Restaurant Consulting Has Its Rough Parts

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An attempt to implement FourSquare for a client offers insight as to what restaurant consulting is really like.  Largely, it is about activating the existing resources within the client’s organization.

Restaurant Consulting Gets Tough

Often times, when people think of the profession of restaurant consulting they think of a glamorous lifestyle and often envision a well-traveled food critic with a bigger paycheck when they ponder what a restaurant consultant does. The fact is a successful restaurant consulting practitioner has more in common with a psychotherapist than with a food critic. Often, the job is about getting the client to take the medicine and take responsibility to do what they know they really should be doing.

Here is a recent communication with a staff member within one of our client’s marketing departments. The names have been removed to conceal any trace of the company or employee. The following is in response to yet another email from this staffer who has repeatedly found excuse after excuse as to why a new program or recommendation won’t work or why he shouldn’t be responsible for helping implement the program. He has been able to make a full time job out of not doing his job. Rather than take a new program or initiative on, he will poke holes in it, delegate it to someone else and blame them as the reason it’s not being executed, play dumb and hopelessly unable to understand something to avoid doing it, or make up a grand tale about how we don’t understand the market or conditions or culture (whether in describing a company, customer base, or country – note, this was particularly hard to counter early in my career as a restaurant consultant but now after representing 10,000 restaurants on 6 continents it’s harder for idea-resisters to play that game).

In the case below, the staffer had explained that FourSquare (and digital marketing in general), wouldn’t work in the Middle East because of awareness. He also thought it was a bad idea for the general managers of the various units to get involved in the program and efforts to build comp-store sales, so suggested that instead we execute the program fully for the client without any need for him to be involved.

The below response hopefully both helps illustrate the nature of restaurant consulting while also helping build a case for FourSquare as an effective restaurant digital marketing tool (no matter where your restaurants are located). Often, the job of a restaurant consultant is about getting the internal stakeholders at a client organization to take individual responsibility. No restaurant consultant alone can fully effectuate change. The good ones don’t try to; they activate the resources and people within the client’s organization.

Here’s the response:

“Dear (name of marketing manager)

We did a good bit of research on this subject too. The most significant thing to happen in the evolution of human communication since the invention of the printing press, and the invention of language before that, is the emergence of the Internet. One in twelve people on the planet (from the most remote and deserted islands to the most populated) are on Facebook, for example. Many credit Twitter for helping topple abusive government regimes, and forever changing how news spreads. There are more mobile phone users in the world than Internet users (3.5 billion compared to 1.5 billion). Mobile phones are one of the most important communication tools used today. In some countries there are more mobile phones than even people.

Foursquare is entirely about building loyalty among those who use mobile phones. We do our ‘research’ not only on the global trends and implications, but also looked at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia very specifically. There is awareness. Keep in mind, there was virtually no awareness of Twitter and Facebook just 3-4 years ago in the region but it has exploded onto the scene and those who got on board early are reaping the benefits. Awareness is there, it is growing very quickly, and there are tools to make promotion at the unit level very easy. I even saw FourSquare stickers outside of restaurants in the remote areas of Brazil last month. The idea is to get good at using technologies that will be so powerful early enough to be recognized as a leader and early-adopter, not waiting until a trend has crested and then jumping on late. By building a competency before it is critical is how great organizations prepare not just for the day ahead, but for the months, years, and decades ahead.

There is a saying, “Show me a great company and I will show you one that has dramatically reinvented itself and is looking forward to the opportunity of doing so again”. If IBM, Microsoft, and even McDonald’s waited until after all of their competitors were doing something to get on board, they wouldn’t be where they are (in fact, both Microsoft and Oracle – two of the world’s largest companies – were created from opportunities IBM recognized but dismissively abandoned or just lazily didn’t pursue). [Client name here] aspires to be a global leader in the foodservice and hospitality industry. To do so, it must not only aspire to do so, but be filled with individuals seeking to look beyond the immediate necessities of work and mandatory requirements; it must be brimming with individuals and partners looking for not “what is” but “what could be”.

This program – like many others – will fail if the organization does not take some part in it. While we would love to help with programs, we must all recognize that it takes a team effort to make programs work. This sentiment of dismissively shooting down ideas, pawning them off on someone else, half-heartedly going along with them, or delegating down the totem pole….it all adds up to yield results equal to the enthusiasm, heart, determination, commitment, and desire to make things happen. FourSquare is about building loyalty at the unit level. We can certainly do our part from here, but it makes little sense to exclude the general managers at the unit level from participating in the efforts intended to effectuate loyalty on their behalf.

Admittedly, we are very concerned about how issues like this impact our ability to build the results [Client name] could be enjoying. I don’t mean to discount the hard work of ANYONE on either side. We are all working our tails off and with a positive sentiment of collaboration and shared desire to see [Client name] and all of its stakeholders fully prosper. That said, there are many programs that are not as potent as they could be; such as the two LTO’s, the Gift Box Initiative for [Client Sub-Brand], etc that seem to be met with a similar relaxed posture of abdicating responsibility, half-heartedly participating, or passive dismissal, that are stacking up to build mountains of missed opportunity.”

(The memo went on to present a clear path on how to improve the speed and effectiveness of implementation, but is omitted due to the confidential nature of those specifics)

The nature of being a restaurant consultant is “you never get credit for your best work”. If the ideas and programs are to be truly successful and fully implemented, the client must feel it was their idea and the results were achieved because of their own efforts. The restaurant consultant can be seen as a catalyst and facilitator, but the credit must go to the client and their people. Anything else would be a disservice. In some cases, like the one above, you have to call-out the internal resources – not allowing them to hide or dismiss their obligations – so that they take responsibility for doing the work they can later take the credit for. In this case, we hope to see this staffer take responsibility and become a champion for implementing FourSquare. Down the road, he may very well become the hero for charging forward with what he at first resisted.

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