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The Family Sports Bar & Grill

I was driving by a restaurant location recently and I spied a sign that said: "Family Restaurant & Sports Bar-Grill." It made me wonder just exactly what this place really was. Was it a family restaurant, appealing to a man and wife with a couple of young kids or teenagers? Or was it a loud, raucous bar with 17 television screens all blaring different sports at the same time to dozens of mostly young men, all screaming for their favorite team, while consuming copious amounts of cold beer?

Does the sports bar have a children's menu, with smaller portions and lower prices? Does the family restaurant seating area provide visual access to the multitude of television sets? Is there any smoking permitted? What about inadvertent bad language, is that allowed? Do they deliver?

Facetiously I wondered if maybe they should have called it the: “Family Restaurant & Sports Bar-Grille-Bistro-Take Out & Delivery.”

These questions bombarded my mind while I searched the parking lot for cars to try and get an idea of who might be there on a Sunday night. The lot was about half full, but mostly the cars indicated potential ownership in the 18-35 male category....souped up rods, high-powered street cars...you know the ones with the dual exhaust and the mufflers that sound like a Mack truck on steroids. There also were a few clunkers and beaters too. 'Not really what you'd expect the average family to be driving—if they could afford to eat out.

As I got past this establishment I was reminded of the need to target your marketing efforts...right from the very beginning. Before you design your restaurant, KNOW who you are targeting.

In this day of extreme specialization, one must decide just "who" your desired target group is and then unswervingly direct everything you do towards that specific target group. I may be wrong, but my common sense tells me that, unless I'm missing something here, families don't mix with noisy sports bars...even if you do put the word "grill" or “bistro” on the end of the name.

So why would someone do this when investing so much money to open up a competitive outlet? Usually it's two things: greed and ignorance.

I know, strong words, but true. First off, from the ‘greedy’ perspective, many restaurateurs do not see the benefit of specializing or focusing on just one market niche. They reason that since they are going to be spending all this money on seating, signage, parking lot, kitchen, and decor, they might as well make it count for more than one group of customers. They want “all” of the business in their trading area...or as much as they can squeeze into their place.

Remember when McDonalds added breakfast? Essentially it was to maximize the daily use of a mostly-fixed asset...to get more bang for their buck out of the building, land, fixtures, furniture and so on. But how did they do it? They added to their existing menu-type (QSR) for their existing business, without disturbing their lunch and dinner business. And they did it VERY CAREFULLY over time; testing and re-testing until it was just right.

Some operators are afflicted by rank amateurism. They are ignorant of the laws of operating and marketing restaurants; they combine this not knowing or not wanting to pay for any expert advice, with their greed and need for even more return on their buck. They wind up with a mess that is almost impossible to market and profit by in this hyper-competitive retail environment. They make their most important decisions too fast. They don't do their homework, take a breath and double check their facts.

In fact, just this morning, I read a story about a couple in Wisconsin who had to shut their second unit down after only six weeks in business, because they had likely spent all their upfront money converting someone else's failed location into their desired concept; but now had no money for marketing their poorly located second unit. This is a sad story; but we see if every day. They likely grabbed the second location too fast, because it was available due to another's failure (did they ask why?) and then overspent, forgetting or not caring about the obvious cost to market a brand new location.

If you absolutely have to appeal to more than one target group, you have to pick a way to do this, by correctly choosing the target groups that might work together, either in terms of what you sell, or when and how you sell it. For instance, in this example of the unit I drove by, if they want to appeal to those two target groups, you might call your place a "restaurant" plain and simple; (use a name, like Derf's...which is Fred's, backwards); a restaurant that has a family skewed menu and prices, that (after ten at night until closing), offers television sets (take the cloth hoods off them at ten) and lots of sports with snacks and bar food 'till closing. Naturally, this might not work well, because even then, families might not understand that they are welcome, while the sports enthusiasts might miss many of their favorite games due to the time of day they are aired live, in real time.

To offset this potential drawback, you could record the most popular games and offer a special service for those sports folks who are not able to come over during the live telecast, but would love to show up at ten to see a videotaped version of the game then. This would be differentiating you and offering a niche service to the sports-oriented group, when the vast majority of the family diners had long since been home getting ready for bed. Chances are, the two different target groups would not mix at the same time.

In reality, it is best to have a primary target group and direct all your marketing tactics at this group. If you are only targeting your marketing efforts at one primary group, you will also save lots of time and money in doing so. You will be more efficient, accurate and use less of your or your paid advisers’ time marketing your outlet. Your marketing costs will be less than when trying to cover off all the bases in your trading area.

Your main objective, from a marketing point of view, is to make sure that you don't confuse and therefore not appeal to either target group.

You will stand there, wondering why your parking lot is so empty.

© Roy MacNaughton, 2008

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