thinking into a positive, coming up with a genuine win-win solution: This month, customers who finish eating within 50 minutes, instead of the usual 80 allotted, get a 15 percent discount.
At a time when many people are choosing to dine out out less frequently, this helps Shabu fans save money while still enjoying their favorite menus (a buffet of sushi, seafood, meat, vegetables and desserts like tropical fruit with ice cream). And it should shorten the queues—patrons normally wait 15-40 minutes to get seated.
Tough situations need not always have negative effects, as long as we can find some room to play. And especially if we can find a way to help customers keep enjoying the product without compromising on quantity or quality.
Recently, fast food purveyors such as KFC and a local chicken fast food chain called Al-Tazaj (which translates as “fresh”) have been offering budget meals. This is notable because it represents a change in approach; normally, these companies run all-you-can-eat promotions, rather than discounted price offers.
As people seek to reduce their budgets, they are eating a bit less at fast food restaurants, opting instead to eat at home. As the global economic downturn decreases the number of construction projects in Saudi Arabia, there are fewer of the workers who make up a sizable percentage of customers at these low-cost fast food joints.
These promotions may actually be a great development all around: The consumer can have his favorite grilled or fried chicken cheap. And it proves that the brands understand their customers and want to help them enjoy a hot, quick meal. I have already seen anecdotal evidence of people using these offers. On Friday (which is the end of the weekend here in KSA), the cashiers remarked that since the campaign started, they have more traffic than they can handle.
With so many New Yorkers feeling the hurt of this recession, restaurants from high end on down have been pandering to patrons in ways they’ve never had to before. At the highest end, Le Cirque has offered a $39 three-course lunch and a $74 seven-course tasting menu in its dining room. And for those with only spare change to spend, the Cuban café Casa Havana has offered a 20 cent (yes … cents) breakfast that includes eggs, ham or bacon, fries, toast and coffee.
Myriad other special offers are logged on the restaurant blog Eater’s “Dealfeed.” Among them: The Patina Restaurant Group (operators of Brasserie and Naples 45, among others) is taking 20 percent off food and beverages Friday-Sunday, the Russian Tea Room is throwing in a free vodka martini with the Business-Express lunch, and the restaurant Jane is offering a $15 “bird and beer” special (fried chicken, a side and a pint).
Dealfeed’s list feels like a contest to see who can lure the most customers without hurting the bottom line. Ultimately, however, it’s establishments that worked overtime to secure loyalty before the recession that will likely escape unscathed.
Short-term promotions are rampant among restaurants these days, given the poor economy and even poorer customers. To stand out, the Londoner brew pub is trying a more customized approach. Its offer comes in the form of a “boarding pass” directing its intended audience—including JWT Thailand, which is located in the same building—to depart directly to the restaurant. Our employees are frequent customers of the Londoner, and many of the waitresses know our names. But though we may still go for beers and dinner after work, the restaurant is almost vacant at lunch. And so while there’s no free lunch anywhere in the world, there is 50 percent off lunch in Bangkok—in the form of an imaginative direct promotion.
When Radiohead asked fans to pay whatever they wanted to download the 2007 album In Rainbows, the offbeat strategy hardly seemed like one that other marketers might want to adopt. Fast-forward to the tough environment we’re currently in, however, and “pay what you want” seems like a novel way to attract buzz and engender goodwill by making patrons feel empowered. And brands with a quality offering may even come out ahead when consumers reappraise what constitutes good value.
In February, Singapore’s new Ibis hotel ran a publicity stunt via the site paywhatyouwant.com.sg, where guests could name their price for a room during a brief window each day. A handful of restaurants around the world have also picked up on the practice. Little Bay in Farringdon, London, ran a “pay what you think it’s worth” promotion during February, and almost 10,000 diners forked out an average of £17.25 apiece—well over the normal average spend of £13.50.
The owner of Taverne Crescent restaurant in Montreal—where “pay what you want” is in effect during lunch on weekdays—told Canada’s CTV: “We want people to come with a smile and leave with a bigger smile.” Any business that can accomplish this amid today’s doom and gloom will surely reap benefits in the long term.
How to forget anxiety? One Chinese credit card company has an idea. SPD Bank recently launched an integrated campaign for its credit card product (issued jointly with Citibank), tapping into Chinese people’s addiction to fine food in a bid to help customers forget the financial turbulence and enjoy themselves.
Card holders get a discount when dining at selected restaurants in each campaign city, earn double reward points and are entered into a lottery to win a vacation. An enticing TV spot was shot in beautiful Guilin. The voice-over in the commercial translates as: “Unexpected hospitality, unlimited cuisine. SPD Bank credit card makes you enjoy more.”
Not a bad idea given the fact that Chinese people dine out whenever the economy is booming, and when the economy is receding, the dining table is one of the last places to be hit.